The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Questioning the Body at its Limits What is this world of Ikuyo Kuroda?
Photo by Koichiro Saito
Hana wa Nagarete Toki wa Katamaru (Flowers Flow, Time Coagulates)
Hana wa Nagarete, Toki wa Katamaru
(Flowers Flow, Time Coagulates)
Photo by Yoichi Tsukada
After SIDE-B you did SHOKU, right?
First I did a solo version of SHOKU in South Korea. After I danced there was no applause for a curtain call, and I thought I was going to faint (laughs). One of the Korean people said that in a Confucian society like Korea it is not well received when a woman does something that can be interpreted as sexual.
Later we did a group version of the piece at the Morishita Studio, the next year we did a middle 6-person version at Yokohama and a full 7-person version at the Theatre Tram in Tokyo. Although the core portion of SIDE-B is different, I think that both of the pieces have a very strong sense of skin and an attachment to one’s own body.

I don’t mean to ask for a psychological analysis but, for example, I think there must be a reason for wanting to express something like this sense of skin and attachment to the body so directly on the stage. Generally speaking, people don’t choreograph works where they put their own hand down into their underwear (laughs).
A photo of that scene even found its way onto the event leaflet (laughs). This may be a little off course from the question but I believe that when creating a work it has to be about something with impulse that you just have to express. When you think about why you are making the effort to create something to show people, I think that if I die with it still inside me and never brought out, it will be as if that powerful experience, that impulse, had never existed … I feel that I am expressing in my works those kinds of powerful things that have had such an impact on me that I just can’t let it die with me. If you are going to try to express such an experience in a gentle form that is easy for people to accept, it seems to defeat the purpose and make it not worth the effort. That is why I let it come out straight, as it is.
Recently, when I choreographed a piece for Noism05, I was talking to the dancers and someone said to me, “Ikuyo, you’re a person who tries to solve everything though dance.” It may be true that in dance most people don’t try to show things in such raw form. I do anything in dance. The dance that I want to do includes everything. There is nothing but there is everything. I think that in that rawness you get everything.

Do you mean that through dance you want to say everything, all of yourself, all that you want to express?
Lately I have begun to think that the expression “through dance” itself is off course. That means that dance becomes just a means to an end, a method, but for me dance is probably the object itself, not a means. That is why this rawness comes out in my dance. This is beginning to sound pretty abstract, isn’t it? In other words, I am the happiest when I can feel “I am dance itself.”

You said that SHOKU involves a sense of the skin, and you also hurt yourself, or repeat actions like slapping the head of another dancer. In that way, it is not just the fetishist element but also an aspect of testing your own body by hurting it or being hurt. Where does that come from?
I believe that the real truth only comes out when you have been pushed to the limits or are up against the wall. I grasped this sense that the real thing only comes out when you place your body in that state while doing SIDE-B and SHOKU. For example, if you keep repeating a simple movement like falling over until the body reaches its limit and you can’t fake it anymore, you reach the point where something clicks. In other words, there is no longer a need for the lies of “expressing” or “performing.”
That is how I do the lessons too. A good example comes from the studio performance we did called BATIK Trial. Each of the dancers prepared a piece of just under ten minutes or so to present in front of everyone, and then we discussed it and worked it up into a work. When I watched a piece by one of the dancers, I couldn’t feel what she was trying to get across when she danced it with her body in good condition. So I said, “Will you bear with Ikuyo for a minute? I want you to run around the stage until I clap my hands.” Everyone was wondering what was going to happen, and I kept her running until she was really breathing hard and then I clapped my hands. I asked her to dance the piece again and this time it was much better. Then I told the dancers that the reason it had gotten better was because the experience of pushing to the limit should show you what development is really necessary to bring it to that point.
In this way, I keep them going through “One more time, one more time” in our lessons too. I don’t let them stop (laughs). In an actual performance I can’t make them run just before the piece begins, so I get them to experience the type of dance that comes from that state of body and mind during the everyday lessons. I get them to know that it is no good to try to cover for the body. Actually, I just smile and say “One more time” (laughs). But the dancers seem to think that I am just being mean. I hear that they get mad but summoned when Ikuyo makes them do this stuff over and over (laughs).

