The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Kim Itoh
Kim Itoh, choreographer, dancer
Kim Itoh began studies under the butoh artist Anzu Furukawa in 1987 and began solo performing in 1990. In 1995 he founded the dance company Kim Itoh + The Glorious Future. His works employ satire and a unique sense of humor in portraying “the extraordinary within the everyday.”
In 1996, his group won the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Saint-Denis for Dead and Alive—Body on the Borderline, which led to an increasing number of overseas performances. Since then Itoh and his company have presented new works at a pace of about one a year. In addition to Japan, Itoh has performed in countries including France, Germany, the UK, Spain, Argentina, the Netherlands, the U.S., Canada and Denmark.
In 2001, Itoh choreographed a work for two invited countertenors and dancers from overseas and five chamber musicians in a work titled Close the door, open your mouth (produced by the New National Theater, Tokyo) and his company also presented the new work Hageshii Niwa. For these activities Itoh received the Shuji Terayama Award in the 1st Asahi Performing Arts Awards, which is awarded to individuals or groups who demonstrate outstanding and innovative work.
Besides performances in the conventional theater space, Itoh began a new type of dance performance in public spaces called Kaidan Shugi (Stair-ism) and based on a concept of throwing the body into the everyday spaces of staircases. This series has now included performances in the seven cities of Osaka, Kochi, Kobe, Tokyo, Sasebo and Iwate.
In 2005, he served as overall director for the pre-opening parade for the Aichi World Exposition. That year he also introduced new works Kinjiki, as a duo work with Tsuyoshi Shirai, and his company’s work Mirai no Ki. From 2005 into ’06 Itoh backpacked around the world for six months. From the spring of 2007, the name of his company will be changed from Kim Itoh + The Glorious Future to just The Glorious Future and begin activities again in a new style.

Lords of the Flies
Photo: Takashi Yamanaka

Dead and Alive—Body on the Borderline
an overview
Artist Interview Artist Interview
Kim Itoh, the cross-over dancer who redefined butoh and contemporary dance in the 90s, looks to the future 
Over the ten years since he won the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Saint-Denis in 1996, all eyes have been on the work of dance artist Kim Itoh. As leader of his dance company Kim Itoh + The Glorious Future, as well as in solo performance and workshops, Itoh has continued to be a front-runner in the Japanese contemporary dance world. Soon after the premiere of his work Kinjiki in 2005, he set out on a long journey around the world and returned to Japan having discovered new interests and energies. What is in Itoh’s mind as he says that he will be doing no more choreography for some time?
(Interviewer: Tatsuro Ishii)

How and when did your encounter with dance occur?
In middle school and high school I played in a rock band and in college I majored in sociology, so dance wasn’t a part of my life at all. Up until that time, the only type of physical activity I had done was joining the gymnastics club in middle school. I would go to see things like the one-man theater of Issey Ogata and the Third Theater (Daisanbutai) when I was in the university. Then I joined the theater group Geino Yamashiro-gumi who were doing Indonesian Kechak dance and other ethnic dance. I was there for about a year as participating in a college club activity.
After quitting Yamashiro-gumi I started looking for some part-time job in the theater scene and happened to find a job doing odd jobs at a striptease theater in Shinjuku called Modern Art.
Even though it was a strip theater, in the 70s it was also a base for underground theater, used by underground leaders like Shuji Terayama and Show Ryuzanji. I had a longing for the atmosphere of the 70s and that was a place where it lived on and I felt good being there. It was also stimulating to me to be there.
The strip shows they did there were only topless acts where the women were trying to be artistic dancers rather than just following the trend toward more hard-core acts, and probably for that reason there weren’t many customers (laughs). So, there weren’t many strippers and there was a lot of time between acts when the stage was empty, and when I asked the owner if it would be alright for me to perform during those breaks he said OK. A rather inauspicious beginning, isn’t it. Anyway, I played a music tape and danced for about ten minutes. You might say that the strip dancers were an inspiration for me, and since it was a strip hall in name at least, I wore a sort of unisex outfit when I danced, and from the applause I got it seemed that the audience seemed had liked it. “This is great,” I thought to myself, and that was my stage debut. I was about 20 at the time, roughly in 1985.

