Animate Shadows: Exploring synaesthesia and kinesthesia within digitised dance


This paper will consider the dynamic temporality of interactive digitised dance processes, as articulated through glitch artist Antonio Roberts and Butoh dancer Rachel Sweeney’s on-going digital choreographic collaboration. The paper examines some of the physiological processes that occur when live and digitised bodies inform each other through auto-generated choreography, activating a kind of affective engagement with an audience through immersivity. Auto-generated choreography can be defined here as the various modes of dance composition and production. These modes operate in the merger between live movement composition, re-articulation of live movement via recorded and projected movements of the dancer’s body, and also those emergent digitised dancing figures that result as a bi-product of working with digital glitch programming. The latter occurrs as non-determinate and non sequential movement. The themes put forward here are those that have emerged, circulated and dispersed within this digital choreographic process and harbor the micro sensitivities that exist within controlled and non controlled performance environments.

Drawing from a phenomenological approach, this paper will reflect on critical writings surrounding the role of visuality and spectator empathy as put forward respectively by writer Brian Massumi and choreographer William Forsythe. This approach spurns a debate about how the act of calibrating live and digitised movement within auto-generated choreography presents Sweeney and Robert’s performance-making strategies as an active metaphor for embodying empathetic spectator processes. In particular, Sweeney’s own movement practice, which is fostered on Butoh training and performance, will be given consideration from three key terms: synaesthesia, multiplicity and dispersal. The writing thus offers an inquiry into the relationship between Butoh and glitch, underpinned by an interrogation of the role of proximity, perception and proprioception within integrated digital dance.

How to Cite

Sweeney, R., 2017. Animate Shadows: Exploring synaesthesia and kinesthesia within digitised dance. Body, Space & Technology, 16. DOI:




Image 1: Dancer Rachel Sweeney, Photo: Antonio Roberts, Dublin Moving Bodies Butoh Festival May 2015


The translation of the body from physical to digital offers a re-articulation of the body's presence, through the lapse of time that occurs between captured, recorded and reproduced movement. Glitch processes similarly suggest a disruption to the smooth functioning of streamlined technology. Sweeney and Robert's collaboration, in choosing to pursue these alterations as strategies to explore multiplicity within digital dance performance, provide a key site on which to contest current debates surrounding the role of sense perceptions and communication processes within digitised performance. Within their respective roles, themes of deviation and diversion provided by glitch clearly locate Roberts' role as technologist as performative, whilst highlighting the fragility of and deviation within technology as a performance proposition. This process echoes a political mapping of the body from a Butoh approach, where the image construction in choreography seeks an anterior space in which to dis/locate movement.

Butoh as both a practice and philosophy can be seen to support the idea of the multiply engaged and dispersive movement informed body. Though diverse in scope and divergent in their respective lineages, second generation Butoh artists, in their attitudes to training and performance practices, can be said to share a common sensibility in subscribing formatively to the role of imagery as a way of accessing multiple movement states in performance.[1] Nowadays Butoh has found its roots within a widely scattered lineage, as the early 1980s saw many Japanese Butoh artists seek new directives in Europe and the US. At the same time, many visiting western artists spent several years undergoing strict training and mentoring programs with Butoh artists in Japan. Such individual directives and exchanges have not eroded founders Tatsumi Hijikata's and Kazuo Ohno's legacies, but rather can be seen to reflect the strengths of those autonomous and independent responses that this particular movement expression demands of its dancers. Dance training in its widest definition refers to the digestion, appropriation and physical acquisition of a particular movement technique or sensibility. Certain 'hidden' receptive activities are arguably contained within the immediate experiential learning environment, where individual physiological processes such as corporeal memory, muscular control and kinetic coordination, prioritise visual and sensorial stimulation over cerebral understanding. In such a way, the cultivation of formal dance learning practices can be described as dependent on a series of physiological and cognitive processes. These processes follow empiricist notions of knowledge practices in developing out of non conclusive, experiential and individual modes of recognition. Where the cognitive process starts externally and moves inward, becoming embedded through disciplined repetition, the above description implies a reciprocal engagement in the dancer. This is an engagement that presupposes already present sensibilities that are enacted upon through a reflective process, where the dance student initially copies or mimics the external forms presented. While elsewhere I have written on the nature of Butoh training in relation to physical consciousness, 2 for the present purposes, it is the precise use of imagery as an extension of the performer's consciousness that I am interested in further defining in relationship to digital and live dancing bodies. I will argue how, through the production of both live and virtual imagery in digital dance environments, there is a constant requirement on the performer to constantly engage in a double exposure between the internal image, its articulation through sensation and externalized form, and those further digital forms presented. This leads to mediation between poetic description, anatomical imagery, perceptual nodes and multiplicitous movement states.

