The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
A geeky world born of unique collaborations The dance performance of Yoko Higashino
Prostitutes, gays, dwarfs, domesticated animals, a geeko with her head on backwards, all kinds of geeky people with some kind of mental or physical abnormality thrash around dangerously in a dark world of dilapidation. Like nocturnal wild animals that in the dark grow at times vicious, or become sexual slaves … what is played out here is a taboo world where creatures seek not fictitious but real love. Premiered 2006.
Yoko Higashino solo dance VACUUM ZONE
This Yoko Higashino solo dance work brings together in collaboration the artist OLEO, who constructs objet works from gathered refuse like plastic bottles, iron filings or parts from factories, the former BABY-Q musician Natiho Toyota and the VJ artist ROKAPENIS. Is the dark black hole dug in the center of the stage a vacuum space. The geometrically shaped objet hanging overhead constructed of refuse and quivering with roar of sound emitted gets sucked into the hole along with all the other debris.
Photo: Banri
I feel that same spirit of making your own place with your own hands somewhere in the works of Baby-Q as well. So, where is it in the Baby-Q works created by input from all the participants that we can see your own personal world, your own ideas as an artist? I would like to ask you now about your own personal artistic world and how you go about creating your works. In your solo works with BABY-Q there are inorganic things like dolls or machines that are on the stage with you as if they are actors with specific roles to play. In this I sense an underlying aesthetic that runs through most of your work. What is the [artistic] aim in this?
    I just can’t resist putting them on stage. Iron, things that are hard, things that aren’t living, and are a bit broken-down and decrepit as well, and they are often things that take on an aspect of personification. At first I chose things unconsciously, but then I started thinking about why I was choosing non-human thing for my art and I realized that among my influences were artists like Shuji Terayama and the man-machine (l’homme-machine) theory of Surrealism that says the human can be a machine and a machine can be human.
    I am a human but there are mechanical images and movements in my dance. When you think of it, the body for which we choreograph can be thought of as a kind of machine. An extremely well made machine that can give you the very finest nuances of angle and movement. I want to have these things on stage perhaps as machines with souls we can communicate with. And I guess I am drawn to the idea of interacting with them through dance. From them you can see the time it has taken the iron to rust and feel how it deteriorates. In some sense it grotesque as visual elements, it is not something of refined beauty, but I want to show an aesthetic in it. It is something I am searching for myself and I instinctively make it a part of my dance. The work that made me realize this might be the worldview I wanted to pursue was ←Z←/Z Comical Bachelor Machine. Marcel Duchamp created works he called “bachelor machines” and I was very much influenced by that vision of machines. I even feel affectionate to them.

Today in the 21st century, Surrealism is a “classic” part of art history. Have you thought much about why you are attracted to a Surrealist methodology?
    I have no interest in delving into the question of why it is something old enough to be called classic. I am living in the present, so I am not caught up in the past, but I also know that it is a sensibility that definitely exists in me. This combination of machine-like things and raw sexuality. It may be because I am a woman, it may be the blood flowing in my veins, and it may be an instinctual contrasting of my sensibilities as a woman and the mechanical. The prominence of raw, visceral things may be due to maternal instinct; I think it is related to the process of giving birth to a child.

Are you talking about a world that is seen by contrasting machines, which can be used for production, and female sexuality? I felt a strong sense of female sexuality in your new solo piece VACUUM ZONE. I felt that I was getting a glimpse of your resigning yourself to the challenge of what the woman Yoko Higashino can do when placed alone in a vacuum-like space.
    The female sexuality that appears in my works is not really something that is used a weapon in the sense of Eros, but as something that might be called an essential, or something that I believe doesn’t need to be hidden. And by showing it instead of hiding it, I hope it can get people to think about the extremes of Japanese society or how female sexuality is seen only as an object of desire. The result is that I will often have my female performers dance in near-nude costumes or even completely nude. You can’t live without desire. The fact that I am a woman is not something that I am consciously bringing out, as it is normally an unconscious state, but it does come out naturally, of its own, when I am creating works. It is not a calculated thing.

