The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
The new realm of contemporary dance pioneered by Yukio Suzuki, an inheritor of the compelling body movement of butoh
Love vibration (2007)
Directed by Yukio Suzuki
Music composed and played by Yasutaka Henmi
©Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN)
Love vibration
Love vibration
Love vibration
©Ryuichi Maruo
You took the title for your work Chinmoku to Hakariaeruhodoni (Confronting Silence) from the book Confronting Silence (Oto: Chinmoku to Hakariaeruhodoni) by the composer Toru Takemitsu. Were you influenced by Takemitsu?
I haven’t listened to the music of Takemitsu, but in his books we find writings about all the qualities an artist needs. When we read him we find so much to identify with, and that is what influenced me.

Takemitsu’s is wonderful writing, isn’t it; like the sound of music flowing. The title Oto: Chinmoku to Hakariaeruhodoni in the original Japanese is phrased in a way that would not occur to one normally. Hijikata created a revolutionary work that used the title of Yukio Mishima’s novel Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors) directly, and that became one of the pioneering works of butoh. In your case, how do you link your titles with your dance works?
When creating a work the title is extremely important, and when the title is a solid fit the choreography comes together with no wavering or uncertainty. For me it is very important a title I come up with holds strong and rings perfectly true.
 Takemitsu’s title Oto: Chinmoku to Hakariaeruhodoni (Confronting Silence) implies the tremendous awe or weight of making a single sound, and in dance I think the same concept applies. With the same feeling of weight involved before Takemitsu touches the first key on the piano, the same thing happens in dance, I believe. I wanted to think about the feeling that should come before making the first move in dance, rather than just stepping lightly into it. I think that is why my piece Confronting Silence has a good number of intervals [between movements] in it.

In Takemitsu’s music, there is as much profound tension when no sound is being made as there is when there are sounds. That means that there is as much being said in the completely silent moments as there is in the moments when there are reverberations of sound. It that sense, it seems that your works have received positive inspiration from Takemitsu.
The period when I began to work with Murobushi was a time when I was once again confronting the question of what the body is. I decided to work with the people I was involved with around me to work on the question of what I wanted to do in dance with a small number of people. I wanted to search for methods to show things with strong bodies, and I also wanted to search for myself. I feel that it was these directions that led to the recent work I have done.

In other words, while on the one hand being influenced in various ways by Murobushi-san, you were also searching in directions different from him?
I believe that the people of Murobushi’s generation have a very strong spirit of opposition to established ways. And I believe that they have continued to pose questions for themselves based on the belief that butoh is absolutely not dance. But my generation believes that it is alright to consider butoh a form of dance. If we don’t think and work that way, there is no reality for us. On the other hand, there is also the danger that such thinking can easily lead to a state where people believe that anything is acceptable.

In other words, you want to value the special butoh concern for the body while at the same time wishing to see dance through a larger perspective, not confined to butoh. Is that correct? Is Confronting Silence a reflection of this?
That’s right. I don’t know whether it will continue to take this form, but there was something I was experimenting with in this work. But there are also other things I want to try and I don’t feel any need to define a single style for myself.

I would like to ask you now about how you work in the studio. From seeing your works I would imagine that your creative process is quite different from other choreographers who work up their pieces in the studio. Could you tell us about your process when creating a new piece?
First I think about how the movements in a new piece will connect and once I have more or less conceived the structure of the entire piece I take it to the studio to try it out. In the past I used to go off in the hills by myself and practice movements as I walked. It would look strange if people were to see me (laughs). In an effort to save time, and because there are not many people involved, when working with the dancers in the studio stage I make drawings. They are very simple notifications of how the movements of the piece proceed, the positions of the dancers and images of what I want to do in each scene. In this way I communicate what I want to do in the piece in general, but I don’t think it is fully understood in this initial stage. In my mind as well, it is still just in the drawing stage and I don’t fully understand what it will be like. It is only by putting it into actual movement that I come to fully understand it.

I know that recently you are also asked to serve as instructor for many workshops. What do you do in your workshops?
When working with participants from the general public, I start by having them play a game of tag while holding hands with a partner. Holding hands builds familiarity more quickly than self-introductions. Next we do a game in which the same partners pull against each other. But it is not just a pulling game, I add an aspect of imagination, such as having them imagine that they are pulling for their lives at the edge of a cliff. That produces a desire not to fall over. But because they are being pulled they will fall over, but the desire not to fall creates a momentary slip in the flow of time. Creating this slip in time is an important part of my workshops. When time slips, a slip in space also occurs. And we do it to the point where the participants actually fall.
 Since falling over is not something people normally do in their daily lives, the act of falling teaches us new things about our bodies. Next I might tell them to do things that make them focus on the “inside” of their bodies, such as imagining that they are being pulled from their stomach, or from deep inside their ear. Being pulled from the shoulder and “being pulled from a bone inside the shoulder may look the same, but the physical sense it gives is slightly different. In these way I get the participants to being concentrating on the outsides and insides of their bodies and their breathing. Having them think about opposites like outside and inside gradually gets them thinking about the entire body. This is a process that I take time to play out over the course of a workshop.
 Also, no matter who the participants may be, I make a point of communicating things through words as much as possible. The things I want to teach may be things that I have learned over time by watching and borrowing from others, but a workshop is usually only a week long at most. So, if I simply use the old method of going through a movement and telling the participants, “This is how it’s done,” doubts will still remain in them and in myself. But if I make a point of communicating what I am doing in words, that relieves the doubts of the participants.
 For example, there are often cases where people who want to dance will get into a state where they want to dance so much that they can’t stop themselves. When that happens, many dancers will tell them they should introduce more intervals of pause, but they don’t tell them how they should find the intervals within themselves. It may be good for people to find their own answer through trial and error, but there are many people who never find an answer. When that happens I will make an effort to make specific suggestions of things they might try.
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