Now that you mention this, it does seem that there is a sort of striptease theater showcase aspect to the style of your work. Could it be that that first taste of audience applause is something that you are still hooked on (laughs)?
I guess so (laughs). Because I have a feeling that my roots are in that lower level of real-world grittiness, rather than contemporary dance or some other school of dance. In those days, up on the stage in front of a drunken audience, all I was thinking about was how to amuse them. That was really enjoyable for me.

I believe that the dance who had the single greatest influence on who you are today is probably Anzu Furukawa. Perhaps your dance style would be very different were it not for the encounter with Furukawa. How did you meet [butoh artist] Anzu Furukawa?
During my high school period, I happened to see a broadcast of a Sankai Juku [butoh] performance on TV and said to myself “Wow, what is this?” I also went to see performances of Dairakudakan. I guess I was developing an interest in [butoh] and just around that time there happened to be a strip dancer at our theater who was going to Furukawa’s workshops and she offered to take me along and introduce me to her. When I went, there was also a workshop being taught by Saburo Teshigawara, which I was interested in, but it turned out to be so crowded that I didn’t feel like joining in, even though I took his workshop a few times. If I had, I might have turned out to be a mini-Teshigawara and not what I am now (laughs). I learned from Anzu [Furukawa] that besides the heavy, gritty image often attached to butoh, there could also be a light, more comical aspect. I danced in her company for three years after that, until 1990.

What was it about Anzu’s style that fitted you body as a dancer?
How can I describe it? Her dance is passionate but it also has an aspect that lets you step back and approach the piece with a great deal of objectiveness. I think that is an aspect that I have inherited from her.

That does indeed seem to be carried on in your works. What kinds of activities were you involved in the years after that until you founded your company in 1995?
For four or five years I was dancing here and there as a freelance dancer, for instance going improvisational dance at small stages. I danced in the stages of Sakiko Oshima when she was about to start her company H. Art Chaos, and I made guest appearances in the modern dance performances of Takahiko Nakamura’s modern dance. When the foreign dancers that Anzu did works with when she took her company to Germany came to Japan, I worked with them. Also, I did a collaboration with a photographer and musician.

In 1995, you founded your own company “Kim Itoh + The Glorious Future” and in the ten years since you have been a central figure not only in the genre of butoh but also in the broader contemporary dance world. What was the first work your company performed?
We debuted with a work that took William Golding’s novel Lords of the Flies as its theme. It was around that time that I heard about the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Saint-Denis, and since some people suggested that I apply, we entered with our work Dead and Alive—Body on the Borderline in 1996.

Dead and Alive—Body on the Borderline brought a lot of interest to focus on the Japanese dance scene. Like a few other works by artists like Akira Kasai and Kota Yamazaki, this seems to be one of the important works that broke down the boundaries between butoh and contemporary dance and achieved new strength as dance composition. The title is quite unique and I wonder if you created with a consciousness of the image of life-death questions that is strongly associated with butoh?
There wasn’t any specific consciousness, but I think that my words at that time had a stronger butoh aspect than my works of recent years.

Personally, I have a sense that people who live in the big urban centers are always suppressing, or killing a part of themselves. For example, you can’t look directly into the eyes of the person standing next to you on a crowded commuter train. If you were to look at them and talk to them, people would think you were weird. So you have pull down a shutter around yourself, close out the outside world and just stand there like an object. I am not a very open person myself and it is often easier to not get involved with people, so I wonder if the feeling that it is often easier not to get involved isn’t something shared by most people living in today’s urban world.
As I was dancing and thinking about this, I saw something written by Saiichi Maruya saying in essence that he didn’t know whether Japanese today are really living or not, and I agreed with what he was saying. That’s when I thought of that title. We are breathing and our hearts beat and we have bodies, but they are bodies with an existence that can be turned off. Is that truly living, or is it a form of death? Of course that kind of view of the body is not enough in itself to create a work of dance form. I had to think about the art and music, the visuals and the space, the flow of time and other things as I created the work.

Because I believe that dance is something that is composed spatially and temporally, rather than messing with the body itself I like to think about a space, where people should be in it, how they move over a given period of time and by what routes, what the speed should be, the state of the bodies, whether they are standing or what would it be like if they were sitting for a very long time those kinds of spatial and temporal aspects of composition.

In that approach the differences with contemporary dance or butoh are irrelevant. I don’t even understand the differences very well.
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