Originally titled 'QWOP Dance', [2] 'Multiplicitous States' is a twenty-minute semi-improvised solo choreographic work, with continuous generative digital feed. Initially my body's own movements were scanned using X-box kinect and then reproduced and projected via avatar form/s. The work has been presented in a number of distinct performance sites, including an outdoor courtyard, a small nightclub, a gallery space and a conventional theatre. Each time the proximal relationships have varied considerably between live performer, digital projection and audience member. The outdoor site[3] allowed for 'in the round' viewing while the digital projection used an adjacent wall which allowed the avatar figures to become excessive in scale. Here, the audience vantage point took in a landscape of other spectating bodies, treetops and building facades as well as the contrasting scaled dance figures. The nightclub performance [4] incorporated live digital feed where Antonio recorded my own close up interactions with seated audience members. This was then projected live so that the work fed directly into the audience's own kinespheric space. For the third stage-based production,[5] we initially recorded my own short movement phrases using green screen technology. These were then later projected within the live performance while Antonio manually operated between a direct translation of these projected images as they fed into and magnified my own live movements. This was achieved whilst also alternating between enhanced, diversified and multiplied movement images using glitch processes. All of these digital operations allowed for the projected figures to maintain a direct translation of my own movement vocabularies whilst simultaneously allowing computer programming to deviate from these forms. In staging each of the above presentations, I am interested in defining the variant spectator/performer relationships where the mechanics of viewing and registering both live and projected movement remain the core of their thematic content. In this sense, the digitised body circulates, expands, disrupts and contradicts the movement qualities of the live dancer. Before pursuing a philosophical investigation into the aesthetics of playing with multiple 'staged' bodies however, it is worth identifying how questions of spectatorship within contemporary theatre have been considered in relation to site specific performance works.

Image 2: Dancer Rachel Sweeney, Photo: Antonio Roberts Dublin Moving Bodies Butoh Festival May 2015

The past fifteen years have arguably shown a steady increase in the investment within contemporary performance of the site specific - or site endorsed - work, as a way of locating a synaesthetic and immersive arena in which to contain a performance work. In choosing a specific site in which to potentially coerce, constrict and/or connect an audience, whilst encouraging diverse individual encounters through what is often an exchange of senses and stimuli provided by a particular site, site specific performance offers its spectator/s a means of encouraging a more self-reflexive relationship to the performed work. Blast Theory, a UK based performance company, produce work that incorporates digital media, and presentations that are often contingent on the notion of a travelling or mobile performance entity. This is an entity in and through which the independent experiencing audience member can navigate performance spaces through experiential means. The audience may choose to enter or to stay along the sidelines of a performance. They may be sanctioned, divided into categories of gender or age, as well as other arbitrary relations.

In 1998 Blast Theory produced 'Kidnap', an interactive audience performance project based in England and Wales. Adopting the form of a national lottery, the company promised the prospective 'winner' the reward of a real-life staged kidnapping. On buying a single lottery ticket from participating newsagents, each individual audience volunteer had to sign a disclaimer that they would be willing to be kidnapped anonymously on any chosen date within a designated period. They would then subsequently be held at an undisclosed destination for 48 hours under satellite surveillance. The winning contestants later reported on the experience, both describing feelings of boredom, terror, exhilaration and exhaustion. Neither ever got to meet their captors. Developed in critical response to the rise of actual kidnappings taking place in the UK, which had risen 700% in the previous decade, this highly voyeuristic piece deliberately alienated its audience right from the start. Upon drawing their lottery tickets, audience members were turned into potential targets, transforming the scenes of their everyday lives into occupied territory, with the impending prospect of total abstraction. In choosing to frame their audience within an anonymous and panoptical position, Blast Theory can be seen to invert the whole ethos of performance via communication processes through viewing via the unseen.

