The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
The unique aesthetic art world of director and choreographer Sakiko Oshima

Signifiant et signifié – Little Mermaid
Photo (c) Arata Yoshimura

Swan Lake – Writing Degree Zero

The Rite of Spring
Photo (c) Etsuko Matsuyama

Romeo and Juliet
Photo (c) inri

House of Sleeping…
Photo (c) Naoki Takeda

Secret Club … Floating Angels
Photo (c) Akira Shikano

The Machine that Makes Gods 2005
Photo (c) Etsuko Matsuyama

Artificial Paradise
Photo (c) Sakae Oguma

Midnight Sun
Photo (c) Sakae Oguma
You incorporated Saussure’s theory of symbol in the title of your 1993 work Signifiant et signifié – Little Mermaid. This became an important work at a time about four years after the company was established and you were beginning to become noticed.
The little Mermaid leaves the sea at the age of 17 and I got the idea that I wanted to create a visual expression of a body in the stage space as a symbol specifically of a woman come of age. This was a work that I created while thinking about ideas like having a body that was there a minute ago remain only as an outline by using such devices as a two-level stage divided between an upper and lower level.

I feel that in your work Swan Lake – Writing Degree Zero (premiere 1994) you showed yet another approach to the body.
That was a work in which I wanted to dissect the social meanings that a woman’s body is saddled with. At the time there was a social phenomenon known as “burusera shops” that sold school uniforms or underwear that junior and senior high school girls had worn to the shop in order to sell. It was that problem that got me to focus on the sex industry. I had the dancers remove one pair of panties after another as they danced until there was a lake of panties. Wearing about ten pairs of panties each, the dancers dance on joyfully unaware of the discarded panties on the ground, but eventually the panties under foot cause them to lose their footing. I saw high school girls interviewed on a TV documentary saying, “What’s wrong with selling them, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” Watching them, I got the feeling that I was watching swans plucking out their own feathers. In what was spewing out of the bodies of these girls, I felt that I was seeing some form of punishment being visited on the body by our times.

In your representative work the Rite of Spring (premiere 1995) there also seems to be an aspect of sharp social criticism. I don’t know if you have an aversion to expressions like the “position of women in society” but I feel that there is clearly a feminist perspective in the work.
That was a work in which I tried to choreograph something that might be called the “violence of the eye” or “the violence of the viewer” while following the contents of the music in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I was thinking about not the violence of the perpetrator against the victim but the violence of the innocent bystander, the sacrificial victims that the times choose unconsciously. At the time in Japan, a lot of attention was focused on the problem of bullying, and just after I did this work Princess Diana died in a crash while being pursued by paparazzi. I did that work because I was feeling what you might call a fear of our lack of consciousness of that type of “the violence of the viewer,” and I was thinking that perhaps society was experiencing an outpouring the anxiety or frustration that can build up in our bodies without our being aware of it.

Shirakawa’s presence and dancing were especially wonderful in that work. I also felt that your use of wires in that work reached a new level of effectiveness, such as the use of wire-suspended chairs.
I hadn’t thought of that before, but now that you mention it, perhaps that is true. The dancers are just standing and watch as the chairs spin in the air around them. The eye, the line of sight that we feel at that moment is almost tactile. Why is that, what is it about that eye, that act of watching. I think of it as a kind of touch from a distance. When we feel the cold or critical stares of people from a distance, we can almost sense those eyes on our skin. I tried to express that eye of the viewer using the chairs floating in the air and chairs being thrown. The eye can be a kind of weapon, and I believe that it can be a pressing form of violence against a victim.

In terms of Shirakawa’s presence, she was also magnificent in Romeo and Juliet (premiere 1996). This was a solo work for her, but we got the impression that many people had appeared in the dance.
Romeo and Juliet can be considered a tragedy caused by a failure of communication, when the Friar’s letter fails to be delivered to Romeo. I took that as the point of departure to create a work that takes place in the world of computers. We only live one life but something like a video can be reset and played over and over. So, I made Juliet a game character that is brought back to life repeatedly, but at one point a virus causes a failure of the software that makes it impossible to reset, so the character is suddenly confronted with the sadness of only being able to live and die once. I wanted to use this device to create a renewed recognition of the compelling fact of life as a one-time affair and to portray sadness as one of time’s antics.

