Theokinesis?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Romans 12:1

Theokinesis (θεόκινησις) is a Christian-based movement practice that welcomes participants of all backgrounds and abilities to engage in sacred and creative dance theatre.

In Theokinesis, the witness establishes a personal relationship with God, responding through the body, and transforming into one’s own mystic.

THEO – God
KINESIS – Movement

The practice grew from a desire to create a new chapter in the world of butoh dance theatre where a powerful Christian-based sacred dance could occur.

Butoh while certainly not associated with Christianity has had its intersections with it. First off, butoh’s co-founder, Kazuo Ohno, had always identified as a Christian. His first performance outside of Japan in 1980 even took place in Nancy, France at the Church of St. Fiacre where he performed An Invitation to Jesus. Then two weeks later, he would perform the same piece in Paris at Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas Church.1

Yoshito, Kazuo Ohno’s son, explained how, for instance, Kazuo practiced his Christianity in butoh where expressions such as “God is great” or “Thank you” were not verbalized but instead expressed in his butoh.2

The Dead Sea by Kazuo & Yoshito Ohno (around 1985)

Yoshito once asked Kazuo to show him how being a Christian was related to being a Butoh artist. Kazuo responded that he would embark on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, considering it a return to his spiritual birthplace, “as if Christ is walking” (Nakamura interview). The pilgrimage culminated in the The Dead Sea in 1985, where both Kazuo and Yoshito took part. Although Tatsumi Hijikata choreographed Yoshito’s dance in this performance, it was Kazuo whom Hijikata commented on after the show, saying, “Finally, a spiritual Butoh dancer came to us.”3.

Kazuo Ohno would go on to perform The Dead Sea a total of 37 times throughout the world.

Tatsumi Hijikata, the other co-founder of butoh, infused the dance form with its darker undertones. He frequently criticized Kazuo for his belief in God. However, in a surprising revelation at Hijikata’s deathbed, to the astonishment of Yoshito, he confessed that his ultimate fear was God, and his parting words were: “In my last moments, God’s light . . .”4

Henceforth, Theokinesis takes off where Hijikata left off—with God. Through Theokinesis, the body becomes a vessel guided by God. Witnesses surrender themselves to a dance of praise and worship. The practice nurtures the creative flow for spontaneous expression and presentation.

Theokinesis draws inspiration from the entirety of Christian history, encompassing saints, Christian mystics, and the early desert fathers. It establishes a foundation in both Orthodox and Catholic canons.

Theokinesis also promotes the exploration of one’s inner Christian mystic.

THEO (Ground)

He alone is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 62:2

Christ is The Rock that doesn’t move. He is Unconditional Love, a palm sustaining us. He is The Groom and The Ground, both our salvation and the dance floor.

KINESIS (Movement)

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Genesis 1:1:2

The Holy Spirit is holy movement. This Spirit of God dances on the waters which comprise the marriage of matter and spirit, an example being The Holy Virgin Mary—Matter/Mother made holy and expressing the blessedness of God-appointed Creation.

While internal motionless motivation for praise and worship may be the starting point, it must go further. Imaging loving someone but never expressing it. Hence our prayer is a dance.

Exercise: Where is God?

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

Psalm 42:1-2

Dance the search for God. Where is The Almighty?

The 6 Wings of Theokinesis

We can enter Theokinesis through 6 seraphic wings. These are staring places for our sacred dance, and are the 6 last navigation page links on this website.

  1. Praise Wing: Step into the Praise Wing, where dance becomes a celebration echoing hallelujah — a fusion of Hebrew ‘hallel’ (praise) and ‘jah’ (God). This sacred dance invites you to the outer court of the Tabernacle, a spotlight on the magnificent glory of God.
  2. Shadow Wing: Traverse the Shadow Wing, a dance of Passover intertwined with cleansing and shadow work. Aligned with the Festival of Spring, it mirrors the transformative journey of Christ’s Last Supper, a symbolic “passing over” of destructive forces.
  3. Worship Wing: Immerse yourself in the Worship Wing, the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle. Here, worship and prayformance unfold, inviting those who have embraced Jesus into the sacred space.
  4. Spirit Wing: Experience the Spirit Wing, a dance aligned with the Festival of Summer, a dance of celebration where the Holy Spirit takes whole of one’s being, resulting in a trance and prophetic dance.
  5. Warfare Wing: Engage in the Warfare Wing, a dance dedicated to warding off evil, protection, and ultimately, triumph.
  6. Jest Wing: Embark on the Jest Wing, the dance of the holy fool. This dance unfolds with deliberate unruliness, revealing scriptural truth through playful acts. It serves to spotlight contradictions and provoke further connection with God.

