The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Talking with Ryohei Kondo, leader of the highly popular all-male dance group Condors
I would like to ask you about your activities apart from the Condors. In your first overseas performance at the Japan Society Showcase in 1996, you participated as a dancer with the now defunct group "Company Resonance" I believe. After that you performed as a dancer in the work Need by Doug Barone and as a dancer with Kota Yamazaki's company, and in the process you won a reputation as the dancer Ryohei Kondo. In recent years you have expanded your activities to include dancing in collaborations with female dancer/choreographers, haven't you?
These are all interesting for me because they are so different from what we do in the Condors. It may be due to the difference in working in a man-woman context. Stated simply, I guess it is the quest for new possibilities. With the Condors, I am "participating" in the parent group that is the Condors, but with a duet the relationship between the two dancers is much more intense than when choreographing for a company. For that reason I want to continue to do duets with a number of different partners, and not limiting that to only women.

How do you choose a collaboration partner?
The duet with Ms. Nowada resulted from a plan that originated from the Session House, but she is also a person who didn't come to dance until she was over 20. And she also grew up in South America, so it was a perfect fit. Sometime soon I would like to do another work with her.

How about your duet with Ikuyo Kuroda, the leader of the BATIK company?
She invited me to do a collaboration with her. It wasn't a case of interest in her work so much as an interested in Kuroda as a person. The approach to dance for a person like her who had been involved in ballet since she was a child is completely different from that of me and the Condors members who came to dance for the first time in college. Taking advantage of this difference, I wanted to use the opportunity of dancing with her to break down the image that the general audience and the people in the dance world had of me. At the same time I was interested to see if I could break apart some of the things she had as a dancer. If that process enabled her to find new dance language, I thought it might be worthwhile.

What about the collaboration with the butoh artist Sengiku Bando?
It seems that she was interested in creating male contemporary dance, and since Condors is an all male group, the invitation came to me as its representative (laughs). I knew nothing about butoh, and since Sengiku is older than me, I also knew nothing about the people around her and their world. More than in terms of the creative process or the stage itself, it was getting to know that world that was very stimulating for me intellectually.

Are there any other things you want to do from now on?
Another thing that I am interested in now is holding workshops in different regional cities around Japan. I go to cities I know nothing about in places like Oita prefecture and Tottori prefecture. In Japan, where almost everything is centered in Tokyo, there is virtually no contemporary dance scene in these regional cities. When I go to these places I find two types of people coming to participate in the workshops. One type is people who have been studying ballet since they were little but, because of the lack of information or opportunities, they have never been able to get into new types of dance. So they want to try working with me. The second type is people who have never had any formal training in dance but they are artist or creative types and are interested in dance as a form of expression. But again, have never had an opportunity to pursue that interest because they live in a city where there is no dance going on. Both of these types are quite pure in their approach and that makes the work very interesting. There are a lot of people like this in the regional cities of Japan. So, I want to find forms of activities where I can work with these people.

When I want to explain to Americans who have never seen the Condors what your work is like, I say it is sort of like a TV variety show. There is a famous comedy variety show on US television called "Saturday Night Live" that everyone knows. It is a 90-minute program composed of a succession of short comedy skits, and there are often music acts between the skits. So, when I say that the Condors' stage works are a lot like Saturday Night Live the image comes across clearly. TV variety shows are a universal standard anywhere in the world. Do you ever think in terms of TV variety shows when you are composing your works?
To tell you the truth, I hate TV comedy shows. It may just be that I had too good an upbringing (laughs), but when I was a kid my parents never let us watch shows like that. The Condors' stages all originate purely from dance, and we definitely work within the context of "contemporary dance." It is certainly not TV variety and it is not theater either. In our works there may be an element of things born of forms of expression that originated in a theatrical background. But what we are doing is dance. In my mind, the stages I create have to be "dance" in the sense that dance is a performance art that is shown live. For the very reason that the contents of the Condors' stages are this kind of free-for-all mix, I believe it is important that it be guided by a solid artistic consciousness.
For example, I go to do workshops for junior or senior high school students. There are kids there who are highly skilled in sports like baseball or basketball, but when I try to get them to do "movements that have no specific purpose," they can't move at all. I think this is where the point is. There are no win-or-lose objectives involved in the things the Condors do. And, although that may not connect directly to "art," it seems to me that there is some kind of thread here that can lead to dance as art. You can't move without using the mind, but there is no direct purpose that you are given. I think we have to present that kind of world, and I think the children have to be shown that such a world exists.
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