The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Talking with Ryohei Kondo, leader of the highly popular all-male dance group Condors
When and where did the Condors debut?
It was at the Session House in Kagurazaka in 1996. Looking back, I think it was a rather carelessly put together production. But, after about three performances, we were drawing the largest audiences of any of the acts at the Session House at the time. That was when we were told by some of the "adults" working there—the pros like the lighting people—that our act was interesting, so we should get serious and try to create the kind of professional work that people would actually pay to come and see. They told us that we needed to create the kind of work that was really worthy of presenting to an audience. We didn't really know what that involved, but we decided to give it a try.
In 1999 we applied to the "Spring Festival" that was being held at that time at the Tokyo Globe Theater. It had the image of being mainly a theater venue, but it was also one of the largest festivals in the Tokyo area. We were accepted, but as we began to prepare our production, we discovered something we hadn't expected. We learned how much money it takes to put on a professional stage production. Until then we hadn't realized that we would need lighting and sound staff. That was also the first time we had ever applied for support funding. In terms of style and direction, that production wasn't much different from what we are doing now, but that was the first time that one of our performances won us some critical acclaim and we came to be recognized somewhat by both the dance and theater worlds.

The following year, in January of 2000, the Condors made their American debut at the annul New Year's "Japanese Contemporary Dance Showcase" at the Japan Society in New York. The next year, 2001, they made a tour across East Asia. After a return performance at the Japan Society in New York at the beginning of that year, the Village Voice newspaper hailed the Condors as "Japan's Monty Python." Then in 2002 the group toured South Korea and in 2003 an impressive schedule of overseas performances took the group to Australia and the Pacific Rim countries of Asia. In March of this year their amazing popularity was proven once again when tickets for their performances at the Shibuya Park hall in Tokyo sold out in 14 minutes after the start of advanced sales. This was something unheard of in the Japanese contemporary dance field.

It is ten years since the Condors group was formed, and you are now 36. I believe your group members now range in age from their mid-30s up to about 40. Until now your works have always had a "full throttle, explosive energy, Let's go!" type of style. How long do you expect to continue with this kind of work?
For example, everyone naturally changes in mentality as they get older. Isn't it natural that the kind of full-throttle work that felt fruitful when you were younger might begin to change? Are you thinking about a change of direction anytime soon?
For example, everyone naturally changes in mentality as they get older. Isn't it natural that the kind of full-throttle work that felt fruitful when you were younger might begin to change? Are you thinking about a change of direction anytime soon?

You mean aging, right? No, I think most men have a stubborn drive to go out "do their thing" as long as they can. And that "drive" can be something satisfying in itself (laughs). I think the Condors will have the stubborn drive to continue doing our thing in the same style. Speaking purely from a physical standpoint—and I don't want to sound like I am running from the challenge—I can see the possibility of what has been 40 minutes of all-out dancing might eventually drop back to 20 minutes, with the musical component growing longer. But, we have also gained experience over the years and I think we have the skills to perhaps shorten the dancing time without giving the audience the impression that we are holding back.

I see. For example, Mick Jagger is over 60 now but he hasn't changed at all. He still keeps the same bad boy image he has always had. Having come this far there must be some struggle to keep it up, but he doesn't let the audience feel that at all. And, even if we think he must be struggling, he still looks great doing his thing. Is that the image you want to project?
Yes, that's exactly the how I feel. The Rolling Stones are definitely cool, and that's the way I'd like to be seen. Though compared to the Rolling Stones were just everyday folks (laughs), I want to hang in their doing our thing as long as we can. Almost all of the original members of the Condors are still with us (plus a few more), so we are still mostly the same group. I don't even think about taking in new young members to make the group younger. Because the important thing is continuing to work with these members we have now.

Among the members of the Condors, you are the only one who is working exclusively in dance. The others have work in other fields of "expression," which means that to them the Condors isn't the first job in their lives but the second or maybe even the third. As you all get older, besides the physical aspects of aging, aren't there problems of a social nature that make it hard to keep going. Especially since you are all men, and especially in Japanese society, don't you think that as the members get married and become fathers it will be harder to keep going like you have been?
Yes, it already is getting hard. But we keep cajoling each other into carrying on (laughs). Actually, this is one of the important aspects the makes the Condors different. We were never dance freaks who think of nothing else, but when we get together as the Condors we work hard and well at it. All of the Condors members have balanced their lives in a way that being a Condor is one part of their lives. When you focus your life on just one thing, I think you gradually begin to see the limits of that pursuit. I think it is exactly because we are not making dance the only thing in our lives that we are able to continue like we have, and we can put a lot into it when we do. This may be the unique aspect of the Condors.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |