Mar. 3, 2021
|Masako Yasumoto is a dancer whose journeys through lands from Southeast Asia to Africa have shaped her unique physicality and movement; and she is also one who feels free to venture into the world of entertainment as well. After giving birth in 2009, she moved to Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu in 2012. After presenting a work Zekko Waruko, PON in 2012, Yasumoto spent some time away from dance to devote herself to child rearing. She made a comeback in 2017 with a work titled ColaCola (Children + Parents) based on that experience. Under the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions of 2020, she released her new work Zenjido Bonnozuizuizu (literally: “Full Automatic Worldly Desires”), in which eight dancers perform wildly to the sounds of Gamelan music. This interview seeks to reveal Yasumoto’s realm of expression that she feels can only be reached through dance.
Interviewer: Takao Norikoshi [dance critic]
Setting “worldly desires” to Gamelan music and pelvic movement
The work Zenjido Bonno zuizuizu (Full Automatic Worldly Desires, zuizuizu) was your first major production in some time. It premiered at ROHM Theatre Kyoto in February 2020, and after that you reworked it during the full-scale spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and finally re-presented it at Setagaya Public Theatre in November. The stage was covered in tatami mats and there were eight dancers, each with individual strengths, and what’s more, they would gather together at times into one tight tangle of bodies writhing toward the viewers. After the opening slapstick-like exchange between the toddler and the mother, there was a scene with the dancer Emi Ogura suddenly began singing like an opera singer along with the Gamelan music. Especially powerful was the scene where the dancers constantly moved their hips in beat with the Indonesian Gamelan. The sensual motion was repeated for a long period of time in frontal position from the audience’s view. What inspired you to choreograph such a work?
When I am composing a work, I usually start with a visual image that have in my mind. This time, I wanted to create a group piece for a fairly good number of dancers, and after deciding that, a picture of people shaking their hips in time with Gamelan music came suddenly to mind. I wanted to do long repetitions of not something suggesting convulsions of the entire body but just simple shaking of the hips. As we got toward the end, the dancers gradually became so exhausted they were saying, “No way!” This is too much! No …! But nearing the end, I told them decisively, “If we don’t hold out to the end, the piece will be a failure.” The premiere performance was an hour and 50 minutes, but for the second staging we changed it to cut the first 30 minutes completely.
The word bonno (worldly desires (Sanskrit: kleshas) in Buddhist thought) in the work’s title can mean various things, and it seems that the shaking of the hips in the choreography symbolized them, so are you using it that way with the music?
The “worldly desires” (bonno
) does not mean sexual desire alone, there are various types of desires. There are usual ones like the desire for money, or for delicious things to eat. I wanted to delve deeper into that earthy, universal types of desire within myself. I have long had the feeling that even sexual desire might be a sort of natural function of the body that comes with the body itself. On top of that, the world is full of contents that stimulate that desire, and they are always coming into our sight, whether we want to see it or not. And having that constant stimulus input may even make us believe that it is our own desire.
In the same way, we are made to believe that things like the desire to get married and the desire for money are also necessities. There is a large flow created throughout society to make us believe these things. Although not all of these desires are inherently bad, I do believe that they are not our own pure desires. In workshops with children, when I ask them what they want to be when they get older, I sometimes get chills when I hear them answer things like, “I want to be rich,” or “I want to be a company president.” When I ask them the reason, they say, “Because I want to buy video games.” That makes me wonder, if that is really a desire that comes from within them? With Zenjido Bonno zuizuizu
I wanted to try to give a broad overview of the things that I feel about such desires. So, the meaning of that hip shaking is not something limited to sexual desire. At the time of the premiere performance, I was asked if I didn’t want to show the worldly desires of each of the individuals, but that is something that I have no interest in.
Based on that premise that with things that should inherently be a personal choice, such as the feeling that one has to get married or that one has to have children, is in fact being forced on people because society repeatedly tell them that that is the “normal” path, that is indeed something which is important for one to question, but is sexual desire something that falls in that category? It seems that sexual desire is something that has always existed no matter what culture or civilization a person has been raised in, and if that is true, when you speak of things that society forces on us, could there really be such a thing as “pure” worldly desires or wants? For example, if there is someone who wants a figurine of a character that they love, even if they may be considered captive to capitalist materialism, you couldn’t say that theirs is not a “pure” desire, could you?
