The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Exposing his own body as a platform for art -- A look at the mixed-media performance art of Takao Kawaguchi
Takao Kawaguchi Night Colour
Photo: Hiroki Obara

*   Voyage (2002, premiered in France) is a work created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in the US in 2001. Contrary to the group’s usual working process, the group was divided into small units to work separately on different scenes and motif, all of which we later found out somehow shared a sense of ‘journey (voyage)’. The stage floor was covered with metal and the reflections of the video images in it helped to create the mood which kept changing drastically from one scene to another. The dancers appeared to be suspended weightless in the middle of the space without gravity.
It seems that in order to really understand you, we have to understand your time and experiences in Spain. It seem like that year laid important groundwork that you would build on later, didn’t it?
Still, my career in the performance arts had not yet begun at that time (laughs). Soon after returning to Japan, the butoh artist Gan Tokuda asked me if I wanted to join in the New Year’s eve performance marathon. My contribution was a 4-person performance which I created with Atsuko Yoshifuku, who had been dancing with Mika Kurosawa’s company. Although the piuece has some spoken texts, it was not theater and it was not dance. I guess you would have to call it “performance”. Anyway, it was interesting enough that I decided to form a company with Yoshifuku, which we named ATA DANCE. At that time, the Omotesando street in Tokyo was a closed to traffic as a pedestrian walk on Sunday’s and a lot of different groups were doing live street performance there, and we started performing street dance and performance regularly there too. In the Pina Bausch work 1980 that I saw in Spain, the dancers formed a line and performed elegant dance movements while parading forward in line. I copied that form and we danced in line along the Omotesando street which was, and still is today, Tokyo’s fashion center. At the time I felt that we were dancing very fashionably, but I don’t know what the passers-by who saw us were thinking (laughs).

I am told that you continued that type of street performance at Omotesando for about three years.
Yes. Then we began to think that it was time we had tried something in a theater. The first work that resulted from that idea was mata-R, which we performed at Yokohama ST Spot in 1991. That year would be an important turning point in my career. It happened that that was the year when William Forsythe first came to Japan, and I went to see his production Impressing the Czar. Then I went to watch the workshop he gave at the Geothe Institute in Tokyo and I was completely enchanted by the things he said and the body movements of his company’s dancers. As I watched the magical movements of his dancers as he spoke the words “points connect to form line, and lines connect to form planes,” I couldn’t help talking to him saying like, “You have just shown me what was exactly in my head. Thank you.” Then he said, “Sure, go ahead. Steal.” The resulting change in my consciousness from that experience is what gave birth to mata-R, which became my first piece I choreographed, directed and also performed in.
With the momentum from that work, I decided to enter the 1st Tokyo platform of the Bagnolet choreography competition, but the only response I got from the judges was that it was an “ambitious” work (laughs).

When you applied to the Bagnolet Competition, was it with the intention of making yourself a career as a choreographer?
I am not really the type to make that kind of decisions. I had always just continued doing what felt interesting to me. And, that is how I continued ATADANCE until I finally ran into a wall. We had reached the point where we were receiving grants as a dance company, but that meant on the other hand that we had to produce “dance works.” When I began to realize that I had to fit myself into that framework, I hit a wall. I began to feel suffocated because I felt I was just running after something alien rather than discovering what was inside me. That is why I decided to disband ATA DANCE in 1995.

That is when you joined dumb type, is it?
Yes. Of course, I had seen dumb type’s first Tokyo performances of Pleasure Life and their 1989 work pH. And, I had already known members Teiji Furuhashi, who died of AIDS, and Noriko Sunayama, who came to dumb type after dancing with Mika Kurosawa & Dancers. But, I had never worked or performed with the company before. Shortly after Teiji died in October of 1995 in Kyoto, I worked as a performer in the production of Michael Nyman’s opera The Tempest that was directed by Robert Lepage. At that time, dumb type was planning a collaboration with the Danish performance group HOTEL PRO FORMA in a large-scale performance work titled MONKEY BUSINESS CLASS–SARU HODO NI. It just happened that the Danish director came to see the Kobe performance of The Tempest and afterward invited me to come and work with them as a performer.
That work was my first opportunity to work with dumb type, and after that I asked if I could join in OR at the end of 1996. For the project we stayed for one month in a small town called Maubeuge in northern France to create and premiere the piece in March 1997. At the time, there were rumors that dumb type would break up now that Teiji had passed away, and we in the group were also asking ourselves what we could do as an artist group without Teiji. Somehow, there was a feeling among us that we would continue working together nonetheless.

The group dumb type was formed in 1984 and from the late 80s into the first half of the 1990s it had already achieved a unique position in Japan’s art scene. It toured abroad frequently to create and perform works. Not only did they approach the central theme of technology and the human body in mixed-media art with a critical and ironic approach, but they also dealt with political and social themes such as AIDS, sexuality and nationality in their works such as S/N. What’s more, dumb type was a new type of artist group that never adopted the kind of hierarchy that exists in other Japanese theater companies, but created works in a style by which artists in the different fields of film/video, music, architecture and dance jointly contributed their individual ideas and techniques to the whole. Still, the leadership of Furuhashi was substantial. After Furuhashi’s death, Ryoji Ikeda joined dumb type for the first time in charge of music, and the first work that the group presented with him was OR, a work on the theme of “Life or Death.” After that, the works Memorandum and Voyage followed.
For me, Memorandum was the piece I enjoyed the most the creative process of . As a performer I was on stage the longest time, and there was a good sense of achievement for me in terms of the creative processes.

The concept behind Memorandum was an exploration of memory. There was a scene in which a man writes down fragments of memories on a notepad which we could simultaneously read on the big screen. Then we were flooded with endless images of memory to very loud music. Watching it, I got a feeling that things outside the body and things inside were being linked together. In contrast, the group’s next work, Voyage, which featured a metallic floor with the reflections of the dancers, clearly brought a sense of distance to the forefront.
Voyage was created while staying in the French town of Toulouse. It does indeed gives a sense of distance, and it is a very static work. One French critic said to me he saw an intention to terminate the [role of the] body in the performing arts, and that “if you try to terminate the body I would have liked to see you do it with use the body.” Since then, we continue working on the piece as we tour, trying to make it a little better every time we perform it.
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