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Volant: the birdwoman

Volant in the language of the blazon signifies in flight; in the language of war, capable of rapid movement; also: mercurial, or swift, as of a wind; fleeting.

I invoke this woman, the woman in flight, by the names she has been given: Ecstatic! Demoniac! Witch! And by her voice: the thorned cries at dawn; noon transfixed in stillness; dusk’s fire of birdsong; the great storm at the hilt of night. The woman in flight, the first dancer, whose art was to ride the breath, the subtle breath; who caught the hidden world in her body and made it visible. For the body, like the voice, amplifies breath; and it is breath which forges the living body.

Psyche – breath, wind, soul, apparition, slang for (the altar of ) Venus. Psyche – from breath the winds, and on the winds the host of souls, and in death, sex.

Dancer as artificer, as smith, as ymagier of the flesh. The medieval ymagier was an artisan who translated the unseen, ineffable and sacred dimension into an epiphany in stone, ivory, bone, wood and pigment. The dancer – who manifests butô, or duende, or yugen – similarly translates an inner, closed or hidden reality to the language of gestures, of signs. The language of the body and the world of being gives itself to those who are silent, or silenced, the dead, the poor, the lost and the damned.

Butô is unlike other dance forms: it has neither a canon of fixed techniques, nor a definable aesthetic. It is not an art of interpretation; neither does it seek to express. Butoh is the dancer surrendering to the flow of movement. It is a quality, like yugen, that shadowy mysterious depth that may open in the performer of Noh; or, like the duende, it is the demon, guardian of the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore. [1] Except for those birds of paradise who never alight, flight begins and ends on the earth. It is born of the earth – like the oracular voice. For the oracular voice is an embodied voice, the cry of the body of transformation – a body of ordeals, ecstasies, and hungers. A body in crisis. And when I think of this body I am reminded of these words from La Jeunne Née, on the tongue: She is pulled extremely tight, stretched between inside and outside. She is both on the threshold herself and on the threshold others cross to go from life to death and from death to life. [2]

The body of flesh [3] hangs – electric, tensed, vibrating – on the shore where life and death conjoin and apparitions are born of the foam: a swarming relentless stillness. She is the limen through which an interior realm is brought forth and revealed.

In both performance and ritual, there is a cyclic movement from a state of contagion/pollution to a state of catharsis/purification. This transformation (by no means a fait accompli ) is effected precisely by means of the body in crisis: itself the threshold, and an act of poïesis, of unceasing becoming. Of binding time and space. And I will state it clearly: it is the body of desire that crosses the breach; that attains the heights; that descends. And it is this body, having fermented consciousness from the matter of lived experience, which resurrects the dead and allows them to remember what it is to taste, to smell, to hear, to see and to touch.

There are no secrets. Butô is the result of hard work, repetition and of ceaseless questioning. It proceeds from a core of strength, suppleness and balance; and further, the willingness to engage in an archaeology of the body, a retrieval of the flesh. Conventions and externally imposed forms have no place in this process. Instead, we have manifold techniques to alter (embodied) consciousness; games, devised to discover, colour and temper movement by means of internal imaging; strategies to unveil the inner life. And all these techniques pertain to the imaginal realm as much as to the physical: when the physical body is ablaze, whether by ordeals or pleasures, an intensifying of visionary states will ensue. Butô is an art of images, of raising images.

The Volant penetrates the Imaginary on her breath.
Her body is voyant, it sees. Ecstatic! Demoniac! Witch!
I invoke her by her name: Medea! [4]



[1] Lorca: “Theory and Play of the Duende,” 1933.
[2] Cixous and Clément: La Jeunne Née. (The Newly Born Woman, trans. B. Wing, Manchester University Press, 1986.)
[3] In Japanese nikutai, as opposed to shintai: the biophysical body. The meaning was refined by Tatsumi Hijikata to distinguish the body that serves the athlete, for instance, from the body that can transform, and manifest the immanent ‘inner landscape.’ I propose that it is the nikutai, the body filled with memory and desire, that attains the sabbat (‘The sabbatic dance: The interior landscape and the terrain of witchcraft.’ Presentation given on 31st May 2014, Dokkhuset (Here to Go II symposium/Meta.Morf Biennale, Trondheim, Norway).
[4] ‘In accordance with the Semitic origin and the specific semantics of the names of all her kinspeople, the root of her name has to be sought among Semitic names for various predatory birds, or verbs for “flying.” […] We derive her name from the W-S root d’y “to fly,” Heb. dâ’â, whence Heb. da’a (or dayya), a bird of prey, translated by Lev. 11:14 gyps (a type of vulture),Ugar. diy, plur. diym // nsrm “eagles.” Medeia, according to this interpretation, derives from Part. Sg. Fem. Piel of d’y; this would be in Ugar. *mdiyt (*madiyat), in Heb. *mede’(y)a.’ (Astour, Michael C., Hellenosemitica, Brill, Leiden 1967.)