The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Installations of the body and light  The art of Hiroaki Umeda
Installations of the body and light  The art of Hiroaki Umeda
Premiere: 2008
Photo: Shin Yamagata
In 2002 and 2004 you toured Europe with support from the Japan Foundation. Then you continued to be invited to perform overseas, presenting Finore at the Nouvelle Dance Festival in Montreal, Canada, and Duo at the Panorama Dance Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2004. For your works you create the lighting, music and video yourself and have that data all on one laptop computer. With that computer you can go into any space, even overseas, and perform with no hassles, can’t you? That is great. All the other [Japanese] artists, especially when they go overseas, they are struggling to communicate with the local staff and get things together, right up to the time of their opening performance.
That’s right. I even amaze myself for thinking up such an amazing system (laughs). All I have to do is check the stage and then connect my computer and with a click on the keyboard I’m ready to start performing. It may look like I am using difficult technology, but in fact I’m only doing things that anyone could do with the ubiquitous [computer] technology. After around the year 2000, computer performance quickly caught up with the types of things I wanted to use it for in my works, making it very easy to do things that were quite sophisticated. I often get offers to do collaborations with creators who are using much higher level technologies, but to me technology is nothing more than a tool, and I really don’t have any desire to pursue forms of expression using high-level technologies. I am just using the computer at the same level as we all do in our daily lives. In Europe I often see performances that look almost like technology presentations, but I have no interest in doing that type of thing.

In 2007 you presented Accumulated Layout in a joint production with the Chaillot National Theater in Paris. That work was very well received and has been performed since around Europe, the Middle East, S. Korea and at Japan’s New National Theater.
In 2006, when I performed at a small theater in Paris I met my present producer, Dominique Laulanné, and that became a turning point for me. Up to that point I had been having a few performances a year, but thanks to Dominik things began to connect rapidly. Dominique is Philippe Decouflé’s producer and I did Accumulated Layout during a three-week period of residency at Decouflé’s studio.

It appeared to me that Accumulated Layout is a work in which you seemed to use lighting in a more 3-dimensional way than in previous works, a work where you were thinking about how the entire space was viewed. Were you using any new devices that you hadn’t used before?
My producer put pressure on me by saying that I was going to perform this work at Chaillot so I should work especially hard on it (laughs). I wanted to create a work that was particularly strong visually, so I thought a lot about things like how to increase the visual depth by varying the volumes of light, etc. Technically there wasn’t anything especially new that I did, but I was aware that I hadn’t really much analytical thinking about plans in the past and so, I guess you could say that I did more cerebral work on the question of how I could create visual variety. And this became the first work that I felt real gratification for the critical acclaim it received. It was also from this time that I got an agent working for me in Paris.

Installations of light and body that start from drawings

In March of 2009 you presented your latest solo work Haptic at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. In it you made use of bright colors and there was great beauty in the changes in the light in relation with your body movements. It was also a work that can be said to lie on the same line of development with while going to a condition in terms of the methodology used. It convinces me that your creative method has not changed since that debut work. What seems to distinguish this work is your attitude that you are not simply creating a dance work. Instead your work is the total of everything happening on the stage: the lighting, the sound and the body. One could say that it is a work that showed even more clearly than before the creative direction you have inside you. In that sense, this can’t really be called a dance work but rather an art work perhaps, or a type of installation of body, sound and light.
Yes. That style has not changed since the beginning. I don’t want to plan lighting and music in order to show the dance. Rather, I believe that the body (physical movement), the light and the sound are all elements with the same value. By the way, the title “Haptic” comes from the Greek word haptesthai (the sense of touch) in the adjective form.

Your dance is primarily based in improvisation. So, can we assume that your creative process for your solo works involves first creating a visual image with the video and sound and then doing improvisational dance within the framework of that image?
At the beginning there is no visual image or dance image. It is a more abstract image, like an image of the tension of the space, and I work that up with drawing. When I say drawing, I don’t mean like a picture, or painting. It is purely line. For me those lines are like a musical score, and it is following that score that I think about the dance and sound and colors. Since it is [drawn] line, there is a temporal axis and so, of necessity, the sound comes first, and then I begin thinking of the dance and lighting simultaneously as I am creating the sound. And the feeling is one of maintaining an overall balance of these elements as I create the work.

Can you describe in more specific terms how the line and temporal axis?
For example, with while going to a condition it was quite simple lines, like, “Now I am raising the tension.” With Accumulated Layout it was a bit more complex, but it was in essence an abstract image in the beginning. If you asked me what the image was it would be difficult for me to explain, but I use the word jodo (emotion). If I were to define it, it would be something like the “feeling just prior to emotion.” It is also close to “desire” perhaps. It is something very primal.
 In my dance I also use this concept of primal emotion (jodo) as a measure when evaluating movements. You could say that I search for movement that fits the concept of primal emotion, asking myself if a movement fits it or not as a standard for judgment. But it is not a matter of fine distinctions such as the particular angle of the arms or hands at any one moment in the dance movement. It is a more abstract image. In this way I decide the overall rules for a piece and then 80% of it is improvisation based on those rules.

When you dance solo like that, in almost all your works you position yourself in the middle of the stage space and don’t move much from that point to the sides or forward and backward. Why is that?
That is for a completely different reason. It comes from the fact that I don’t find much meaning in moving around [the stage]. Rather, I believe that establishing a clear point in the center of the space is more important in terms of creating consciousness of the space.

With Merce Cunningham’s dance, for example, he used dancers as “points,” whether he was dancing or choreographing for other dancers. However, in his case, although he used the dancers as points, he tended to deliberately avoid the center point. So, unlike you, Cunningham created spaces with no center point. It may be partly because you have been dancing solo for a long time, but you definitely appear to have a focused concern for the center point.
Yes. I believe it would appear that my concern is for the center. The important thing is that I don’t want to show the size of the stage. I don’t want to show the limitations of the stage space by moving around in it. The reason for the [unmoving] point is that it provide a point from which expansion [artistic expansiveness, outspreading] is possible. That is something that is very important to me. My intension is to create a fixed point in the center from which the audience can become conscious of a large spatial possibility.
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