From the works of BABY-Q I get the impression that you listen to the opinions of the participating members, who are all people of very strong individuality, and you are resolute in your role of arranger as you create. Can you tell us something about your creative method and process?
    I was deeply moved, even shocked when I saw Pina Bausch’s work Victor in 1999. It is “people.” You get the feeling “I like that person” and you remember the dancer’s face. It is not often that you remember a person’s face after only seeing them once, so I was fascinated by that sense of coming to like each of the different characters. I took a long-distant night bus and came alone all the way to Tokyo to see Victor and I was so moved that I cried and cried. I believe it was because of the way it went to the heart of the strength that people themselves have in them. It is fascinating when you realize that even though the things the dancers are doing are simple, there it intent in each movement that gives it meaning and significance. I think there was also the influence of Shuji Terayama’s Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets, but I think it was seeing Pina Bausch’s work that led to the desire to start the group BABY-Q.
    The subject of each of my works is large in scale; I guess I am the type that wants to present a big worldview (laughs). So when decide to do a piece I begin by thinking of a title. In order to communicate the thing I want to say most, I search very hard for key words of the kind that can later give flavor to the work.
    For example, with the BABY-Q piece GEEEEEK, which was the first work I did after coming to Tokyo, I took the word geek with its meanings of something abnormal or a nerdy otaku, and I added three extra e’s to give the feeling of calling out geeeek!, as if trying to escape somehow from that state. With the title GEEEEEK! I wanted to create an association with our environment, sensitivities, the things we have experienced and the flood of information from media.
    With the title of the work before that, ALARM!, which means a warning, I wanted the image of “There’s danger. The alarm is sounding. What do we do? What are you going to do?” With the work VACUUM ZONE the image is that the world is mostly garbage and debris, and when it is all vacuumed away maybe something important will be left behind, and the desire to search for the important things that remain. Once these images are decided, I get us to start working on the sound, video, [stage] art and flyer visuals, etc., all at the same time. So it is never a case that the choreography is done first. The choreography comes last.
    When I start to think about what people I want to create the world of this new work with I think about who I want to work with, who shares the worldview and sensibilities it involves. Then I go and consult with them; if it is video it may be ROKAPENIS. I say, “This is the title. Do you have any images to suggest?” “I want to make a scene where I dance in such and such a way. Do you have any ideas?” What I often do is to define a specific type of world in this way, see what comes back as input from the participants and then modify it in an interactive process. There are few cases where I will have a firmly set idea and tell the people that I want them to do it exactly as it is. Instead, it is a process of working together with people that I believe in and trust.
    It is the same with the dancers. Although there are parts that are choreographed, but in most cases the scenes come out from the dancers themselves. We are always doing improvisational workshops where we are training dancers, and in these workshops we get the dancers to look into themselves and have them experience what kind of dance comes out of the process. Watching this process closely I see the natures, the qualities of the individual dancers, and what I find is that the skillful ones always do the same movements and because of that their dance isn’t interesting. It is the ones who aren’t skillful but are trying their hardest to bring something out who are really interesting.
    In this way, I don’t play the dominant artist in the creative process. And even though I make the final decisions, the feeling is one of a collaborative process. With regard to the sound, I first describe in words the kind of scene I want to create and when the firsts results come back from the sound creator I may add further requests to modify it is some aspects. In the same way with the video visuals, the requests go back and forth until one work is created and then the dance takes shape with that as the base. It is always my part that is put off till last (laughs). And I am always making last minute changes and adjustments right up to the time of the general rehearsal.
    Perhaps I’m the kind of person who wants to make sure the perimeter is secured; the type who wants to say this and that, not satisfied just to dance. In the job of directing, the small detail adjustments are very important, in the lighting, in the volume of the sound. Once the perimeter, the peripheral elements are secured the work can stand on its own and I am not constrained in terms of the choreography and can dance freely.

Speaking specifically about VACUUM ZONE, you have the kinds of stage art that is consistent with the BABY-Q aesthetic set up on the stage and then it all gets sucked away into a whole until just the single person, Yoko Higashino, is left on stage. I was tremendously impressed by that directorial methodology.
    I’m very happy to hear that you think so. There is the feeling of fear at being left alone, but there is also the important aspect of being free to be yourself, and if you can’t be yourself then there isn’t any you anywhere. Until you come to that state, you use a variety of things to decorate and show yourself as you would like to be seen. So the idea is that when all those things are all stripped away, I can dance. I exist. I am alive. Creating a solo work is truly difficult. I think and agonize over many different choreographic elements, but eventually I threw them all out and resorted to a process of repeated trial and error.
    I had had the basic structure of VACUUM ZONE in my mind for a full year and I had once tried a piece using a similar situation. That was a piece I did at a subway construction site in Osaka, with everything improvisational except the dance. It was a performance that was close to pure improvisation by everyone. In a construction site hole where debris and dust were falling from overhead, we had people doing their things in this confusion. That is where the [vacuum] image originated from. I got the feeling that I wanted to explore that kind of world once again in greater depth.
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