The 6 wings frequently intertwine, creating a fluid dance where moments arise when multiple wings are active simultaneously. Perhaps there may come a point even when all the wings engage simultaneously.

Why Butoh?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Of my 12 years of exposure to various genres of dance or movement—modern, ballet, jazz, contact, etc.—the genre that has by far captured the most depth, physically, mentally and beyond, has been butoh.

Because butoh possesses an inherently otherworldly quality, it naturally aligns with a dance of the spirit. Yet, a crucial question then arises: which spirit? It’s important to discern that not all spirits are truly beneficial. “Spiritual” also does not automatically mean benign. Butoh, throughout its history, has been a neutral tool, susceptible to misuse like any other life activity.

Commonly, butoh has been viewed as a dance of transformation where shadows or the subconscious are the material for dance. But just as “spiritual” is a neutral term, so is “transformation.” What exactly do we mean by transformation? Sometimes a transformation may simply be something allowed to fester and ferment, and not all things that ferment are wholesome. Sometimes butoh shadow work is “butoh bypassing.” Sometimes destructive behavior can be enabled under the excuse of embodied art or self-help.

Nietzsche once said the famous quote, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.” Yet, I feel more accurately, it should also include “or befriending monsters.” While fighting or ignoring one’s shadows can certainly turn one into the thing one is trying to fight or ignore, the case can also ring true for “befriending” them.

With Theokinesis, we sometimes simply have to cut things out or put them on the cross. To quote Matthew 5:30, “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Theokinesis uses butoh like a contemporary church would use a guitar. On its own, a guitar is neutral. Consider what butoh would look like after it were plunged into baptismal waters.

Some would suggest eliminating the butoh label entirely and framing Theokinesis as a creative free movement practice or physical theatre in the same way Min Tanaka distanced himself from the label and wanted his practice to simply be Body Weather. This is a matter of preference, considering the desire to acknowledge origins and the impact a practice has had on its current form.

However, butoh stands out as an exceptionally free movement practice, arguably the most free, alongside perhaps Janet Adler’s Authentic Movement which I’ve had limited exposure to. Ultimately, the crucial aspect in Theokinesis is the communion of one’s body and movement with the Holy Spirit and the resulting theatre ministry that follows.

Butoh can help us go beyond a lukewarm Christianity, where we can take on an active, embodied role in our relationship with God.

I end with a quote from the dance minister Marlita Hill, highlighting my responsibility as a dance minister.

We till the heart as we lead the people in praise and worship, as we lead them in gratitude toward God, and as we lead them in remembrance of who God is to them and for them, and what He has done in them and for them.5

  1. Ohno, Kazuo. An Invitation to Jesus. Dance Archive Network. https://dance-archive.net/en/archive/works/wk6.html ↩︎
  2. Ohno, Yoshito (1999) Ohno Kazuo: Tamashii no kate (Ohno Kazuo: Bread/Food for the Soul), Tokyo: Firumua ̄tosha. Page 23. ↩︎
  3. Fraleigh, Sondra (2006) Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. Page 67. ↩︎
  4. Ohno, Kazuo and Ohno, Yoshito (2004) Kazuo Ohno’s World from Within and Without, translated by John Barrett, Wesleyan, CT: Wesleyan University Press. Page 137. ↩︎
  5. Hill, Marlita. Dancers! Assume the Position: The What, the Why, and the Impact of the Dancer’s Ministry. 2014. Page 62. ↩︎