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

H.ART CHAOS & Singapore Dance Theatre Feast of Immortality

Singapore Dance Theatre
Whose Voice Cries Out?
In recent years you are working actively not only with your company but also as an independent choreographer. You have now done your second choreography work for the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT).
In 2001, we did an H. Art Chaos performance of the Rite of Spring at the Singapore Arts Festival. The SDT artistic director, Ms. Goh Soo Khim, saw our performance and asked me to choreograph a piece for their company. The first collaborative work we did with them was Feast of Immortality in 2003.
I had The Machine that Makes Gods as the basic piece to work from, and the theme, the set and the music were all the same. Since I was choreographing for a ballet company, I used a lot of pointe when I reworked the piece for SDT. I used all 24 of the company’s dancers, including the men. I used wires, I used pointe and I included a new scene for the men. Since the pointe used in ballet is completely different from what we use in H. Art Chaos, the choreography and composition of the work was completely different in the SDT version, to the point that it became a completely different work.

I recall that Shirakawa danced the lead of Feast of Immortality, but in this new work Whose Voice Cries Out? it appears to be a complete original using only SDT dancers. I saw the performance at the Esplanade on August 31 and I found it to be a marvelous work that made good use of the strengths of the ballet company.
We did the work in two separate sessions and that seems to have worked out well. First I stayed in Singapore in June and held a workshop for three weeks. We did improvisational movement and we did theatrical type exercises where I had them using their voices all the time. We tried a variety of things like seeing if they could carry out their movements while screaming into a microphone. That was all quite interesting in itself but there were also a lot of aspects that turned out to be different from what I had in mind originally. At that point my ideas had become rather fragmented. Then in July I returned to Japan and rethought things after I’d let it all settle. I did a lot of research about pointe play. Since I was starting from scratch, I knew how I had to move the choreographing and everything along if I was going to finish the piece in time. I used Shirakawa to work out each of the parts at time, but I can tell you that it was really a mess at the beginning.

How did you come up with the concept? Did you use aspects of Singaporean society as motifs?
I had been quite inspired by the dancers in the company while I was doing the workshop in June. Singapore is and advanced IT society where Internet use is high, but compared to Tokyo there is still much stronger connection between people and with the natural environment. Since Singapore has a variety of ethnic groups, I feel that the people there think a lot more about their relationship with others. I felt that their interpersonal relationships were something that was complete different and much deeper than those in the world of the Internet.
In fact I did a lot of choosing of choreographic moves and got valuable feedback from the dancers, and we all worked very hard. Still, the way they danced moves that we commonly use in H. Art Chaos was completely different. When I would say, “Try breathing at this point,” it just wouldn’t get through to them as I expected, and they would interpret what I wanted in terms of the dance movement quite differently. At times it came out to be a completely different dance from what I had choreographed. There was none of the responses that one expects naturally with one’s own company. And thinking about this communication and miscommunication became a theme of this production.

In other words, it became a work that only could have happened in Singapore?
I thought about the isolation and solitude of times like ours when time and distances are all edited. The scene where only the dancers head poke out through boards is a representation of a state where the true self is lost because of repression. We can learn everything about places far away thanks to the Internet or TV but we know nothing about the people living next door. Hasn’t that become our everyday sensibility? My theme is the relationships of people today that involve a lack of actual physical experience, or fragmented physical experiences involving mostly the parts from the neck up, like being next to a person but they are talking to someone far away by cell phone.
The images on the TV can work their way into your head unknown to you and when you give an opinion about something it actually turns out that you are just repeating an opinion that you heard a TV announcer give. You find people looking at a woman (or man) as if they are looking at a product, or both women and men may look that way. When you are reading a book you may suddenly get the feeling that it is not you reading the book but the book telling a story inside your head …. Or the feeling that your head alone is of somewhere creating your world all by itself. These are the kinds of uncomfortable feelings that are the motif in this work.

Will you continue to work with this company?
I am not sure, but I will say that I was surprised at how different it was to work with them even in the choreographing aspect. Since they are a ballet company and composed of people from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds, I felt like I was in the New York of Asia. There were dancers who would be asleep in the rehearsal studio, there would others who were trying hard to understand my Japanese, and the attitudes would vary with the race and the individual. Usually you expect to see the people of the same company sharing a common attitude. But, for better or worse, there is certainly a lot of variety here [in Singapore]. Japan is a mono-ethnic country, so this was a very interesting experience for me.

What about the future?
Next February I am going to direct and choreograph an opera production with the Nikikai in Tokyo. The work we will be doing is the oldest known opera, Daphne from the Greek myths, with music by Richard Strauss. Of course, Shrakawa will be dancing in it. It will be another new challenge.
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