In such a way, the integration of digital technology within Blast Theory's proposed 'live' performance can be seen to support processes of viewing and reading both live and virtual performing bodies through immersivity. Upon entering a contractual agreement to participate, the individual audience members can thus be seen to experience their own body via both tactile and virtual communication processes. In such a way, the company's own divergent practices can be seen to offer democratic readings and associate authorship within the material conditions of performance composition. Similarly, the processional format of the (non contained) work can be argued to encourage several interpretative subject positions on the part of each individual audience member, whilst simultaneously deliberately deferring from one reliable referent. In accessing their audience's expectations from an unseen position, a different spatio-temporal quality emerges here through several lines of virtual feed. Blast Theory's work offers a kind of strategic resistance in promoting a community of artists and audiences within a synaesthetic performance arena in which the participant is (as in the case above) deliberately disoriented and their geographic, physiological and cultural boundaries challenged. In critiquing both virtual and real time site specific practices in contemporary performance, I am interested in how the immersive realm, by its reflexive nature, might encourage empathetic responses on the part of the viewer. This is an experience in and through which the independent audience member can navigate performance spaces through their own embodied experience whilst re-negotiating their proximal relations to the subject of performance. In a similar way, the introduction of 'performing' bodies (eg. dancing through the digital) in 'Multiplicitous States' as those that both mimic and mutate my own movements, allow for multiple perspectives to emerge.

John Martin's descriptive terms 'metakinesis', 'inner mimicry' and 'kinesthetic sympathy' all describe a physiological experience on the part of a dance spectator when watching live movement. Here, he argues, movement is transferred via cognitive means and through the motor neural pathways of vision and sensation, which, he suggests, leave traces or 'paths' closely associated with emotions in the neuromuscular system. In such a way, sensory experience could have the effect of 'reviving memories of previous experiences over the same neuromuscular paths', and also of 'making movements or preparations for movement'. Martin's initial theories, first put forward in 1939, offer an historical underpinning of kinaesthetic empathy in dealing explicitly with different modalities of space, time, motion and virtual transfer while watching live dance. His concise analysis of an audiences' own receptor mechanisms while watching live dance invites a more reflexive stance on the part of the audience, and has been widely rekindled surrounding spectator discourses in digital performance environments. Before locating a further theory of empathy, it is useful to place Martin's historic position within that of another early twentieth century proposition for movement, formulated through a lexicon of movement practices and housed in Laban's didactic dance manuals. This will assist in a theorisation of empathy within my own collaborative practice with Roberts though both an analysis of human/audience-interactive/empathetic relationships, as well as through more associative readings that may emerge in the authorship between live viewer and live / digital performer. Debating the relationship between writing practices surrounding dance, Susan Foster signals a late eighteenth century philosophical approach to the dancing body as maintaining a distinct separation between its live presence and its re-presentation on paper:

Even construed as a language in Enlightenment thought, the body's gestures begin to signify that which cannot be spoken. The unique role for gesture prepares the way for a complete separation between dance and text that occurs in the early decades of the nineteenth century (Foster, 1995: 234).

While Laban's continuing legacy found within his notational systems may be seen to both quantify and qualify dance's ontological claims to architectural and anatomical design, they also provide an essential archival source for further inscription and systematic design within subsequent digital dance practices. Laban's ideographic system can be seen to subscribe to a certain symmetric compliance of the dancing body's perimeter within a material geometry. By contrast, choreographer William Forsythe's recent archiving of his digital dance work successfully extracts and analyses visual translations of movement, enabling a retrospective evaluation of the performed dance works via a range of digitally mapped movement data. 'Synchronous Objects for One Flat Thing, Reproduced' resulted as a collaboration between The Forsythe Company, based in Germany, and researchers at The Ohio State University from design, dance, computer science, geography, statistics and architecture, who work together at OSU's Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD). It serves as arguably one of the leading art science projects that has succeeded in extracting and analysing layer upon layer of visual data that effectively map out one ensemble dance production and can be used interdependently. Interviewed on the role of technology within 'Synchronous Objects', Forsythe recently argued for a choreographic object that can surpass human involvement by taking the image of the dancer and rendering it within the material act of choreography as a way to create and produce animated dance materials without necessarily the presence of any human form. [6] Ontologically, dance has borne its own well-worn ephemerality tropes and is only partially restored or replaced within the relatively recent developments of technological re/production. While Forsythe is not necessarily advocating the dancers' own extinction via technological intervention, his distinction between live movement composition and its digital counterpart supports a broader view of the relationship of 'writing' or 'recording' dance. This manifests synergistically with live movement - as opposed to resulting in a bi-product of the discipline - thus reinstating its archival status within the field.