That’s right. However, since I have a rather perverse character [laughs], I would tend to look at in a questioning way. It is true that it will always be difficult to determine what is a “pure” desire. In our contemporary era, there are many people who don’t feel sexual desire or feelings of romantic love, and that has now come to be recognized as a type of diversity, and I really think that is a good thing. But when I was young, there were only discriminatory words for referring to minorities. I also, never questioned the fact that I was a [typical] woman, but I don’t know how things would be if I had been born in today’s world.
So, when I ask myself what is a “pure” desire, I have no intention of defining it in pretty words, but I would say that for me it is dance. I don’t do it for the sake of money, and when I am dancing there are moments when I feel that I have always been doing it because this is what I want.
So does your title Zenjido Bonno (Full Automatic Worldly Desires) include a meaning of “this is something that has always been a part of me automatically?”
There is that meaning in it. I chose that title with the meaning that, whether for better or worse, there are things like that, aren’t there?
So what is the zuizuizu at the end of the title?
I wonder [laughs]. When I give something a title, I must admit I have a habit of including some onomatopoeia that makes it irresistible to read out load. And I added the Zu
at the end to make it sound like the [Japanese] title of a scroll painting. They are paintings without much depth perspective but a lot of figures doing different things in different parts of the scroll that keep the viewer’s eyes moving around. I also made the leaflet for the performance something similar to a shunga
(erotic ukiyo-e) painting, and I made up a text for it that said, “Long, long ago [I] often used to pick up sticks (poles?) in front of [my] house …”. For the stage design, I used tatami mats to make it look like the rooms in old scroll paintings, and when I did, I found it incredibly easy to dance on. I have weak knees, so it was wonderful to dance on the [soft] tatami without having to wear knee pads. I don’t think I can ever go back to dancing on linoleum (dance floor mats) [laughs].
The Working Staff
What was the creative process like?
Working toward the February performances in Kyoto, a residency in Toyohashi in July was already scheduled, so I selected a group of eight dancers. Because that is the largest number of dancers I felt I can choreograph for. About half of the dancers who answered my open call were from places outside of Kyoto like Tokyo, and they all paid their own transportation costs to get to the audition. After that, we spent just under two months in Kyoto on the creation work, and although we were able to pay for the dancers’ lodging during that period, we had no budget for their other living expenses. I was really impressed by the way the two women among the eight selected dancers who came from Tokyo were able to find part-time jobs right away to pay their own expenses.
You work with mainly Kyoto-based artists, including musician Oorutaichi (*) who does improvisational music that draws on both electronic music and ethnic “world music,” the costumes are created by the stage production group “Osushi” led by Shie Minamino that views the stage work, direction and costumes as an integrated whole, while the stage art is by Narihiro Matsumoto, who is also a performer.
The dancers also include Kyoto-based Yuki Gouda, Kei Tsujimoto and Emi Ogura. Kyoto also has the famous live performance house UrBANGUILD, and the dancers often perform in the FOuR DANCERS events held there.
You have worked with Oorutaichi numerous times, beginning with Zekkouwaruko, Pon (premiere 2012).
[Ooru]Taichi-san has a wonderful artistic sense and a fine sense of balance, and what’s more, he is always able to understand exactly what I am looking for immediately. So, he is very easy to work with. Since the music I wanted this time was mainly Gamelan music, I had him participate this time under the title of “music arrangement.” What he did for me this time was one original piece and two or three arrangements. What I asked him to do was to break down the heavy aspect of Gamelan music’s ethnic aspect and make it a little more frivolous. I have him do some very detailed things for me like arranging it so that someone can put in words (vocals) on top of the Gamelan music or make references that feed back to an earlier scene.
This was the second performance by Ogura-san in your work following ColaCola (Children + Parents) (premiered 2017). This time it was very powerful presence when she covered the Gamelan music not with words but with singing.
I felt it was very good to have her singing along with the Gamelan. When I first saw her at an event in Kyoto, she had a very solid presence and I felt that she was an artist that should be on stage. In the past, she had performed in a chorus, so she had the vocal capacity and very strong expressive presence. In ColaCola (Children + Parents)
, she and I would be performing as a duo and I was sure that if it were her she could overpower me when necessary.
