Memories of What Once Was

My process used to start in the physical exhaustion of hardcore training: breaking resistances in my body, so gates would open and creativity would flow…

My process was starting in what I thought was the opened…

Blackout poetry by Geneviève Johnson
Blackout poetry • Geneviève Johnson

From Min Tanaka’s Butoh I used to work with MB (Mind&Body, Muscles&Bones). Every creation session started with this intense follow-the-guide exercise where we run, jump or walk across the room for at least 30 minutes. In Japan we could do this for 2-3 hours in order to “break the body” and open the gates of creativity through exhaustion.

It is ironic that walking and running are the two things I cannot do anymore.

I finally put the MB training aside.

Now I prepare my body and open the gates in a softer way: I use the Simple Fluid Choreography warm-up I learnt in Japan with Tadashi San and Zulu, formerly from the Dairakudakan Butoh group.

Creative Process Part 1: Preparation

  • Think about the space as a 3D canvas
  • Draw the figure 8 in space all around you
  • Start with one hand drawing then join in with the second hand as you move switch to drawing with different body parts…
  • Explore levels, directions, and planes – front, back, up, down…
  • Change size and speed – e.g.: extremely slow and big, small and quick, small and slow…
  • Draw this figure 8 outside and inside the body involving the spine, pelvis, ribcage, skull…
  • Draw until you feel a mental let-go

Frustrations of What Is Fading

For a while I focused on what I could not do anymore. And still am sometimes but I find new ways to help me refocus.

For example:

I always called my performances “poems in motion” because I dance embodied words. I let the words, their meanings and sounds, move me towards new ways of moving. I still do. But I discovered recently a desire to say words out loud as well.

So I started to write not only words-images to be moved but words-images to be said. Live or recorded, they are now part of  my performances. Sometimes taking over movement, this new part of my creative process and performance allows for more stillness that in turn helps support my newly aching body.

My creative process evolves every day. It follows where my body-mind is at that point in time…

It reminds me what I always say in workshops:

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Poems in motion are never finalized into a fixed choreography.
They are rather improvisations which evolve through an established but malleable structure.
You travel from one landmark to another, inspired by chosen images and the state you are in today.

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Let your process evolve: don’t freeze it in time. Start where you are in the moment.

Today, my creative process starts with a reflection about what connects with me here and now, in the present moment.

Creative Process Part 2: Reflection

  • I choose a starting point I really care about (from memories or interests) and split it in a few sub-themes that will become sections of the poem in motion
  • I make a list of associations with my starting point (qualities, movements, images, sounds, words, objects, places…)
  • I choose an object  to dance with
  • I write a poem from my associations, themes, starting point (to be moved and/or said and/or recorded as part of score)

In Anatomy of a Storm, my starting point was my son’s anxiety and the inner storm it created (within him and me). I spoke on stage the poem I wrote for the piece. I also used a roll of craft paper as an image of the road life unrolls for us.

(Objects are very important in my creative process. I will write on the subject in a future blog.)

(Excerpts of Anatomy of a Storm • Music by Kenny Breault • Dance by Geneviève Johnson)

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Anatomy of a Storm: Cloudscapes of Anxiety
(excerpt of the spoken poem)

I am         walking
a storm inside
clouds forming

a little boy is running
who is he?
broken self
red ravaging thunders
in the flesh

I am walking         with him
hurricanes in my mouth


shattered mirror beneath      both      our skin

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Rebounding from Past Ways

Don’t put everything in the garbage: lean on what was, on embodied memories of what your creative process was. And push from this base towards a new direction.

What is to keep? What sill works?

I always kept the becoming-other method I learnt from Kazuo Ohno and Min Tanaka. Through my PhD I deepened this transformation-based method and unearthed the monster principle that I added up to my tool box.

At its extreme, this principle can push the fragmentation as far as to reach complete destruction or annihilation of being.

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Or we can use the monster principle’s active components –
transformation –
to allow us to metaphorically cut in pieces (dissect) our being, reorganize the parts and reassemble our beings in new ways to create change and transformation… reaching what is bigger than life, the unknown full of potential like the unsettling figure of the monster…

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The monster also refers to the wounded, the broken that has been put back together imperfectly. Leaving gaps to be potentially filled. Leaving openings to access unexplored territories…

Creating Here and Now

The “opened” is also our wounds, our scars, our limitations, our wear and tear…

I did not then know to escape between the opened

I know now that these openings (aging, injuries, disabilities) are making me “escape” to the imagination in order to create… re-create myself plural…

My Creative Process Part 3: Exploration

  • I improvise and create movement phrases using the “becoming-other” and “fragmentation, reconstruction, transformation” techniques supported by “embodied images” 
  • I use my starting points, themes and associations list as my images to move
  • I create a feeling of uncanniness in my construction through seeding a doubt in the audience’s mind
  • I keep movement phrases I like and explore them again with adding layers of images or changes in rhythms and qualities
  • I move the found phrases in different orders, from different points of view, through different pathways…
  • I create a bank of phrases I want to keep
  • I explore soundscapes and music score

I made a short video of an exploration I did a few weeks ago. These are movement phrases I improvised from a few starting points:

  • how to move using my legs the least as possible
  • lean on something as much as I can (I chose a stool in my studio)
  • images of: dripping wet paint on a canvas, etching lines on metal, spiraling hose on the ground, rays shooting out of a center, floating, opposition heavy/light

The music is by my nephew Guillaume Nagy, who is exploring music scores creation for different media. I  am really proud and excited to start a collaboration with him.

(You can explore these starting points for yourself first, then watch the video. It would show how movement can be a very personal expression when it starts from within… For how to “move images” through becoming-other you can refer to my second blog.)

After a period of exploration, you can work on composition in order to create the finalized structure of your poem in motion. (Keep structure and movement phrases flexible, changing with your state of the moment.)

Creative Process Part 4: Composition

  • I picture the poem in motion as a whole: imagining the general outline or the story (beginning, climax, end) and the different sections with their ambiance
  • I organize and re-organize my favorite movement phrases, classifying them in each sub-theme section (sections might be added or removed…) ordering the phrases in many different ways with different pathways until I feel satisfied
  • I finalize the sound score and costume

Explore the changes in your own creative process: what to let go, what to keep, what to add on?


Create something using my creative process as a guide line: a poem in motion, a written poem, a visual art work or installation…


Discover what are these opened spaces in you and where they can guide you

And Share Your Experience with Us

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