The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Ryohei Kondo
Ryohei Kondo
Ryohei Kondo grew up in Peru, Chile, and Argentina. He first attracted notice as the principal dancer in one of YAMAZAKI Kota's works, and since appearing as a finalist in the Bagnolet International Choreography Competition, he has also performed in works by KASAI Akira and KISANUKI Kuniko. In 1996, he launched the dance company Condors and was involved in the composition, images, and choreography of all the works. The members of this all-male troupe all have unique personalities, and the work "Gakuran," in which the dancers performed wearing junior and senior high school uniforms created a sensation during the group's earliest days. His richly varied stagings, which contain a rapid succession of scenes and skillfully interspersed dance, images, live music, puppetry, and storytelling, have become extremely popular. Among dance companies, they are unusually motivated to travel, having toured all of Japan, as well as the United States and East Asia.

an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
Talking with Ryohei Kondo, leader of the highly popular all-male dance group Condors  
Contemporary dance in Japan today encompasses a number of movements, including dance that has developed out of the butoh movement, dance rooted in classical ballet, the dance forms that have emerged from the collaborative production approach of college dance circles and the so-called “expression school” that pursues original forms expressive body movement. The group Condors led by Ryohei Kondo is representative of the dance groups emerging from the college dance circle category. The Condors are a group of individuals, each of unique character, who met during their university years and have continued to use the collaborative approach in creating works of expressive body movement in productions that bring together a mix of dance, comedy, motion picture and music with a strong element of entertainment that has succeeded in capturing a new, younger audience. In this interview we speak to Ryohei Kondo about the Condors and their increasingly active schedule of overseas performance, as well as his own activities as a choreographer and dancer.
(Interviewer: Yoko Shioya)

I started dancing when I was 20, at university. I was studying in the Education Department at Yokohama National University and one of the general curriculum courses available was Creative Dance. That was how I got started. People told me I was going well, and when I was invited to join the school's creative dance club, I made the mistake of joining (laughs). It was the typical college dance club of those days. All the members were girls doing so-called "modern dance." When I realized that, I thought I had made a mistake (laughs).

It is hard to believe that the body of someone who started as late as the age of 20 could learn to move like yours does. Did you start from the basics with bar lessons and all?
Yes, I did. I took lessons outside of school too, in both ballet and modern dance.

So, you were dancing every day?
That isn't how it was. I wasn't a dance freak. I was playing in a band at the same time as well. I was so into musical instruments that you might say I was a bit of an instrument freak. I got into playing a lot of instruments. Since I had lived in South America, I had some South American instruments. So, dance was really just one of a number of things I was doing.
Anyway, that is how I got started in dance. But it just happened to be a time, around 1988, 89, when Maimi Sato was in Yokohama (involved in programming for the dance department of the Kanagawa Prefectural Community Center). Of course, I was just a college student at the time and I didn't know anything about Ms. Sato, but she was bringing international contemporary dance companies like Rosas to Yokohama. Artists like that were coming to Japan often, and since my university was in Yokohama I often went to see the performances. I saw Pina Bausch's Carnation. I also saw Jorge Donn for the first time back then and remember thinking "He's from Argentina, too." Of course, for a student the tickets were expensive, so I didn't see a whole lot. But, what I did see really opened my eyes. I was amazed to see how many different types of dance there are. In short, I had joined the dance club not knowing anything about dance, but once I started it became not only an encounter with dance but also an encounter with "creating." That is why "dancing" and "creating" became one and the same motivating force inside me.

Since your university dance club was all women, does that mean your "creating" at that time involved creating dance for women dancers? That would certainly be different from what you are doing with your all-male group Condors now.
No. Even when I started dancing at university I wasn't actually dancing with the women. In fact, the members of the Condors are all men like me who encountered dance for the first time at university. Mr. Ishibuchi was at Waseda University, Mr. Fujita was at Gunma University; they were all guys like me who got into dance by mistake (laughs). It was a time when the Kobe High School and University Dance Festival had just begun—which still exists today—and this was a dance festival organized by the Association of Women's Physical Education Colleges. The women would have one dressing room for each university, but because there were so few men, we would be put together in one dressing room, so we all got to know each other before long. So, regardless of what university we were from, we would all end up together backstage. Though we were from all parts of the country, we became friends right away. Also, none of us were the kind who had been doing ballet since we were kids. We were all guys who had discovered dance at university. But, even if we say we had "discovered" dance, none of us were so into dance that you could call us dance freaks. In Japan at that time "dance" was still a women's world. And, the Kobe High School and University Dance Festival had been started by the Association of Women's Physical Education Colleges (laughs). But, none of my fellow [male] dancers were there because they wanted to do dance productions with the women. We were dancing but we weren't into it in a way where that was all we were doing. We were all what you might call "expression oriented," we all wanted to find our own means of "expression." That approach was completely different from the other people involved in the college dance world at the time. Especially when you have a competition like the Kanto (Eastern Japan) Dance Competition that gathers only dancers from the Kanto region, the world tends to get localized and limited, and there are few men, so they naturally banded together. That is how we began to work together as a group that transcended the boundaries of our individual universities.

In the Japanese environment at that time, most university students begin the job-hunting process as soon as they enter their senior year, and there is usually a lot of pressure from the parents, saying, "get serious and find a proper job."
I was told that [by my parents] over and over (laughs). Until I entered university, I was an average kid raised in an "upper middle class" family with all the normal Japanese sensibilities and values. But I guess I changed a lot at university. I began to lose interest in the other students around me and the things they were doing. But when I went to the dance competitions, there would be this really interesting group of people I have been talking about. And I thought, "None of these guys are going to go through the ‘erious’ job hunting routine and become just another suit in the crowd" (laughs).
What's more, I took some time off from university to wander around Europe for a while, which bent me farther off course and put some even crazier ideas in my head, I guess (laughs). Before I left for Europe, Japan was at the height of its so-called "Bubble Economy" and we could easily earn as much as we wanted just with part-time jobs. It was with money saved from part-time jobs that I went to Europe, and since I was young and healthy I had the feeling that even if I didn't get a serious full-time job I could still earn enough money to live on—not necessarily in dance—that kind of lifestyle seemed all right to me. I guess that is part of being young. But, after I came back from a year in Europe, the "Bubble" had burst completely. Places like the office I had worked part-time at were going out of business one after another. I was amazed to see how much things could change in the course of just one year. So I decided, if this is the way things are, I might as well choose my own path to walk with confidence and create the things I wanted to create as boldly as I pleased. I decided to live that kind of creative life.
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