After SIDE-B and SHOKU you did the short 20-minute piece AURA. Two women appear of either side of a water bottle, and they seem to be both two different people and two aspects of the same person.
I composed AURA in a period of about two weeks. As you say, my partner, Hisako Takabe, is the front face of a character and I am something like the character’s reverse side in a contrasting pair. Like my Hana wa Nagarete, Toki wa Katamaru, this piece makes a text of time and the present and uses the same materials of water, flowers, bell, white and blue.

Hana wa Nagarete, Toki wa Katamaru seems to be the largest scale work of what you have done so far. It is impressive to me the scale of your challenge took you in this work and the degree to which you developed it. There are the flowers and water and the body and something that makes me sense some form of shamanistic ritual.
It was a very difficult work for me. Thinking about it now almost brings tears to my eyes (laughs). It was all I could do to work out that last scene where the dancers are jumping off from this nearly 3-meter height. The point of departure for this work is my memories of my childhood sensibilities. As a child I remember being really competitive and it wasn’t just your normal competitiveness. I would push myself to the point where I was about to lose consciousness. And I remember a feeling of time coming to a stop at those moments. The tick-tock measured flow of time would just stop all of a sudden and I would be in a state where there was no sense of time. I feel that I still carry that sensation in me like a scar today. Hana wa Nagarete, Toki wa Katamaru is the work where I attempted to make a direct expression of that sensation.
The flow of time is cut off and a cross-section of time where it has been cut off is suddenly exposed. The feeling is “Wow, it’s a cross-section!”
When I thought about what would be necessary to cut off the flow of time like that, the first thing that came to mind was “repetition.” I thought of a repetition of the act of jumping off a height.

Dancers are not circus acrobats, so it must be quite severe to make the dancers jump off a height of close to three meters over and over. That “repetition” is also a process of pushing the body to the limits, isn’t it?
That’s right. And through that process you expose everything. In fact, by repeating the moment of falling again and again, you suddenly find “the now” in that act of repeated falling. Continued jumping off a height was the only way of creating a sudden revelation of “the now” which is a state stripped of attachment to the past and hopes for the future. It is the repetition of something that makes this cutting off of time possible. Even though that may seem ironically contrary to logic.
It goes without saying that there was an element of fear for the dancers. So I had to do the leaping first by myself to test the degree of danger and work with the stage director to adjust the height. And in the end everyone was able to do it. That was a case where I ended up really pushing the dancers to the limit, not only in the physical act of jumping but also in terms of some tempers reaching the limit.

You covered the whole stage with water and you used a lot of flowers. On the other hand you created this inorganic stage device and made the dancers jump off it. We feel a sense of life and nature from the water and flowers of course, but what was the connection in your mind?
This is something that is a continuation from AURA, and it comes from the fact that when the idea for the piece came pouring out of me, I had these clear pictures in my mind of flowers and water and white and blue. I could think back now and try to analyze why, but I don’t think there is much meaning in that. With the frilly pants in SHOKU or the curtain I used in SIDE-B, or the distance between society and myself … I can make connections afterwards but there is really not much meaning there. I simply trust my own intuition at the time above anything else. That is everything to me. My own intuition is what I can depend on most of all.

Is this intuition related to your childhood memories? Are there simple things such as the fact that you just liked flowers?
There is not really anything specific that comes to mind. But with regard to color, I remember feeling that blue was even more transparent than white. I believe it comes from the feeling of the sky and the sea, but for me blue has a feeling of a state of void and of great distances. That is why the costumes and lighting change from white to blue, and when everything is finally stripped away, what you have left is the cross-section I have been talking about.
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