The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Kim Itoh, the cross-over dancer who redefined butoh and contemporary dance in the 90s, looks to the future

On the Map

Gekijo Yuen
Photo: Sakae Oguma (above)

Kabe no Hana, Tabi ni Deru
Photo: Miki Araki (above two)/ Koichiro Saito (bottom)
What you have just said seems to tell us a lot about your style of dance. In the history of dance Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno are great figures in dance, whether seen from a Western or an Eastern perspective. The butoh dancer concentrates on the state of the body itself and that becomes the central theme, into which the dancer submerges with quiet intensity. That process gave birth to a new style of expression that had not existed before. However, at the same time, even though it is butoh, the body is still not everything. There is the space that the dancer’s body shares with the audience. In the space that is the stage, if you are given a duration of time of perhaps 30 minutes, the question becomes how you compose the space, including the body of the dancer in it. In other words, it becomes a question of how you compose the space as a whole from an objective standpoint over the course of the given passage of time. This is true not only for butoh artists but for all dance artists. Still, it seem that there are many dancers who concentrate too much on there own body and don’t give enough consideration to objective composition. In your work, besides the pursuit of bodily movement, there is also a very precise and intentional positioning of the dancers in the space and the timing of their entrances and exits, and this seems to give a high degree of intensity and substance to the composition. However, within this strong compositional element there also seems to be another direction, which might be described as a breaking down of conventional frameworks.
The work you have done in the ten years you have been working since you won the prize at the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales is well known in Japan, and in works like On the Map and Gekijo Yuen and Kabe no Hana, Tabi ni Deru you have used interesting devices. On the Map is a highly bold and experimental piece in which you created a multi-focus stage with cages devoted to different themes positioned around the theater and the audience uses maps they are given to walk around and view the performances. In Gekijo Yuen you used the entire theater, including the lobby and the audience seats. In these ways, prior to being dance, you seem to have unique and even tricky ways of overturning people’s everyday consciousness of the spaces they are used to.

I’m a type who prefers events. Not in the proscenium theater but things like street events are what I like. I was a sociology major, anyway (laughs).

This may sound strange but I want to brainwash people using a variety of methods. If it were another age, I might be some country’s dictator (laughs). I believe there are a number of ways to brainwash people, such as making people read books, showing them film images, telling them stories, and in my case I brainwash by “drawing the audience into a given situation.” So, in On the Map and Kabe no Hana I blurred the boundary between the audience and the performers and reversed their positions and overturned the audience’s sense of place. You mentioned trickiness, and I guess this may be a kind of trickiness.

By the way, I got a lot of the ideas for On the Map from Anzu Furukawa’s 1989 work Rent a body-The last Night of Ballhaus performed in Berlin. In fact I think there is a considerable amount of influence from that piece in a lot of my works. Rent A Body was a work that used the entire space of a large theater hall that had a sort of two-level atrium with a gallery above overlooking the hall and a bar down below. There were 52 dancers in all, including a few Japanese and the local workshop participants. It was a two-part composition in which there was an overall scene of simultaneously occurring “happening” type dances and in the end the audience joins in dancing with the dancers in the hall. I wanted to try a similar thing with my company and that was On the Map.

I think a lot of artists are concerned about how to break loose from or break down their original fields. In particular, I think that in the field of contemporary art there is a tendency for that in itself to become the purpose. But it’s different with me. Of course there is an aspect of not being satisfied with dancing only on the stage, but with On the Map, the truth is that I just wanted to use the audience seats as a form of stage art. I thought that doing that would present a form of art that no one had ever seen before. Some people saw it also as an attempt to reverse the positions of the audience seats and the stage, but merely indulging in that kind of simple rule-breaking carries with it the danger of ending up as a limited and uninteresting device.

That kind of thinking perhaps comes from the fact that you are avoiding being limited yourself to the confined world of dance and works made only for the theater, doesn’t it? Changing the subject somewhat, it seems that a lot of the prominent contemporary Japanese dancers/choreographers of a certain generation, like Tsuyoshi Shirai and Ikuyo Kuroda, all started out in your Glorious Future company. Does this have something to do with the way you choose your members?
At the time people become members I am not thinking about whether they have the substance to become choreographers, and I wouldn’t know that anyway. I believe the important thing is that these people already had that substance. But I should also say that in our company’s activities I always ask our members not to think of themselves as simply hired dancers but to think about what is involved in the process of creating works and to pursue their own development as dancers. As I said earlier, I’m a dictator and I do control what should be controlled, but I’m a flawed dictator and I often tell my dancers to do things freely as they wish, leaving the responsibility on them. This may sound unkind or irresponsible, but I tend to leave the details that I am not thinking about up to them to fill in, and I guess that system is working well. Former members say “Kim-san pushes you away so coldly that before you know it you have to be doing everything yourself,” and it is true that I don’t ask them to just perform things that are prepared for them but put them in a situation where they have to work out their own issues by themselves. Not only in creating works but even in daily rehearsals, I do set things up so they have to think by themselves about their bodies and their own existence. I think this must be what leads them on to their own individual artistic activities in time.

What does the body mean to you?
In the end, I guess it might be a thing to play with, and commercial instrument (laughs). Because, I always think that dance begins from play. That was exactly how Anzu Furukawa thought, too. That is why I tell dancers that they should play with their bodies more, and we do that in our workshops too. I ask them to how completely they can use their bodies like toys to play with. To do that you have to take your body apart completely and use it like a completely foreign object. That’s why dancers with a narcissistic streak or dancers who become addicted to their own bodies are not interesting to me.

In workshops for example, I may do something like use a piece of cloth and wrinkle it up, stretch it out, make various shapes with it and then I say “Let’s become this cloth.” The ideal body is one with a heart that is innocent and accepting and has the ability to accept external forces naturally, but that is not an easy state to achieve. The older you get and the more experiences you accumulate, the harder it gets.
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