Andre Lepecki offers an historical insight as to how we might consider the advent of technologies, and in particular screen based technologies as severing surface from substance:

How does one describe a body? Firstly, the body inherited from the passage into modernity has a proprietary relationship to 'its' subject (the body always "belongs" to a self); secondly, modernity always allows the subject to experience its body's surface as a screen rendering the subject to the world as an image; and thirdly, the body's surface as an image is experienced as a detachable organ, permanently floating between subjectivity, alterity, and the experience of the corporeal (Lepecki, 2004: 36).

Lepecki's claims appear to offer an alternative position - that of sub-body, or an alien body. Johannes Birringer further endorses the notion that animated projection surfaces might transgress the body's physical limits, so that the play extends to those invisible spatial lines that connect across energetic as much as virtual lines of feed:

The artifactual body, made-up, designed, perfected, and thus absorbed into innumerable, contradictory, cultural codes of performance, style and wholeness ("total design") is an alien body, displaced from the subject that seeks to match a model not of her or his own production (Birringer, 2005: 34).

Image 3: Dancer Rachel Sweeney, Photo: Antonio Roberts, Dublin Moving Bodies Butoh Festival May 2015

'Multiplicitous States' offers multiple viewing positions: both in its respective choices of performance site (gallery, 'in the round' outdoor site, conventional 'front on' theatre) as also its production of multiple animated bodies. Similar to Forsythe's proposal for a 'choreographic object', the live dance body serves here in relation to a digitised counterpart whereby the aesthetic is presented through oppositional presences afforded by digital intervention. This offers the possibility of a reciprocal encounter that might find form in the slippage between body, breath and surface. As Sheets-Johnstone suggests below, the body contains its own obdurate and ostensible presence. How, then, might the integration of simultaneously produced digital dancing bodies alter those apparently distilled moments of what Sheets-Johnstone terms 'qualitative presence' that occur in watching live (moment to moment) movement?

the dancer is not moving through a form; a form is moving through him. The dancer is not doing movement; movement is doing him. To be an object-in-motion is to fulfil a kinetic destiny, and to fulfil a kinetic destiny is to bring a qualitative world to life [….]. The dancer is not making the quality manifest, the quality is manifesting itself. [….] It is only insofar as the dancer is permeated by quality, that he or she allows it full play by surrendering to it, that quality appears, and that the dancer can be described as 'having' a certain quality. It is on the basis of being had and thus having, or being possessed and thus possessing, that we can speak of a qualitative presence. In effect, quality is everywhere present because it is an absolute possession, and it is an absolute possession because it is an absolute surrender (Sheets-Johnstone, 1979: 40).

Before further scrutinising dance's discrete units of engagement however, it is worth turning the attention now to the practical role of vision as it relates to perceptions of live movement. Cultural theorist Brian Massumi considers certain physiological and psychological experiments on the role of vision during the late 1970s, arguing that the notion that vision is never 'pure' but is always dependent on the other senses. Massumi draws on these and other empirical findings to develop a theory of the gaze as a visceral, proprioceptive bodily faculty towards another sense - that of touch:

What would the equivalent of the pure field of vision be for the sense of touch? If the field of visual experience can be described, phenomenally, as encompassing things from a distance, touch would have to do the opposite: pinpoint things in proximity (Massumi, 2002: 155).