Your work Nemuri no Mori no —— (House of Sleeping…)(premiere 1997) which took its motif from Yasunari Kawabata’s Nemureru Bijo (House of Sleeping Beauties) and the original Sleeping Beauty was performed in an outdoor venue (Yokohama Business Park, Mizu no Hall).
When I saw the location with its pool of water in a somehow fantasy-like corridor with the modern buildings of the city in the distance, I had a vision of a lake in the middle of a forest. I though that in a place like this I could do a work that suggested that perhaps all the people working in this forest of skyscrapers were actually living in a sleeping world. There is a strange form of eroticism in Kawabata’s work. It made me think about what could cause the main character to wish for a relationship that was not sexual but merely a desire to lie beside a sleeping young woman, who in that unconscious state was something close to a corpse. Wouldn’t it be possible to release something precious that people are blind to as they live their half-sleeping lives in the city? I began working on this piece with a concept close to necrophilia, where young beauties lying on beds in an unconscious state almost like corpses are carried forth from out of the sparkling water. I created this work with the idea constantly in mind that sleep in the younger brother of death and a lesson to prepare for death.

You toured North America in 2000 with your work Himitsu Kurabu … Fuyu Suru Tenshitachi (Secret Club … Floating Angels) and got excellent reviews, including one by Anna Kisselgoff. This is one of your original works first performed in 1992 (remake in 1998) that might be considered the roots of your company. It makes use of wire work, group dances and Shirakawa solos, mirrors and flashlights, and darkness as an element of lighting.
This was one of my earlier works and one that just seemed to complete itself before I knew it. The theme was the idea that true objectivity is in fact impossible in this world. Since the world that a fly sees is different from the world that we humans see, I believe that we can never know what the real world is. Subjectivity and objectivity may be just different layers of worlds that are seen differently, and there may be no real boundary between madness and sanity. So, the world seen by one consciousness is actually something that is full of secrets that other people can never see.

I have heard that your work from 2001 comes from a personal experience of life and death.
I was drowning in the sea in Bali and the moment I though, “Oh no, I’m going to die,” the purplish blue water and the swaying seaweed seemed to become perfectly still and I had the feeling that time had stopped. I completely lost consciousness after that. It turned out to be nothing serious and when I saw a flower on the beach after I regained consciousness, I had a sense that I could see time moving inside the flower. That was quite a shocking experience for me. I got the feeling then that there is time in this world and being alive means having time in your body. In other words, I had a strong feeling that in one sense this world is a world that is given expression by time.
When thinking about death, we used to think that it must be god that decides the moment of death, but now human beings have reached the point where we can operate an artificial breathing machine and push back the moment of death with life-support systems. The borderline between life and death has now become blurred to the point that what used to be the realm of god is now something that involves a person’s family. Since the body that used to be one’s can now be invaded by the organs of other people, like in the case of a heart transplant, the boundaries of the body are now blurring, just like the borderline between life and death is blurring. Kamigami wo Tsukuru Kikai (The Machine that Makes Gods) is the work I created while thinking about what the body is in an age like this when the body is subject to fluctuating ethical questions of life and death.

It seems that this theme continues in your work with Bokyaku to iu Shinwa (Myth Called Forgetting) (premiere 2003) and Jinko Rakuen (Artificial Paradise) (premiere 2004) in which the images of life and death are played out in the real and the virtual.
Myth Called Forgetting is a work about the time of individuals who are forgotten in the flow of history. With Artificial Paradise and Byakuya (Midnight Sun) I thought quite a lot about the virtual. In Artificial Paradise the theme is the image of our bodies in this world where time and place are always edited. What I thought about with Midnight Sun was the security cameras in shopping center. My image is taken at one-second intervals and those images of time gone by are compiled. It has become commonplace now for us to be constantly observed in this way. In this world that tries to control everything, information like your blood type is being compiled at outside sources without our knowing it, the national government is trying to put numbers on everyone, and I think that within this process our sense of the body is changing greatly. Regardless of whether you are aware of it or not, everything is being recorded in computers. Our culture has been created through the excesses of the body and it surprises me how now it seems that those excesses are coming back into our bodies in different forms. The security lock on my house is a fingerprint-reading type and I do the operation without a thought, but when you think about it, I say “What is going on here?” As cell phones and computer security locks also come to be biologically based, our bodies become living keys. Without our realizing it, the body becomes a virtual entity that is being spread around to all sorts of places. But, since we are not actually using the body at all in these operations, they become fragmented experiences for the body itself. The body’s existence is not here in its physical form but being manipulated as information inside of machines…. So I thought, that virtual space is not off in some unknown place but is always right here with us.
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