ColaCola (Children + Parents) is a work that draws on weighty episodes from your child-raising experience depicted with quite unabashed honesty. The dancer [Emi] Ogura is small in stature and is exchanges with you during the piece you really can be seen as mother and child. But because she is eventually and adult, there are instances where the parent-child relationship is reversed, to quite thrilling result.
Yes. You could say that she also represents a beast-like presence that is the mother inside me.
There (are) also scene(s) where the two of you fight in which there is a look of motherly love in your expression that can change for instants of into a look almost suggesting murderous intent, and in that way create a very convincingly real vision of the maternal state.
Yes, there are those instances (laughs). There are tremendous sways of emotion during child-raising, like moments when it crosses one's mind that you just want to abandon it all, and then immediately after that you are struck by feelings of guilt and remorse. I depicted this quite blatantly, and at that moment it is the child that is looking at the parent and laughing.
When were your children born?
The first one was in 2009 and the second one in 2013. I was 35 when I had my first child, and although it wasn’t really planned that way, it turned out to be very good timing. Then my second child came just at the time I was thinking of leaving Tokyo. Still, at the time I never had any idea of ever doing works based on my family. But, as my second child grew to the age that gave me more freedom, I began to fear that I might forget the most difficult times of that intense child-raising experience if I didn’t try to create work(s) about it then. I don’t know how the resulting works were received by those who have never raised children, or how much people were able to enjoy the resulting works.
In your work you had the guts include a scene where you are masturbating while your child is asleep, and just as you are about to climax the child starts crying and you say “Yes, I’m here,” and go off to the child’s room.
I thought I did it in a cool way, and the mothers accepted it, but most men were really put off by it (laughs). But I think that one of the purposes of creating stage works is to be open to showing things like the sexual desires of a mother and the negative feelings that come with motherhood at times and to show that it is not all pretty pictures. And there were people who told me, “I’m glad you made the statement that you did.”
Because the poor stereotype values that want to place women below men in the social hierarchy which leads to ideas such as “the portrayal of sexual matters has no place on the stage,” and especially not by women, is still strongly entrenched, so this work must have been a good wakeup call for male audience who were shocked by that scene. Have you child-raising experiences been a useful source of material for your stage creation?
It can’t be measured in terms of how useful it has been, but the experience of playing with such a small, soft living being as a baby in an animal-like way has at times served as an origin for creating my dance movements. And I would say it is only natural that experiences from our lives, including but not exclusively from child-raising, will definitely have an effect, for better or worse, on the works we create.
Five years of child-raising break after Zekko Waruko, PON
You had a five-year blank in your dance activities from Zekko Waruko, PON until ColaCola. During this period, your second child was born, and you moved your base of activities from Tokyo to Fukuoka and then Kyoto. Your work Zekko Waruko, PON came the year after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and surely as a mother, there was a deep-felt fear of radiation [due to the resulting Fukushima nuclear power plant accident and radiation release].
At the time of Zekko Waruko, PON
, I had married, and I had my first child, so it was a time when I just wanted to get away from the radiation, and to flee Tokyo. And after moving to Fukuoka, we learned that my second child had a serious illness at the age of six months, which caused frequent epilepsy seizures. I had to watch the child all the time, I couldn’t really sleep, and I couldn’t leave the child in other people’s hands to care for at times either. My husband was often away on business trips, so I was the only one who could be there all the time to care for the child, which was a real strain, both mentally and physically. At the time, the help of other mothers around me was a real lifesaver. Fukuoka was a place where there were always children around in the town and nobody complained if they were a bit noisy, and that acceptance made it an easy place to raise children.
So many of the mothers there had the attitude that raising children wasn’t a tough job but something that they naturally enjoyed. I feel very lucky that I was able to find that kind of attitude around me. Because in Tokyo, the prominent attitude of young mothers was to leave their children at nursery school all day while the worked hard on this jobs and careers. If I had stayed in Tokyo, I don’t think I would have been able to leave my work in dance, but in Fukuoka there were no professional ties that would make it hard to get out of going to see every performance of my fellow artists, which I would have felt pressure to do in Tokyo. All of the friends I made among the other young mothers in Fukuoka had no relation whatsoever with my [dance] work, and spending time with them free of any professional ties or concerns was a fresh new experience for me. At times I would get requests from the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center to do some dance-related work, but during that period I had no thoughts at all of ever creating new works.
About how long did you live in Fukuoka?
