The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Hiroaki Umeda
Hiroaki Umeda
Born in Tokyo in 1977, Umeda began creative activities in 2000, forming the group S20. The work while going to a condition that he presented at the Yokohama Dance Collection R in 2002 caught the attention of Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationals festival director Anita Mathieu, who praised him by hailing “the birth of a promising young choreographer” and inviting him to perform at her festival. In 2003, he presented the work Finore in Montreal, Canada, and in 2004 the work Duo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After a short period of residence at the studio of Philippe Decouflé, he presented the work Accumulated Layout in 2007 as a joint production with the Chaillot National Theatre of Paris. He has performed by invitation at Belgium’s Kunsten Festival, the Barbican Centre in London, the RomeEurope Festival, Paris’ Pompidieu Center and other major international festivals and theatres in Europe and other parts of the world. In his works he does not only the choreography and dancing but also the video, sound and lighting by himself, thus leading to descriptions of Umeda as a visual artist and mover, rather than just a choreographer and dancer. In this way he has won acceptance in areas outside the dance world as well.
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Installations of the body and light  The art of Hiroaki Umeda  
Installations of the body and light  The art of Hiroaki Umeda  
Hiroaki Umeda is a visual artist and performer who has ventured onto the international scene with works created in a compact style that employs his own body and self-created video images, music and lighting tracks recorded on a single notebook computer. Since he first drew attention at the 2002 Yokohama Dance Collection R, Umeda has gone on to win praise of dance professionals around the world for the way he wraps his improvisational body movement in intricately woven spaces defined by light (video) and music with the beauty of an art installation. We talked with Umeda about his world of creativity as an artist of the current generation of young venture-business entrepreneurs who makes the computer his working partner.
(Interview: Tatsuro Ishii)

Dance leapt out of photographs

What was it that first got you interested in dance? We have heard that you majored in photography in college.
My father was a photojournalist and I liked the black & white photography of Daido Moriyama at the time, so I thought I would like to try working in photography. But once I started I just couldn’t get into it. I ended up quitting it after about a year. It seemed to me that when I was photographing (as the photographer) it was necessary for me to step back from the surroundings and try to become objective, which wasn’t interesting for me. I was wondering if there wasn’t a way I could make it a more real-time form of expression (of more direct involvement), but those efforts didn’t lead to much. So I began looking for another form of expression and that is when I discovered that there was this thing caller dance and decided to give it a try.
 I knew nothing about dance, however, so I began to study the range of dance forms that were around at the time. There was Saburo Teshigawara, Toru Iwashita, Kota Yamazaki, Min Tanaka, and Merce Cunningham and others. I also went to workshops but, to tell you the truth, they weren’t very interesting to me. I didn’t have a dancer’s body, and there was also the fact that I didn’t have the basic knowledge about dance, but I felt that if it were me, I could create something different. It wasn’t that I was consumed in myself but rather I had a feeling that there was clearly a different type of dance that I wanted to see, something different that I wanted to create.

Up until that time in your life, had you been involved in anything like sports that involved using your body?
For about ten years, through middle school and high school, I played soccer.

After that you began attending dance workshops. What workshops did you actually attend?
In the contemporary dance field I took workshops with Teshigawara and Yamazaki. I also attended the dance school PAS led by the dance critic Roku Hasegawa, where I tried a number of things, from hip hop, ballet and jazz dance to African dance and pantomime. The end result was that, indeed, what I was looking wasn’t in any of these, so after about a year I quit all the lessons. I realized that I didn’t want to become a dancer, instead I wanted to create works.

So, did you start creating works right away?
I thought I would give it a try and, in 2000, I rented a small theater in Hachioji, in the suburb of Tokyo, and did about a one-hour solo performance. Looking back, I know that it was not a very interesting performance at all, but that experience made me realize that dance productions require a large outlay in terms of fees for the music and lighting people. So, I decided to acquire the skills I would need to do it all myself with a computer and started working part-time at an IT company. There I taught myself the skills I would need for that. I am of the first generation where anyone can use a computer with ease, so none of this seemed difficult to me.
 For about two years after that I was creating short pieces of about five minutes that I entered in showcase-type performance events for young dancers.

The work that can be considered you true debut work is surely while going to a condition, which you performed at the 2002 Yokohama Dance Collection R. In your works there is a distinctive way you move the joints and muscles with a wave-like flexibility. Light and music play an important role in the development of these works through a 3-way interaction with the body of the dancer at the middle of the performance space. At times you use fast movement and throughout the pieces you are moving constantly at a certain level of speed, which constitutes quite a load of physical exertion. This style has remained the same from that debut work up until the present. That work [while going to a condition,] has become one of your representative works that has been performed numerous times since.
In the [Yokohama] Dance Collection there was the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationals Seine-Saint-Denis (former Bagnolet International Choreography Award) and the Solo × Duo Competition, and I entered both of them. Seeing the piece I entered in Solo × Duo, the dance critic Masashi Miura said that I should try creating pieces that used the stage a bit more. Hearing that, I worked to create a new piece in the two weeks before the Rencontres Choregraphiques, and the work I came up with was while going to a condition. Although I didn’t win the award, I caught the attention of the director Anita Mathieu. She invited me to perform at Bagnolet. Some people think that invitation came because I won the Rencontres award, but in fact I didn’t. That is a rather important point to me (laughs).

That led to a sudden opening of many opportunities to perform overseas. Although you weren’t in fact a Rencontres award winner that Yokohama Dance Collection appearance marked an important turning point in your career, didn’t it? What kinds of reactions did your performances at Bagnolet bring?
I had very little experience with performing in front of audiences up until that time, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it with, as I wasn’t even familiar with the reactions of the Japanese audiences. After my performances at Bagnolet a variety of people came up to talk with me, so I was thinking that the reaction must be very good, but looking back now I realize that it was probably mostly a cultural difference and just the normal reaction for a European audience (laughs). And even though I had then performed overseas like that, when I came back to Japan nothing had changed in my life really. I was still working at a part-time job to support myself as I continued to create works.

When we in Japan hear the name Hiroaki Umeda, we immediately think of a dancer who made a name for himself at the Yokohama Dance Collection and then went to Europe and never came back to Japan. I think there are also many people besides myself that have this impression, but is the truth that you didn’t move your base overseas?
That is another misunderstanding that many people have. I never moved overseas and I never quit dance (laughs). After Bagnolet I got a number of invitations to perform right away, but to tell the truth, that was the first time I had ever been paid to do dance performances and I was asking myself, “What is this strange world [of professional dance]?” And I had no idea what would happen if I continued to work in that way. Since my performances at Bagnolet led to other performance engagements, I just continued accepting any offers I was given to go and perform somewhere. It was all I could do just to get used to the system and learn what kind of pace I should work at and how to do these world tours.
 Anyway, I had no consciousness of trying to make it as a dance professional. All was thinking about was creating works based on the kinds of things I wanted to express and going to perform whenever I received an offer. You might say that I was just doing things at my own pace, and that was a rather easy pace, too. After working at my part-time job for the day I go home and start dancing in my own room.

You don’t use a studio space for practicing and working on creating your pieces in that kind of environment?
No. I have always just used my own room. Sometimes I practice moves while riding on the trains as well. It is still very seldom that I go to a studio to practice. So, I often joke that I don’t move around much, but I would be in trouble if people actually believed that (laughs).
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