Kokoro Dance: heart, soul & spirit
Celebrating 30 years of dance with Book of Love
The Bulletin Interview: Jay Hirabayashi
It doesn’t get more iconic than Kokoro Dance. Since 1986, the Vancouver-based company – under the creative leadership of married duo Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget – has pushed the boundaries of dance with soul-stirring choreography and riveting performances.
Kokoro celebrates its 30th season of dance with Book of Love (November 25-December 5 in the Roundhouse Performance Centre). Taking time out from rehearsals, Hirabayashi takes us into the heart, soul, and spirit of one of Vancouver’s preeminent dance companies:
Take me back to the earliest beginnings of Kokoro Dance. Why did you form the company? Why did you choose the name Kokoro? What kind of work did you set out to create?
From 1982 to 1986, Barbara and I were co-artistic founding directors of EDAM (Experimental Dance and Music), a collective of six choreographers and one musician. The EDAM experience was a formative one for all of us, but the original altruistic collective intentions eventually disintegrated. EDAM eventually became four separate companies — Kokoro Dance, Mascall Dance, Lola MacLaughlin Dance Company, with Peter Bingham inheriting the original company as its sole artistic director. We were the first to leave in 1986 when we decided that we want to explore butoh as our primary performance aesthetic. Kokoro means heart, soul, and spirit in Japanese and we chose that word because we wanted to express our humanity, our emotions, through motion. We didn’t really know what we were setting out to express. We just knew that we had a lot inside of us that we wanted to share.
In what ways has Kokoro’s work changed over the years?
When we started out, we didn’t know a lot about butoh. Now, after thirty years, we still don’t know a lot about butoh. Butoh is the search for one’s own original expression. As SU-En, a Swedish butoh dancer, once said, it is an impossible search. Life is a process where the more you learn, the less you realize you know.
How do you describe Kokoro’s work to the uninitiated? What impact does butoh play in your choreography and process?
For metaphoric reasons, butoh dancers often paint themselves white. It’s a way of erasing yourself in order to express something that transcends yourself. We have adopted that practice. A butoh dancer changes time and space by changing your interior sense of time and space. Often, butoh appears slow to the observer, but inside the butoh dance is traveling very fast. So fast that the body has to struggle with the resistance of its own speed. It takes a lot of practice to change one’s ordinary sense of time and space to something more infinite. We’re still working on that. Some people find our work provocative, but we prefer to think of it as evocative. It provokes if it rubs against quotidian social values. We have performed in the nude on Wreck Beach for the past 20 years. Some people think that’s provocative; we just think it’s natural. Butoh’s use of interior imagery underlies all of our choreography, even the contemporary dance moves that we have not abandoned. We don’t look like a butoh company from Japan, but then Japanese butoh companies don’t look like us.
One of your earliest works was Rage (later The Believer) which was inspired by your father’s resistance to Japanese American internment during World War Two. Why did you create that work? What role does his story play in your current choreography?
In 1986, the redress movement was gaining momentum in both the US and Canada. In 1984, my father received a telephone call from Peter Irons, a legal historian, who, with researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, had discovered that the US government had withheld key evidence in his trials. My father spent two years in prison during the war for disobeying curfew and evacuation orders. Irons asked my father if he was interested in challenging his convictions in court. My father said he had been waiting 40 years for that call. I wanted to do a piece about the internment period to let people know what had happened. We performed Rage and The Believer more than 200 times in schools and theatres across Canada, the US, and in Europe. We haven’t performed those works for quite a while, but they are still in our bones. I think about the current racial profiling of Muslim people and think how little Canada and the US has changed.
Tell me about Barbara Bourget as a collaborator. What do you admire about her? How has her work changed over the last 30 years?
Barbara is the heart, soul, and spirit of Kokoro Dance. The company is named after her. Max Wyman described her as a performer who dances with her heart on her sleeve and her body on red alert. I spend most of my time in front of a computer while Barbara expands the art of dance in the studio. She is a task master who pushes our dancers to go beyond themselves. She pushes me to go beyond myself. We have been together day and night throughout nearly forty years of our lives. I would not have had it any other way. I can’t imagine a future without her. I love her and treasure her. Barbara is sixty-five and I am sixty-eight. We watched a bootleg video of Episode in Blue (1988) last week and wondered how we were able to move like we did back then. Our new work, Book of Love, has Molly Dermott and Billy Marchenski dancing with us. They are three decades younger than us and we are grateful for their talent, energy, and commitment to our process. Maybe they reflect what we were like in Episode in Blue. We reflect who we are now.
Kokoro has brought dozens of dance groups to Vancouver through the Vancouver International Dance Festival (VIDF). Why did Kokoro start the festival? What can audiences expect from the 2016 edition?
We started the VIDF because we are out of our minds. We wanted to put Vancouver on the international map of dance. When we traveled to Europe, nobody knew where Vancouver was. They thought Canada had only one city, Montreal. We wanted to help Vancouver artists be recognized as equals to Montreal artists. We wanted Vancouver to see the best of international dance and then to recognize that what Vancouver had to offer was equally worthy of support. I think it is a good thing that we are out of our minds.
In 2016, at the Roundhouse, we premiere 605 Collective’s Vital Few. 605 Collective is a Vancouver company set to conquer the world’s stages. We are introducing Montreal’s upstart Compagnie Virginie Brunelle performing Foutrement. In English, I believe that translates as F***ing. And, we are excited to be seeing Peter Bingham’s new work for his EDAM company. At the Vancouver Playhouse, we are presenting dancers from the combined companies of Danza Teatro Retazos (Cuba) and Memory Wax (Sweden) who have never performed previously in Canada. VIDF audiences can also see free performances from Mascall Dance, Raven Spirit Dance, Circadia Indigena, Natsu Nakajima (Japan), and Ziyian Kwan and James Gnam.
You’re kicking off Kokoro’s 30th season with Book of Love. What would you like audiences to know heading into the show?
Book of Love is not like a Harlequin romance novel. Any married couple will tell you that love has its peaks and valleys. Love, like life, is a mystery. We are lucky to have British artist Jonathan Baldock’s Dada surrealist-influenced costume and set design infiltrating the piece and Vancouver composer Jeffrey Ryan composing for the Standing Wave musical ensemble who will be playing live for the two weeks of performances at the Roundhouse.
Kokoro shows no sign of slowing down. Have you ever considered hanging up your fundoshi?
I got a new fundoshi pattern from Dairakudakan, Japan’s oldest butoh company, when they came last March. I bought a sewing machine and am sewing new ones to replace our 30-year-old ones. Pretty exciting. They are really skimpy.
Book of Love
November 25 – December 5, 8pm
Roundhouse Performance Centre
Tickets are $30/$25 and are available through the Kokoro Box Office: 604.662.4966 or kokoro.ca