Two and a half years. After that, we took to opportunity of my older child’s starting elementary school to move to Kyoto, which was a place where it would be easier to work, as well as the place my husband had wanted to move to for his own professional reasons. Before we had decided where we would live, I had taken my two children to Kyoto. It just happened to be right in the middle of the “Hot Summer in Kyoto” festival (official name “Kyoto International Dance Workshop Festival”) and I ran into some dancers that I knew. I have to admit that being in that situation was one of the most miserable experiences I have ever had as an artist.
Miserable in what way?
There I was, exhausted from my child-rearing, carrying a mountain of luggage and wheeling my younger one in a baby carriage. While the dancers I saw around me were so full of life and shining as performers. Never had I felt so out-of-place. I was unmistakably happy to have my children, but it had me so exhausted that I doubted that I could ever return to dancing again, and I also felt heart-stricken.
During your years of child-raising, didn’t you do any dance training?
I didn’t have time, and I just didn’t feel motivated in that direction. But the reason I felt so miserable after meeting the dancers again was surely because I felt jealous of them. It made me realize that I still wanted to be dancing. In Kyoto I had more chances to see dance performances, and just around that time when I was feeling that I wanted to start dancing again, we were fortunate to find that my second child was beginning to respond positively to the medicine regimen and the child’s health improved remarkably. But I was still reluctant to start working seriously on new pieces. It was at that time, in 2017, that Suzuki Matsuo asked me to participate in a re-staging of “GO-ON” with the choreography and as a performer.
You had previously contributed choreography for Matsuo’s theater company Otonakeikaku, and “GO-ON” in particular is a work that you had long performed in.
Yes. This time, I said that I would participate if it were only with the choreography, but I was told that they wanted me to perform too, even if it was only in double-casting. Since “GO-ON” was a piece that I had special feelings for, I wanted to do it. But on the other hand, I felt that if I did accept, I couldn’t do it in my state at that time. Because it had been such a long time since I had been involved in any creative work. I thought it wouldn’t be right for someone like me who hadn’t involved in creative work for so long to just jump in and start choreographing. Although it may sound rather impertinent to say so, with regard to “creation” of works, I actually wanted to stand on the same ground as Matsuo-san. I felt that I had to create something of my own.
That feeling is what led you to create ColaCola, wasn’t it? Although in fact it turned out to be a duo work, what was it like creating dance again after those yeas away from it?
It was very difficult. Because when I am creating a new work, that is all that I have in mind 24 hours a day. There is no way I can spend time on housework when I am working on a dance project, I just can’t do both. My older child seems to understand the situation to some degree. I don’t know how many times I have heard him say, “Mom, you’re not listening to what I say at all, are you?” So, I make sure to always have my children come to the performances. I want them to know what it is I am spending all that time on. I tell them, “It may be boring for you, but just watch it.” For the kids it may be a burden they could do without (laughs).
Sex Education Workshops “Maji Na Seikyoiku Majika!”
Since 2019, you have been doing sex education workshops for parents and children titled “Maji Na Seikyoiku Majika! (literally: Real sex education. Are you serious!). When it comes to the body, dancers are pros, so it made sense when I heard it. But I have never heard of any dancers who came up with the idea before.
Now it is a very popular workshop, but at first, I was cautioned, with people saying, “That is an outrageous idea for something to teach!” But, what I am actually teaching is what people should know about their own body before you get to the actual sex education stage, such as getting people to think about things like what it means to have another person touch you. We teach things such as, if someone is touching you and you don’t like it, it is OK to say you don’t want them touching you. This is in fact related to the fact that I am inherently averse to “contact improvisation” (a dance training method in which you move while having another dancer in contact with some part of your body). I think that, for instance, it is natural for you make the decision whether you really want someone to touch you or not before they actually touch you. Because most dancers have little aversion to being touched by other people’s bodies, there are actually not many like me who are sensitive about this point.
How are the workshops actually conducted?
First, we do work designed to be a re-discovery of your body. For example, parts of your body that you may not like might actually look better from a different perspective, so we stress that there are a variety of ways to view a particular physical aspect of the body. Also, we place importance on time for the children to discuss things among themselves. What is family? Does it mean people of the same blood line? Does it mean the people you live with? Then, what about adopted children? Can you think of very distant ancestors as family? How far from your nuclear family can you expand the group that you consider your family? We also touch lightly on questions like “What are the masculine qualities of boy and the feminine qualities of girls?” Because I think that the question of gender is something that children should be aware of from a young age. In the part of the workshop related to touching and being touched, we actually have them touch each other and then tell each other what their feelings were about being touched. And we also have them experience the fact that there are a variety of different ways of touching and that there will be times when the intension you had when you touch the other person is not the same as what the person felt from the touch.
