The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A geeky world born of unique collaborations The dance performance of Yoko Higashino
Where did the BABY-Q name come from?
    It is an abbreviation for “Babylon Quest.” Babylonia was said to be a kingdom of vice and virtue and the people of its capital, Babylonia, were possessed of both beauty and the uglier sides of human nature. The image behind this name is one of bringing both of these aspects to the stage with the spirit and sensitivity in a quest to delve into the human spirit and human nature itself to find things that truly touch the human soul. At a glance this might look like the name of a cute children’s clothing line (laughs). When we first chose this name we thought it was a good one, but after coming to Tokyo we were often told that we should change it (laughs). People said it would never be understood and accepted overseas (laughs).

From what you say, many of the people involved in creating your BABY-Q works are not dancers.
    I don’t really want to use dancers. There are times when a person who is too skilled as a dancer lacks individuality and thus is not interesting, don’t you think? They are skillful and they do what you tell them to do faithfully, but their performance isn’t really interesting. You might say it is superficial, or insubstantial. My personal sense is that, rather than dance itself, I want to bring the appeal of people themselves, with all their fascinating individuality, directly to the stage as part of the central image of a work. People who watch BABY-Q only from a dance standpoint often say that I’m the only one in the group that can dance, but that is not the kind of appeal that I’m interested in. That was especially said early on. Lately the dance aspect has increased and our style has changed, but I still feel absolutely that if a person’s character is interesting, their dance will be interesting. And I think it is most interesting if we have them stand out for their character, not their dance.

Does that way of thinking come from your opposition to the dance establishment?
    No. It is simply a reflection of what I want to do. And that’s why we had to build our own support system. Of course there was opposition to the establishment on my part and I wasn’t interested in taking the easy route of performing within the confines of the existing dance scene, so we had a desire to seek out our own places to perform. After the first Baby-Q production at the church, we did things like taking a request straight to the large public venue called AI HALL in Itami city without introduction, asking them to let us rent out the hall for performances. We also performed at a small box-like space at Tenoh-ji city called Rokusodonta and at a music and dance event called Mukogawa Dance on the Banks held on a nice grassy area on the banks of a river.

Now BABY-Q has moved its base of activities to the Koenji area of Tokyo , but I would like to ask you to tell us some more about your activities when you were based in Osaka. At that time, what types of people were involved in BABY-Q?
    When the three of us had just started out as BABY-Q, we collaborated with Destroyed Robot on some works. I got to know him [Kanami Nozu] through Pretty Hate Machine and I asked him if he didn’t want to try working on a piece that was a bit closer to dance. As for the dancers, they were mainly actresses and actors that I invited to collaborate with us. For the music, I invited people like Takahiro Yamamoto from BusRatch and Shiro the Goodman, and for video I invited people like the VJ team BetaLand. You could say that it was a group of people who regulars of the Osaka [live performance] club scene. In other words, we gathered a bunch of interesting people we met in those places. When I asked them if they wanted to try working with us, they were interested and the ended up working very hard for us on the productions. That’s partly because it was at a period where there was not a lot of dance expression involved to confuse things.

Did each of the participating artists contribute ideas to the final works?
    Yes. They would say things like, “Can I do it with white body makeup?” When someone said that she could do pole dancing, we would end up creating a scene for that. Another might say, “Since I’m an actress, I think I’d like to do this part in such-and-such a way.” In that way, scenes were shaped by the characters of the participants. That is still an aspect of my creative process today. Instead of my choreographing the part for each dancer, I am more often being asked by them like “Let me do this and come out.”
    Osaka is actually a rather small town, so it is easy for artists to connect to each other. Because the divisions between the different genre of music, theater and dance are not as distinct as they are in a place like Tokyo, there is more cross-over and the genre are closer to each other. The performances clubs serve as a place for artists to socialize, and all the people who are doing interesting things come to hang out there.
    As we were carrying on that way, we reached a point where we wanted a studio space of our own and, as if with perfect timing, a friend found us an abandoned building named Misono Bldg. The friend was intending to start a club on the first floor and there was a room on the second floor that had surely been a bar before the tenants ran off, because it had a counter with a mirror wall behind it. We ended up renting that simply because it had the mirror wall. Since it had the mirrors, all we had to do to make it into a studio was to take out the ceiling and cover the floor with linoleum. Another do-it-yourselfer (laughs).

So, with that you had your own place for the first time.
    Yes. What’s more, Misono became quite an active building, as a record shop moved in and friends started a bar and a massage salon. One friend invited me to join in starting a café, so after that we were having our lessons in the daytime and then worked at “Café-Q” at night. That was around 2003, and we had a lot of artists doing live stages there for us.

It sounds like you created a place where the people you met at the clubs could gather.
    And we did a lot of collaborative sessions too. We did sessions with improvisational music. There was a live performance space called Shinsekai Bridge and a number of the artists and DJs who performed there would come over to our place and they’d say, “Next time we’d like to do a collaboration with you.” All the time there was the opportunity to hear music we had never heard before. It was a fascinating period to be in Osaka.
    In that way I was living two lives at the same time, but eventually my dance activities took up more and more of my time, and as it did I found myself wanting to concentrate more on dance. By that time Misono had been built up as place where people could gather and enjoy themselves, to the degree that I felt it would be OK if I moved on. And just as I was beginning to think about going to Tokyo for a while, I was asked if I wanted to submit a work for the Toyota Choreography Awards. Being the first award submission since I was entering contests as a child, I decided to give it a go. Before I knew it we had passed the video judging stage, which meant that we had to go to Tokyo for the live performance stage of the judging. That sent us all in a whirl. But we gave it our best shot and we won an award, and that became the impetus that let us to move our base of activities to Tokyo.

What made you decide to leave Osaka for Tokyo?
    Part of it was the fact that I had come to think of Osaka as a city with limits that were confining to some degree. I felt that I had done a lot of it, performed in most of the theaters there and met a lot of the people there were to meet. I had also done about as much as I could with the musicians that I had wanted to do collaborative sessions with. I believe there would continue to be things I could be doing if I still lived in Osaka, but my personal impulse to dance is very strong. Dance is something that you have to see live in order for feel what it has to communicate, and although Tokyo may only be one stop along my way, I believe I was looking for a new world to explore.
    Certainly it was gratifying hearing people in Osaka say, “Baby-Q? Yeah, they’re good.” But I also wanted to hear constructive criticism, and I had a desire to see worlds I hadn’t seen before. I may be addicted to stimulation (laughs). And I’m not one to be overly cautious, but rather one who tends to leap before I look (laughs). So, before I could say in words what I was going to do in Tokyo, and despite the fact that I had no studio here to work in, I had already decided on the house I would live in. My body moved before I can put in words what I am doing. And I will admit that when I came to Tokyo it took me a while to get my bearings. That was in the spring of 2005.

Why did you choose the Koenji area of Tokyo?
    For one thing I had a lot of friends here, and the Chuo Line felt like a good starting point from the transportation standpoint (laughs). At first I though Tokyo was a town where you had to straight up, but Koenji is a lot like Osaka being laid back in that you don’t have to be formal, and all in all it’s a comfortable place to live. At first I was thinking of renting a ballet studio in its off hours, but that proved to be too expensive, so we decided to make our own studio. A studio is easy to make because it is only a matter of laying down the linoleum flooring and putting up the mirrors. I called in some friends from my Ishinha days and it was another do-it-yourself job (laughs).
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