The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A geeky world born of unique collaborations The dance performance of Yoko Higashino
Billed as BABY-Q + Musicians, this is an evolving improvisational work in which Higashino and BABY-Q collaborate each time with different musicians and DJs, all of whom are cutting edge contemporary leaders in their own right. The dance of BABY-Q and the video installation of ROKAPENIS create an other-worldly atmosphere.
It premiered in August 2008 with Masaya Nakahara, Atsuhiro Ito, Hiraku Suzuki, L?K?O, KILLER-BONG, Kleptomaniac and Kamataro Niji (DJ) performing on the first day and World’s end girlfriend, kenichi matsumoto (sax), mujika easel (vocals) and Okiishi (DJ) performing on the second day. A second production was performed in September 2008 at the site of the former Osaka ship-building yard and included destructive action featuring a fire-breathing tank created by DESTROYED ROBOT. In 2009 there will be further evolutions of this work with new musicians.
The body of the woman gouges out blood and feelings in a shocking work that might be sounding an alarm for female sexuality. A young woman, like an embodiment of Alice in Wonderland, shares a dark space with a giant robot that moves on compressed air and other machinery in a grotesque atmosphere. Amidst an abundant use of strobe light and noise, Higashino’s dancing body is magnificent to see. This work won the “Choreographer of the Next Generation ‘NEXTAGE’” grand prize of the Toyota Choreography Awards 2004.
I would like to ask you tell us some more about how you choose the subjects for your works. Considering the timing of the 2008 BABY-Q work MATAR O NO MATAR just after the indiscriminate multiple killing incident in Akihabara, the title seems to be related to the incident. Do specific incidents or social problems directly influence your creative process in such a way?
    Since I’m alive, such things do have an effect—it becomes fiercer and fiercer (laughs). By nature I have the tendency to be deliberately demonstrative in my artistic expression. Although it would be possible to simply concentrate on dance without paying attentions to such social aspects, the fact that I choose to deal with these issues is because I feel them in my life and because it is often the shocking incidents in life that stir our emotions.
    The title MATAR O NO MATAR means “do or die,” or “live or die,” and an incident like that shows that we don’t know really know when we might be in a life or death situation. I got that title from the CD title originally. As far as the Akihabara incident is concerned, an underclasswoman of one of my friend died there. She was just there doing a part-time job handing out advertisements and she got fatally stabbed. That’s how close death can be. You look at the newspaper and you see that kind of incident reported almost every day. You look at TV and you see people dying like that all the time, and we get used to that state. We feel the heart grow callous and I started wondering how people would react if we brought it to the stage.
    The plan for MATAR O NO MATAR came from the idea of doing a work with BABY-Q that was an extension of my solo piece E/G, which was a piece in which I had different musicians for each day’s performance. It arose from an interest in seeing in what ways a piece would change when I took a work in progress and had completely different types of musicians perform in it each day. I think pieces like this can be called a work, but there was also the possibility that we would be overshadowed by the musicians. Since we are using musicians that we trust, there is not much chance of that happening, but it was still a gamble in some sense.

The young man who committed the killings in the Akihabara incident became the focus of a lot of attention as a case of an Akihabara (geek) type killing fellow Akihabara frequenters. With all the advances in information technology, you only have to turn on the TV to see these kinds of shocking incidents, even if you don’t want to, but the things you really want to know remain hard to find and the important things seem to get lost in the information networks and don’t reach us. In a social atmosphere like this, I think that dance has a tremendous amount of potential as a form of expression using only the body. Perhaps tragedies like that wouldn’t happen if the person had been able to interact more with other people. Works like E/G and MATAR O NO MATAR, being session type works, are a very easy to understand form of human encounter and interaction, and it think they present an essential form of communication.
    Yes, communication fails so often, like mail that doesn’t come through. A stage is a live performance, and I am always thinking about that fact. The most important thing is to get people to come to the theater and experience the performance live. It is wrong to think it is good by just watching tapes of the performances. I think that the important thing is to be there, to experience it live, be moved by it and feel yourself there, breathing the same energized air.

I would like to go back a bit and ask you about the 3-year period when you were doing pieces at the AI HALL in Osaka.
    When I went to AI HALL in 2001 to ask if I could perform there, it was for my own solo piece. After seeing me perform that piece there, the Hall’s director, Reiko Shiga, came to me and invited me to participate in the “take a chance projects” that the Hall had begun. It was a project that gave young performers the chance to use the Hall for three years with production funds provided and the freedom to do whatever type of productions they wanted. That was indeed a very big break for me. It was a time when I didn’t have a place to perform and for that reason was especially determined to work hard and give it my best shot, the gift of that Hall and production funds enabled me to produce the kind of works I wanted to do.
    The first of those three years, I was understandably still searching. At the time, BABY-Q was just the three of us and when our images didn’t mesh there was sometimes conflict. The first year we did a work called REMroom, and after we finished that the other two members said they wanted to take some time off. I was thinking that perhaps we were in danger of breaking up as a unit, and when I asked Shiga-san what I should do, she said that I should try it with the attitude that I was a director the next year. Thanks to those words I was able to continue the next two years of the project. And that gave me the opportunity to think about myself as an artist and as myself such questions as why I used machines. The next work that emerged out of that process was ←Z←/Z Comical Bachelor Machine. Then the third year I did ALARM!.
    Those three years were like a period of intense, religious training, and I think it was those three years that developed BABY-Q into a firmly established group. ALARM! Started out as a 15-minute piece and then developed into an hour-long work, and then it was remade into a 25-minute piece to submit for the awards, and the final state of the work is what premiered at AI HALL. This was back in 2004 and 2005. You could say that the three works REMroom, Bachelor Machine and ALARM!, can be considered a history of my development as an artist and they represent the period when my feeling of searching changed to one of some assurance in what I was doing artistically.