Massumi's model for a 'pure field' of touch or vision implies a lack of orientation and spatial awareness. Following the above exercise, each participant found that in transcribing their 'journey' to paper, they could not differentiate between the embodied sensory memory of each isolated sonic, tactile, olfactory and taste encounter. They could also not differentiate between the direction, proximity or spatial orientation that existed in between these positions in space. In such an instance, the role of perception can be considered as intra-subjective, whereby the sensation of touch cannot be separated from the experience of orientating oneself in space through proprioception. Elsewhere I have written on my own intersense experiments with touch/vision working in site-based movement training where certain outdoor stimuli (sound, touch, taste and smell) have formed the basis for a further inquiry into the ability to 'map' our bodies quite literally onto the landscape while simultaneously identifying particular embodied sensations as points of orientation across any given geographic distance.[7] As I previously suggested however, in the case of digital immersive environments, the role of the senses is often deliberately unpacked and repackaged. Thanks to the advancements of motion capture technology, such as that found in the Nintendo Wii Remotes and the Xbox Kinect controller, human body movements can be very accurately captured and made digital. Collaborations with technologists that utilise this technology have become more frequent, with the former building systems and environments in which the latter performs. The movements are usually translated digitally, for example, in the form of visuals that follow the performer. The design of 'Multiplicitous States' enables a proprioceptive gaze - that which is motivated by a secondary movement of the eye (metakinesis and has to do with individual reception. This thus offers our audience a more proprioceptive viewing stance, raising questions as to the ontological claims of dance's disposal towards ephemerality.

Lepecki elsewhere argues dance's predicament of performing multiple temporalities, where he suggests how 'dance's representational frame operates its own tensions where presence, disappearance and re-presentation exist' (Lepecki 2004: 24). Underlying the argument for a kinaesthesic (re)engagement with the virtual then, is the role of a proprioceptive gaze, whereby spectatorship in dance does not perceive a dance image in the live event as one might perceive a static image. Rather, it might absorb the moving image through a kinetic response - not passive or detached, but kinetically responsive. Nigel Stewart, writing on the specificity of how we might read the dance 'image', offers a further distinction of dance in relation to some of those mediatised forms:

If dance phenomenology is primordially concerned with the form of the body-in-motion then this is, ipso facto, a form-in-time, a form-in-the-making. […] (T)herefore we need to consider the dance image in terms of the dynamic temporality of the moving body. […] (W)e can proactively derive kinaesthetic information from static visual objects (such as the photograph), but until that information is itself integrated as the felt trajectory of a moving force we will not grasp the dance image (Stewart, 1998: 45).

Throughout the twenty minute performance of 'Multiplicitous States' Roberts produces a continuous live feed of digitally processed, multiple bodies. He does so in the sense that the image of my own body - produced initially via green screen capture - is then continuously returned and placed within its own material perimeter; mapped across my own surface dimension. This occupation of - and immersion within - imagery throughout the performance becomes an associate act that can be translated fluidly within a controlled simulated digital environment, while encouraging certain synergies to emerge between human and digitised forms. Here, tension emerges through a rhythmic play, found in the transfer between these dancing bodies, registering both the irrefutable ontology of dance's ephemeral nature and the irretrievable traces of glitch's divergent pathways. These glitch processes allow for mutation, bifurcation, enhancement and retraction to create a kind of meta-kinetics where my own movements are sutured across the pre-recorded footage. At the same time, these movements deviate from and return to those very same movements that have been captured, rendered and reproduced across multiple surfaces, thus allowing for individual stories and exchanges to occur, whilst still in the presence of others.

This constant play between pre-recorded, auto-generated and improvised movement offers a diversion, a multiple of discourses that can fractalise and disseminate the body's edges within a play of light and shadow. Similarly, the presence of multiple bodies allows for continuous emerging - and emergent - shapes, through a constant disappearance and reappearance of the human form into other animate forms. The question then arises: What other bodies might further be defined through a reciprocal, or proprioceptive spectator positioning of performance by way of locating alternative meanings and/or cultural identities through a reflexive/empathetic spectator inquiry? Anne Weinstone's writings on posthumanism point towards a body that exists beyond interiority/exteriority, masculinity/femininity, where she draws on theories of Tantra to position the body's own reductive/expansive capacity. Physiologically, her proposal for an avatar body that both resists volume and counteracts the body's material limitations applies a reinterpretation of Sanskrit terms that describe the metaphoric capability of the human form:

anima: the power to become minute

mahima: the power to become infinitely large

laghima: the power to become light (the power of flight)

garima: the power to become heavy

prapti: the power of extension of the body

prakamya: the power to live underwater, to become invisible, to enter the body of another, to retain an youthful appearance (Sivanda in Weinstone, 2004: 165-166).

