Photo: Dominik Mentzos
|Since 1995 you have been conducting your “Saburo Teshigawara Education Project (S.T.E.P.) in the UK. And you have been in educational activities that are recently gathering increasing attention in Japan.
The London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) has many educational programs, and that is where I first got involved these projects. The first one I did was with handicapped children, and the next one was a project for middle school and high school students in three London districts. For that project we painted the walls and floor of a small space in the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in very strong, bright colors to do performances titled Invisible Room.
I wanted the young people to discover that they could achieve something by doing dance. And I wanted to try creating a work that was based on what they wanted to do. Dancing may not have been something that they needed to do, but once they got together and began practicing, that gradually changed. There were suicidal children, there were children who were getting into fist fights backstage. It was children in their most difficult stage of adolescence and there were children with bad home environments, which meant that we had to deal with their personal problems, and that made it even more interesting for me.
After that project, the next one I did was with the visually handicapped. It was a project of London’s The Place and there were blind people participating in it. For that project we took a good amount of time doing an extended workshop. When I couldn’t be there, I gave them a video and instructions what to do. Through that workshop we created a work titled Flower Eyes. This happened to be an exchange project with Helsinki as well and dancers from Helsinki who wanted to participate were involved too.
That is where you met the young blind man Stewart Jackson who performed in your Luminous (2000) production, isn’t it?
Yes it is. The woman who was his care-taker brought him to the program because she had the idea that he would benefit from the experience of dance. Even though they can’t see, it is very important for visually handicapped people to go and “see” things, which means go to feel things. And it is especially meaningful if they get involved in doing something with other people.
Besides Stewart, there was a very weak-sighted teacher from a school for the visually handicapped. I did a workshop on the relationship between the different parts of the body and breathing. Since Stewart is a young man he responds to strong forms of expression like jumps and spins and to strong music. On the other hand, the female teacher’s movements were very smooth and beautiful. In the workshop their individuality became even more accentuated and I felt a great purity to it. Watching them I got the very strong feeling that we can take our potential to much higher levels and that we could use our inherent capabilities in even more lively and vital ways.
Stewart was born blind and can’t see at all and he can’t do anything by himself, so his feelings of hesitancy and his sense of fear are very strong. For that reason he often has to suppress himself in daily life, but when that restraint is removed it can give birth to very strong expression. The strong potential and mental strength he has within himself comes out very directly.
In 2001 we presented the work Luminous at Tokyo’s Theatre Cocoon with the British actor Evroy Deer participating, and after that we toured this work internationally. Today, Stewart has reached the point where he has created a work of his own.
What kind of work is it?
It is a wonderful work titled “Angel’s Journey.” Its theme is one of Stewart’s favorite things, angels. In it there are moments of intense, violent motion, but I believe that for him that intensity is an expression of approaching what he seeks. Besides being blind, Stewart also had a so-called learning disability, he had trouble putting memories in order. He has memories but since they are not structured normally, he had trouble speaking coherently. When he first started attending the workshop he would often lose track of the order of movements in a piece and he almost never spoke. But we found that as he continued the physical exercise of the workshop he gradually became able to put the parts together. He became able to memorize physical movements, and his ability to memorize physical movements became the impetus that enabled him to put verbal, linguistic elements together and now he has become able to speak like he wasn’t able to before. This amazed me, and made me think again about the potential of physical movement and exercise.
So, it seems that your aim in working with people of completely different sensibilities from yourself has been not to get them to learn your form of expression but to help them bring out their own sensibilities and give form to them.
That’s right. That’s why I say that I am not an educator. Instead, there is the interest in being involved with other people’s bodies and physical expression and discovering things I don’t know. I don’t work with them because they have handicaps but to help bring out the things that are hidden inside them, to dig deep and bring out what can be brought out. I want to know myself, and the process of getting to know other is a similar process.
That’s why in the Dance of Air program what I want to communicate to the middle school students is the question, “What do you want to discover for yourself?” It is certain that the things they have in their minds are important to them, and that there is undoubtedly something of value that they have as people. But, if they don’t know how to bring that something out, we can say to them, “How about trying this?” That’s what technique is for and that is why I work so exclusively with teaching how the truly basic movements come out.
That is also why I don’t try to push them to give premature expression to what is inside them, even for university students.
I would like to go back for a moment to ask you what types of things you were doing when you were starting out as an artist.
In my early career I spent the longest time studying ballet. After that I participated in various events and once every three months I worked with video artists and people who were doing rock-ish noise to present work at the “Antenna 21” space in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. That was around 1984.
At the time, the term contemporary dance didn’t exist in Japan, so what did you call the things you were doing?
We called it “moving works.” I didn’t like the term modern dance and I didn’t think of it as butoh. I liked theater too and often went to the small theater called Kyu-Shinkukan Gekijo, which was in a converted factory building. I danced there under bare light bulbs in the entrance hall, and I think that may have been my maiden performance.
One of your expressions from an interview that impressed me very much and I have always remembered is the statement, “There are no internal organs in my body.” That suggests a vision of the body that is different from butoh and different from classic ballet as well.
I still dislike the term nikutai-teki (bodily). At the time I was absorbed in the discovery of one’s body and how to express the things I discovered. I wanted experience concepts like “air” and “material” and “non-material” from the perspective of the body and give expression to them. I felt a kind of emptiness or severance in the word “air.” So, in music as well, my direction was toward noise, not in the minimalist sense of the “post-modern” artists like Steve Reich, but in the sense of “un-performed sound is music.”
And that is what led to the “individuality” you mentioned earlier in which you plan everything from the music and lighting to the stage design in your works?
I didn’t see anyone in the world of dance at that time that I could identify with in terms of artistic sense. Rather, I felt that artists in film or “noise” musicians may have been closer to me in artistic orientation. For a long time I felt that I didn’t need a teacher and didn’t want to be taught by anyone. But in fact, I was being taught and I was learning things [from others]. And, as I was studying ballet I was thinking, “Why do I have to do this, this isn’t in sync my body at all.” That feeling of dislocation was my starting point. It was a very important experience.