In theater overseas there is much importance placed on engagement, in other words in creating relationships, and professional dancers hold workshops to engage with people from the general public. During the coronavirus pandemic for example, we have families where the parents are both working, and the children are home alone much of the time with few opportunities to talk with others or have physical contact with others.
It really worries me what will happen to such children in terms of their sense of “skin-ship” or physical contact. In Japanese we have the expressions hada ga au
, or, hada ga awanai
(literally: [our] skin fits/doesn’t fit), with the former meaning one “gets along well” with someone or one “doesn’t get along,” and I think this is a very apt expression. And I truly believe that failing to understand this natural affinity or lack of it between people you do or don’t get along with can cause people to make poor decisions at certain points in their lives. Of course, during the pandemic we take necessary precautions, but in our workshops where the main purpose is to encourage bodily movement, I try to teach the importance of being able to feel through your “skin,” if you will. I think it is very important to help people develop that sense, or “circuit” for feeling through the skin while they are children.
In these workshops, we are told that you use as instructors dancers who also practice some form of martial arts in their daily routines, don’t you? What interests me is the subject of training that can be useful when and if children find themselves in a situation involving physical danger.
Parents often tell their children to shout out for help in a loud voice when they are in danger, but the instinctual reaction when human beings are confronted with danger is to draw in a deep breath, and in that condition, you can’t make the voice come out immediately in a loud shout. If you are not used to shouting as a normal action, there is no way that you will be able to do it suddenly at will. So, we have the children actually practice shouting out in a large voice so as to input that reactionary “circuit” for when it is needed. In this way we get them to gradually understand these things they should know on the physical level, through their body. However, in the end it comes down to telling them to practice what we teach them when they are at home. Children learn best when they are interested in something, and the teaching method will be different for boys and for girls, so I think it is best to have the people who know each individual child best\namely their parents or guardians\to communicate the lesson in their own words.
Discovering her own dance by traveling the world at will
Please tell us about your original encounter with dance. What were the condition leading to it?
It began when I joined the dance club at Atomi Gakuen in my Jr. high and Sr. high school years. Among my contemporaries there were amazing people like Toshiko Oiwa (an international active dancer with the Ballet Preljocaj, etc.), Mariko Okamoto and others. They were creating works one after another from their student years, but I personally never thought that I would become a professional dancer, dance was just a fun hobby for me. In Japan, there were many performances from overseas of contemporary dance of the 1990s, and I was able to see work by artists such as David Parsons and MOMIX from the U.S., Angelin Preljocaj and Philippe Genty from France and Rosas from Belgium. After that period, I went on to study in the Design Department at Tokyo Zokei University Design and Fine Arts, but I didn’t really become interested in my studies there. So, I got the vague idea that I would try doing dance instead, and I became a trainee at Pappa TARAHUMARA.
Under the leadership of Hiroshi Koike, the Pappa TARAHUMARA company (1982-2012) also had a strong dance department.
Because I could never see myself wanting to continue at Pappa TARAHUMARA as a career, I eventually quit. Along the way, around the age of 20, the aesthetic I was most interested in body movement, and got into ballet for a while. After quitting (Pappa TARAHUMARA), I went on a back-packing trip in the southern island countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, where I spent whole days doing free diving (laughs). After that, I was able to join in with a group of dancers from Jamaica in Brisbane, Australia. Their style was the djanbe dance of West Africa (dancing to djanbe drums) and they were traveling around Australia giving djanbe dance workshops. That experience taught me the appeal of djanbe dance. That gave me a longing to see African dance first-hand in Africa, so after returning to Japan and saving up some money, I went to Senegal in Africa when I was 23.
In fact, djanbe dance originated in Mali, while Senegal was the home of the style using the local sabar drums. That is a good indication of how little I knew when I set off to Africa, but I ended up being similarly captivated by the fascinating dance done to the sabar drums. However, the dance movements are so fast and complex that I can’t say that I really mastered the art, but before I knew it, I had spent a full four months in Africa.
