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
Inu no Jomyaku ni shitto sezu (2006)
It is very interesting to hear you talk about your workshops. It gives us a glimpse of what the body and the intervals of pause mean in your dance. I happened to notice on the Kingyo (Goldfish) website mention of “documentary type directing and choreography.” What does that mean?
There was a period when I was debating a question of reality within myself, whether it was OK to allow myself to actually enter the realm of dance or whether I should stop one step short of that. I also think about the human relations involved between people in a group dance work and I used that expression because I want to pursue reality and a documentary type approach in my works. The slightest of things can cause gaps to form in human relations. For example, if feelings are too strong they can throw things off course and lead to violence or extremism. Lately I want to get away from this focus and do other things, but when it comes to group works, one can’t help but be concerned about the human relations aspect.

When you are working in the studio, do you use images of those moments when a “slip” in time or a “gap” in human relations occurs in your body movements or simulate them in your mind?
In the beginning, I had the idea in mind that it would be interesting if that happened. But when you actually try to do it that way in the studio, it isn’t interesting at all. Because of the difference between what one imagines in the mind and the body’s actual physical expression, you have to experiment thoroughly in actual movement to find how to express it with the body. Sometimes things like dramatic pause are necessary.
 I am often asked if my dance is improvisational, or how much of it is decided (choreographed) in advance, and the answer is that it is decided (set in choreography) to a large degree. A great deal of studio practice is necessary to make set (choreographed) movement look like improvisation. Although the movements are decided, you mustn’t let the dancers move like they are going through a set of defined movements. To achieve that, I keep telling them opposite things, I keep them in confusion searching for the answer. But at the same time I keep telling them to follow the choreography, which puts them in a tough position; and I do feel sorry for them (laughs). In the process, another type of positive interaction is born within that confusion and struggle, and it shows [the viewer] their searching and doubt in a positive and skillful way.

That seems to me to be one of the most appealing aspects of your works. From the beginning to the end of the work you avoid showing any signs of it being a usual dance work where the dancers are actually dancing (choreography as “dance” for the bodies (dancers) involved). Instead, we get the impression that you are choreographing the performance space as a whole inclusive of the bodies of the dancers, or you might say that we feel your sensitivity to the space throughout the work. I feel that in Confronting Silence and also in Kotoba no Saki (The Point of Words) and Yaguka-yaguka ah.
In my mind, I have a sense that the choreography doesn’t matter. What matters is that the scene isn’t complete or successful unless a person (dancer) is there in that particular place at that particular time, and if the person is there, things come together successfully. So in that sense, I am using people like objects, and there are times when I am using them like elements in the composition of the stage art. There are “absolute positions” or points that must be filled in the compositional sense, like in a picture. I absolutely want the dancer to be in that position at that moment, and you could say that that is the reason for the choreography involved.

So, that must be why we, the viewers, get a strong impression that it is not a dancer occupying a certain position on the stage but a human being existing there. That may connect in some sense to your choice of the word “documentary,” but in any event, it seems to me to be a skillful device for not letting things appear to be intentional manipulation.
I do indeed make considerable effort to avoid letting things appear overly intentional and thereby manipulative. If I just let the dancers go through a [choreographed] piece copying my own body movements, it ends up being nothing more than my own movements. Therefore, we spend a lot of time using the dancer’s own body in the studio to find the nuances of movement that are best for the particular dancer’s body, the movement that the individual dancer is able to do most naturally.

Your recent work Love vibration is a collaboration between a violinist and you dancing solo. In that piece the violinist was not merely an accompanist but performed with virtually the same level of presence on stage as you, the dancer. What made you decide to do such a collaboration?
I was asked to participate in a project in which the dance and the music would be created together from the initial creation stage of the work. I had never worked with violin before and the possibilities of a one-on-one work between two men was also interesting, so I decided to accept the offer. The violinist was a person I had never met before and we were brought together for the first time at a retreat to create the work. It is not easy to spend that much time together working with a person from another genre, but I realized this time that doing so expands the possibilities tremendously. So, if I have an opportunity like that again, there are many things I would like to experiment with.

Your latest work Kotoba no Saki (The Point of Words) appears to be a work in which your concern for the body until now comes out more prominently than in previous works. Like a “straight ball” pitched by Yukio Suzuki. Can you tell us about this work?
This is a work that I did out of a growing desire to choreograph more completely for the body [movement]. But I still find that when you move the body, words also follow of necessity. So, it made me feel that I wanted to arrive at a good-feeling balance between “words” and “using only the body” and going back and forth between the two. I don’t want to be an egg head and I also feel that it is too simple just to say that all I need is the body—but it still hasn’t reached the point where I am satisfied, so I want to try again using more dancers in future works.

It did feel like a work in progress that could be developed into even stronger works with greater resilience, so I really look forward to seeing what you will do in your next attempt.
 I believe that you have reached a very productive and fulfilling period in your career. Can you tell us something about your vision for the next year or two?

What I want to work on has become very clear to me, and as a result I have largely concentrated on the body, the body and more body for the past year or two in a pursuit of myself. And with the creation of Love vibration and Kotoba no Saki I think I have seen, or reached a bottom point, and in doing I feel that I have cleared on question I had been working on. Next, I want to try working again with more dancers. Now I think I am ready to show another aspect [of dance and composition]. It may be a reaction to the period I have just been through of an internal pursuit of the meaning of the body, but I am interested now in the external elements of space and time.
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