Weinstone uses Sivanda's model to support the exchange of both bodily intention/self awareness and its projected expressive means. As such, her posthumanist proposal repositions the body within a transactive register: one of indeterminacy and indifference, wherein we might read live performing bodies as performing representations of bodies inscribed by language, theatrical codes, and gestural/corporeal stances, as also imprinted by history. Johannes Birringer further endorses this notion that animated projection surfaces might transgress the body's physical limits, so that the play extends to those invisible spatial lines that connect across energetic as much as virtual lines of feed:

The artifactual body, made-up, designed, perfected, and thus absorbed into innumerable, contradictory, cultural codes of performance, style and wholeness ("total design") is an alien body, displaced from the subject that seeks to match a model not of her or his own production (Birringer, 2005: 30).

Birringer here focuses attention on the various advanced technical modes of production that can be seen to create contradictory positions for the performance of the body within the fully technological centre of late modern societies. Elsewhere, he proposes Jean Baudrillard's term 'noia' as that which may be considered as promoting the specular imaginary or hypervisibility of the role of vision in relation to performance. This may be understood as the pre-eminence of the visual / virtual in the millennial era, accompanied by an increasing blindness to the real material conditions that surround us. Baudrillard's hypervisible body is that of a post digital/post technological age that arguably is formed as the result of an overexposed and highly sanitised viewing position. The encounter between these multiple bodies then, become an exchange that is both transferential and thematic. Where the conscious, sub-body found in Butoh could be said to take its direction more from the proprioceptive role of the muscles, nerves and senses as from a cognitive understanding, the digital dance environment, in subscribing to Weinstone re-application of Sivanda's Sanskrit terms, allows for a transformation of embodied terms. Susan Kozel, director of Mesh digital performance group, first developed her work '(i)n recognition of the creative instability of the system known as the human body. Mesh research embraces physical practices that expand the spectrum of physiology and consciousness; practices such as yoga, gyrotonic, pilates, meditation, and experimentation with the human electromagnetic field. [8] Working from the premise of an available, sentient, multilingual dancing body then, if we return to the work of 'Multiplicitous States', it is the ethical inclusion of and engagement with those equally available, sensory-reactive, multi-kinetic digital counterparts that offers my movements a key threshold between physical, mechanical, technological and teleological processes. These are processes that surround the creation of the performed digital dance work that enables a wider understanding of the event in relation to temporal structures.


Viewed from a posthuman lens, the body in contemporary performance can arguably be said to reside within the domain of the 'dysfunctional', a widely held trope critiqued by Birringer (1998) in multimedia practices, Foster (1996) in dance, Lepecki (2000) in choreography and Phelan (1993) in contemporary performance culture as a whole. My mapping of this term onto the non-kinetic, dispersed and fragmented body of Butoh, reflects a historic and socially constructed schema as ascribed to Butoh's variegated genealogy. Not only this, but as the multiple states offered by both the intervention and integration of digital technology in performance, it is also housed within a distinct choreographic sensibility cultivated through the interaction of digitised and live movements. This is a term which I describe here as 'physical synaesthesia' - as that which can be seen to challenge the symmetric, harmonious and kinaesthetically ordered body of widely held historical definitions of western theatrical dance. Physical synaesthesia presupposes a re-ordering through the senses of the body as an organised, or self-organising structure. As Alphonso Lingis states of Merleau Ponty's phenomenological approach:

Merleau Ponty's work describes our bodies, not as material objects of nature agitated by stimuli, but as organisms capable of perceiving and activating themselves in organized ways - our bodies as structures of perceptual and behavioural competence (Lingis, 2004: 4).

As such, 'Multiplicitous States' presents a double exposure, where my own movements appear to be created within an interior dialogue based on my physical articulation of a series of images and associative languages. These movement languages slip between conscious states based on internalised image construction: mimicking/copying/ playing with my projected digital image and articulating new physical forms. Physical forms also appear as pre-disposed towards anti-kinetic flow, inhabiting glitch like rhythms, which are arrived at instantaneously. Such a transformation, based on a politics of alterity, can be argued to enable a double visioning on the part of the spectator; part reflected, part projected. As theatre critic and cultural theorist David Williams suggests, in watching Contact Improvisation:

In the face-to-face encounter, the other's alterity demands that I accept responsibility (response-ability), that I respond (Williams, 1996: 24).