Please tell us about what you did after that.
I went to New York to visit the dancer Toshiko Oiwa I mentioned earlier, and we did some street dancing together there. Things were very free and tolerant in those days, so I could just walk into an art school and say I wanted to work part-time as an art model, and they would say, “OK. Can you come on Wednesday?” I was able to earn money to stay on there, and I began to think I could live in New York like that. So, I decided to go back to Japan once to get a student visa and then return to New York. But when I got to Japan, I found that the restrictions on visa applications had become much more stringent. I felt like suddenly the curtain had closed on me, that my traveling days were finished, and I would have to make it in Tokyo. But that also meant I had to earn a living, and so I ended up working day and night shifts at different restaurants as a waitress. I had to work like crazy.
Did you ever consider teaching in Tokyo the dance that you had done all the way to Africa to learn?
No, I didn’t. I felt that was dance that had meaning in Africa, where dance is an integral part of life, you might say. And I felt a definite physical gap between that and trying to teach here in Tokyo just copied forms of a dance tradition I had never formally studied.
Still, wasn’t it quite difficult for you to just throw aside the things that you had devoted the last few years of your life to?
Yes, perhaps. Here I was at the age of 24 just living on part-time jobs. I didn’t have any real skills that could get me a respectable job. I had no confidence at all, but I was in a sort of negative state of mind that had me convinced that anything else would be even harder for me. So, if there was anything that I had even a small amount if experience in, it would have to be dance. But, fortunately, I was able to get a job at the office of the choreographer Papaya Suzuki. I ended up working as a dancer on the tours of the popular Southern All Stars band, and that turned out to be a valuable experience. It was a short time after that when I took part in a Otonakeikaku project, for which I first auditioned for and joined the ensemble, and after that I began doing choreographic work for them.
It was just around that time when I saw you for the first time, it was in 2004. It was at a non-selection project open to anyone that was conducted by a live-session house to find talented young dancers. Most of the dancers who came performed dances they had been taught, so you could tell pretty much where they had studied, but I was surprised by your dance movements, because they were unique and unlike anything I had seen before. And what I heard was that you had studied in Africa and danced on stage with Southern All Stars and with Otonakeikaku, which didn’t sound like the usual contemporary dance background, so you became an even more mysterious presence (laughs).
I like commercially based performance where you dance to look cool and beautiful too, but at that time I had a strong desire to create movement more freely. The first thing I made was a simple solo piece I called “Lucy no Shokutaku” (literally: Lucy’s [Dinner] Table), but I think it reflected too strongly my pure desire to dance, and so it was rather weak as a piece of composition. At the time, I was really into a dance training method invented by Noboru Ito. It was a fresh approach that, rather than moving the body with your musculature, you moved by the strength of the torso, by twisting and stretching it, and it is a form of training that I still find useful.
At the same time, I was also into improvisation. I decided I would borrow a space and say I’m going to just dance to this CD for one hour, and then I would do improvisational movement the whole time. The music I used was a real jumble of different genres, from movie soundtracks to J-POP music, piano pieces, Misora Hibari ballads, everything. I wasn’t really doing it as a form of dance practice, I just wanted to dance. And once I started, I could dance forever.
What I saw you perform that first time at the live session house was “Dasshin Koza Konchu-hen” (A Lesson for Leaving your Heart Insect version), and now that I remember, there were several photographs of insects mating projected on the screen during the dance. Did you already have your concern with worldly desires at that time (laughs)?
It may be that is always an underlying theme (laughs). I have to admit that I sometimes surprise myself with the way I never run out of material. Once it was decided that I would be performing Dasshin Koza
, an unavoidable matter came up that meant I couldn’t appear in the performance. So I changed my part to that of a person appearing in a video lecture, so the composition had to be changed so that in the performance, my partner Makoto Enda had to perform while peering into the video screen, and finally end up dancing completely naked. After that, when the piece was chosen to be performed in Yokohama, I actually danced my part with Hiroyuki Miura (Yokohama Dance Collection, The National Advisory Panel Award Banjolais International Dance Award winner) as my partner. In my video lectures as well, I want to enter dance from my daily life context. I am not a dancer with any tremendous level of skills, so I always want some form of motivation to go out and dance. And it is fun thinking about how to introduce that element.