What kinds of changes occurred in the kind of style you were searching for?
    At first I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to say or how I wanted to say it. I had been dancing for a very long time so I was very confident in my ability to dance, but it was a period when I didn’t know in what way I wanted to dance. I had also reached a stage when it wasn’t enough just to dance and it was a time when I was searching very hard for a way to express myself in dance.
    From the time I started BABY-Q I wanted to base works on how to present the fascinating aspects of people, but at first it didn’t go smoothly. It was as if I was trying to force my images into dance and ended up getting nowhere, as if I was running in place at full speed. I had been spending about six months on each work, but from ALARM! I adopted a “work in progress” method in which I would spend about a year and a half gradually working up a piece. The order of the scenes would change often and I would make a variety of scenes on different images but I always felt that I didn’t want the core of the work to change, and in the end it didn’t. In fact it was the opposite, I found that the worldview, the vision behind the theme that my works were based on became clearer. That is when I first assured that my vision wasn’t wrong. I realized that the first impulse to come to me of how I wanted to dance a piece was the most important, and even if I continued a long process of developing and refining that, I found that I had come to the point where I had real assurance about what scene of a work was the most important.
    In one sense it is my own assumption that I am not wrong, but if you give that assumption a better name, it can be called assurance or confidence. I realized that believing in your own assumptions is important. I had reached the point where as an artist I could say, “This is what I believe,” no matter what people thought or felt. I feel that I became stronger during those three years.

Do you take video footage when you are working on a piece, and do you make a choreographic score?
    I don’t have video recordings taken at all. I dislike looking at video recordings. And I keep agonizing over the composition of a piece right to the end, and I will often change the order of the scenes. With GEEEEK I even changed the scenes when we took the production to South Korea. Since it is dance, it can be purely abstract, but I always have a narrative storyline in my mind and I want all the performers to perform with an understanding and acceptance of that storyline.
    It doesn’t have to be so clear that one look will tell you what is what, but it is important to me that we all have a sense of the storyline running through a work so that we all know what each scene means and how it connects to the next scene. It is meaningless if this shared consciousness isn’t there. The work is actually composed around very slight and precise intervals and transitions between scenes that are based on this shared understanding. But now, and this is one of my personal artistic issues right now, there is a kind of pattern to the way I direct BABY-Q works and I’m now in a period where I want to examine this aspect. I am not trying to create works from a different angle. Even if it is not on a large scale, I want to create some works that I do not perform in.

How do you select your music? Is it what the flow of a work is based on?
    In the past I did works that derived from and couldn’t have stood without the sound, but now in most cases the sound is used to narrate the world of the work. The world of sound is something that I use with great care and importance, maybe to the point of being overly sensitive to it. I believe that the aural element is next in importance to the visual element on the stage. I value highly the world that sound creates and the development of many of the scenes in our works is effected by the sound. But rather than it being a case of dancing in accompaniment to the sound, it is a case where the sound creates a space for the scene to take place. It is never a case of dancing to the beat of the music—one, two, three, …five, six, seven, eight.
    Also, it is not the dancing of the dancers that is the main part of my works. I want everything to be equal in importance. I want the dance, the art, sound, video, lighting, the stage space, the costumes, the visuals and the information to all exist on the same level. That’s why in our company we have video artists and musicians, costume designers and visual artists. It’s DIY (do it yourself). That makes the results more certain. That is the way to ensure that each of the creators fully understands what I have in mind. If you outsource the work, I can’t really reject it when the creator comes back with something completely different from what I had imagined. If we do things in-house, I can say, “That’s different from what I’m thinking of, Let’s try doing it again.” Because they are people I am always working with, we can get closer to what I am thinking of much more easily. That’s true not only in our works but in daily life also. With a small session or with communication, and that’s why I’m called “Mom” around the company. I’ll be saying, “If you haven’t eaten, why don’t you stay for dinner?” (laughs). Or, “He didn’t look good, I think I’ll stop by and see how he’s feeling.” I think that’s why they all came to Tokyo [from Osaka] when I moved here. And that is why I think the ideal situation is to have a residence on the second floor above the theater like the Asbestos Kan does. At first we were going to rent a warehouse with the idea of creating a place like that, but it was too expensive (laughs). I am just grateful that we were able to make ourselves a studio here.
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