The resulting interplay of these three states effectively de-territorialises any standard vocabularies by which to interpret my movements, slipping between animal, mineral and human forms within the phantasmagoric act of digital transformation. This subsequently provides a constant re-framing of the body's image surfaces, shifting any negotiation of identity on the part of the viewer towards equally fluid or transformative states.

[1] I define second generation Butoh artists as those directly benefitting from both Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno's teachings, whose training practices were limited initially to Japan, before seeking alternate routes within Europe and the US. For further guidance please see Kuniyoshi, K. Butoh in the Late 1980's, (trans) Hart, R. 1989: 6. (

2 Both Butoh and its sister form 'Body Weather', as relatively new traditions which have spread during the past fifty years from their respective cultural roots in Japan to Europe and the States, can be seen to have to contend with issues surrounding translation and appropriation. While both dance forms share an underlying philosophy towards the body, as well as certain principles of movement, there is a clearly a separation of purpose. Whereas Butoh might be described as, essentially, a performance expression, tied into a cultural aesthetic, Body Weather, it seems, has been cultivated directly out of the conditions of a particular cultural landscape - Min Tanaka's development of the form was intrinsically linked to the natural conditions of the Japanese landscape. Both of these forms have fostered my own understanding of dance training and performance and can be further explored in Sweeney, R. (2012) 'Distilling Principles - an investigation into the role of consciousness in Butoh training' in Theatre Dance and Performance Training 3(1) (March 2012)

[3] The piece was commissioned by Mercy, an experimental digital media and sound collective together with FACT multimedia art centre in Liverpool as part of Liverpool's LightNight celebrations 2014.

[4] We further presented the work as part of Mercy Online 'Syndrome' Series, co-curated by a.PA.T.t at Kitchen Street club in Liverpool.

[5] Part of 'Ascension' digital dance event at the Capstone Theatre, Liverpool, 'Cornerstone Arts Festival 2014'

[6] William Forsythe interview:

[7] This concept is further explored in Sweeney, R. (2012) 'Tracking Entities: choreography as a cartographic process' in Choreographic Practices Vol 2


Birringer, J. (2005) Performance on the Edge; Transformations of culture. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Foster, S. 'Textual Evidences' in Goellner, E. and Shea Murphy, J. (1995), Bodies of the Text: Dance as Theory, Literature as Dance . New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Lepecki, A. (ed.) (2004) Of the Presence of the Body: Essays on Dance and Performance Theory. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

Lingis, A. (2004) Foreign Bodies. London and New York: Routledge.

Massumi, B. (2002) Parables for the Virtual: Movement, affect, sensation. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

John Martin (1939) Introduction to the Dance. New York: Dance Horizons.

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (1979) The Phenomenology of Dance. London: Dance Books.

Stewart, N. (1998) 'Re-Languaging the Body: Phenomenological description and the dance body' in Performance Research. 3(2): 45-53.

Sweeney, R. 'Tracking Entities: Choreography as a cartographic process' in Choreographic Practices 2: 69-87.

Sweeney, R. (2012) 'Distilling Principles - An investigation into the role of consciousness in Butoh training' in Theatre Dance and Performance Training 3 (1): 68-80.

Weinstone, A. (2004) Avatar Bodies: A tantra for posthumanism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Williams, D. (1996) 'Working (in) the Inbetween: Contact improvisation as an ethical practice' in Writings on Dance, 15.


Rachel Sweeney is an interdisciplinary dance artist and Butoh performer. Her work is often focused in site, where she is interested in definitions of multiplicity and synaesthesia within immersive performance environs. She is a Senior Lecturer in Dance at Liverpool Hope University, and has lectured widely in Performance Studies in the UK and Ireland as well as Australia. Rachel is co-Artistic Director of Orr and Sweeney whose dance ecology work is based in site and has published on somatics and contemporary cross cultural training practice.



Rachel Sweeney





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