Dance based on responding to music like one’s life depends on it
You are recognized as a dancer who is good at responding to the sounds of the music you use.
Yes. From the contemporary dance world, I am dismissed as a dancer who is only responding to the music (laughs). When I was a member of Pappa TARAHUMARA, I was asked if I couldn’t dance if there wasn’t music. There are lots of things I can’t do. During dance workshops there is one work practice where the dancers are asked to move slowly as if you are walking slowly through water, and that is something I am bad at. I think, “Why? There’s no water here.” So, my body just doesn’t respond naturally to the concept.
But I can respond when there is music. I believe that I am a dancer who can go on and on endlessly when there is music. But I am very bad at searching deep into my soul or approaching the body in an abstract way. In that sense, I guess I have a lot of nerve to call myself a dancer.
Isn’t there some music that tends to confine your body movement?
It may be that what I actually like is the freedom that comes from having that confinement. Of course, it isn’t a matter of just letting the music lead you completely. In fact, I am very demanding when it comes to the points of count when I want the dancers go off the beat or to slow down and delay the rhythm of movement. Dancers have a tendency to anticipate the flow of the music and thus get a little ahead of the beat, but if that happens you will not create a palpable grove. But this is something different from deliberate technique of dropping off the beat slightly. There is definitely an absolute timing that comes when you are truly feeling the music. Thus, it may look like my movement comes from just relaxing and moving with music, but with regard to everything from the timing to the line of sight, there is an absolute right timing and place for everything in the dance.
In that sense, the music and sound that you choose becomes extremely important.
It is no exaggeration to say that everything depends on that choice. That is where my strength is, and so I am very happy when I am complimented for my choice of music. I must say that I am happiest of all when I am dancing to vocal music, and when I do, I get into a condition where I feel like I am engaging with the voice. But, for example, I feel that the vocal quality and projection in opera doesn’t fit my height, and I can’t dance to it. I feel that the voice is a musical instrument, and since it has the most fluctuation, I find it easy to react to. I also like piano solos. Both piano and the human voice have a single, homogeneous sound, so they are easy to react to. In contrast, with a symphony and all of the instruments it includes, I can’t react sufficiently to all of it. Because my body is also homogeneous.
In that sense, I realize that the [Zenjido Bonno] zuizuizu of the Gamelan music we talked about this time was truly the best, wasn’t it? Also, what you wrote for the performance leaflet was very interesting. It is the words “The irresistible appeal of dance is something the dancers themselves must reclaim” that is your ultimate goal.
That is the issue that I set for myself personally as well. Since the dance that you want to do changes over time, I wanted to dance the dance that I really wanted to do at that time. Rather than saying that I want to show a work created around this kind of theme, I would say that the larger underlying factor is that I have a place that I want to reach through dancing, and that is why I create a work like this. And at the same time, there is the fact that in order to reach that place, the presence of an audience is an absolute necessity.
When we were preparing for the debut performance of [Zenjido Bonno
, I was told that it would not be good to dance through so much of the piece as I was planning to because then I wouldn’t be able see the work as a whole and I wouldn’t be able to direct it. But, I thought that it would be meaningless if I wasn’t up there performing. Because, what was important in staging this work was that I be up there dancing and experiencing the physical feelings it induced. If you are going to have truly meaningful contact with people, if you are going to pull them toward something, there has to be a physical sensation that they would not normally experience, a sensation only resulting from movement that one would not experience in daily life, without some special reason. I believe that is the reason I am dancing, in order to experience sensations that I have never felt before.
That is the appeal of dance that it is important for dancers to reclaim, isn’t it?
Yes. In fact, things like the “worldly desires” (bonno
) were only added afterwards, and what I really wanted to communicate is the simple message that “this is what it means to dance.” I want people to experience the fact there are realms that can only be reached by dancing. It is not a matter of form, and it isn’t in the interesting aspects of the composition. I want people to see how eight dancers can truly shine. I believe that few things can replace the experience of seeing dancers shine radiantly. That experience alone can make you feel that you have truly “seen dance.”
Of course, it is better if people can also find interesting aspects in the work’s composition or its theme, but for me, there is never a case where I can feel that “the dancers did not shine but the work itself was good.” At the risk of being misunderstood, I will say that I am not doing dance for the sake of other people, but that I am doing it to experience that special feeling. And, I guess that, for me, this is “the purest desire.”