Shedding Layers of Identity at the Vancouver International Dance Festival
As founders of Vancouver’s Kokoro Dance, Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget share a deep and abiding fascination with butoh, the post-World War Two dance form most often characterized by the dancers’ whitened bodies, shaved heads, and fragmented movements. Having been impressed by a 2009 Dairakudakan performance in Tokyo, they travelled to Japan in the summer of 2013 to take part in a butoh performance-intensive workshop with the company, Japan’s oldest butoh troupe.
The week-long workshop took place in Hakuba, in Nagano prefecture, not far from Hotaka, the ancestral home of Hirabayashi’s paternal grandparents.
The intense, immersive workshop schedule saw company members and students living together in a hostel – cooking, cleaning and eating together from 6am to 11pm each day – while preparing for the performance that was the culmination of the workshop. The workshop was overseen by Akaji Maro, the company’s founder and artistic director. Having worked with Tatsumi Hijikata, one of butoh’s founders, Maro builds his butoh on the observation of ordinary movement, pedestrian activities, and, as Hirabayashi observes, “catching that moment when something happens, some accident, when you are suddenly put in a displaced situation.”
It was, Hirabayashi told The Bulletin in an interview last year, a transformative experience: “What we learned was that art is not created just in a dance studio. It is a life orientation that includes everything.”
On March 20 & 21, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival Vancouver, Vancouver audiences will be able to experience the Canadian premiere of Dairakudakan as they present their newest work, Mushi no Hoshi – Space Insect, at the Vancouver Playhouse, a large-scale spectacle showcasing 22 dancers shape-shifting from humans to insects while asking the question, “Who is the better caretaker of the world?”
At 72-years-old, Akaji Maro shows no signs of slowing down, continuing to explore the infinite possibilities of butoh, advancing the art form through dramatic choreography and theatrics coupled with a distinct focus on individuality within the group.
First premiering in June 2014 at the Setagaya Public Theatre in Tokyo, Japan, Mushi no Hoshi – Space Insect is a reflection of an alternate world in which insects are the superior species. Built on his own experiences with Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Mushi no Hoshi – Space Insect is a direct response to his reluctance to join Japanese society in simply “carrying on” following this nuclear crisis, the repercussions of which are palpable and ongoing.
With a score co-composed by Japan-born bamboo flutist Keisuke Doi and American techno DJ and producer Jeff Mills, this unearthly performance promises to transport audiences into a world where dancers transform into insects, both real and imagined.
On the eve of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, Jay Hirabayashi talked to The Bulletin about Dairakudakan, the VIDF Festival and life.
Interview: Jay Hirabayashi
Tell me about this year’s Festival. Is there a theme?
Looking at what we have programmed, I think “transformation” and “identity” might be themes that could be applied to what people will experience at this year’s festival. In Par B.L.eux’ Snakeskins, Benoît Lachambre metaphorically sheds layers of skin to shed our entrenched ideas of identity. Out Innerspace and the 605 Collective also investigate personalities through character, in the case of the former, and how the individual retains identity while belonging to a group for the latter. Manuel Roque and Lucie Vignault express their differences and their connections in a riotous exchange of increasingly frenetic movement. Dairakudakan’s 22 dancers transform from humans to insects and then to some hybrid new form of the earth’s next inheritors.
Based on our cover image, this year’s featured group, Dairakudakan, and their show Mushi no Hoshi – Space Insect promises to be a wild ride. Have you seen it? What can we expect to see on stage?
I have only seen Mushi no Hoshi – Space Insect on video as it is their newest work and premiered in Tokyo last summer when we were in the middle of our Wreck Beach Butoh performance workshop so we were unable to attend. The set is spectacular, with dozens of sixteen-foot-long steel poles hanging in space and Dairakudakan’s amazing costumes that incorporate kitchen objects such as heads replaced by upside down tea kettles and goggles made from food strainers. The company also is never satisfied with using just the common white butoh body makeup and by the end of the piece have painted themselves in metallic silver. They are butoh’s most theatrical company and are also unique in having an equal emphasis on both female and male dancers. They are extraordinary dancers and audiences will be amazed by what they can do, especially sections where they somehow can locomote while their asses are sitting on their heels.
What was the principle lesson or lessons you took away from your week-long stay with the group in Japan?
Working with Dairakudakan was a further reinforcement of what we learned from Kazuo Ohno. Ohno did not seem to separate living and dancing. They were one and the same. For Dairakudakan, everything they do is about the dances they are working on. Everyone participates in the creation by helping each other in cooking, cleaning, costume making, movement creation, and dedication. It is all one and the same. We have the same motto: we live to dance and we dance to live.
It seems to be that one of butoh’s original aims was to rip apart our notions of what dance is. Is it still an outlaw art from, or do you think it has been accepted into the mainstream – and if so, is this a good thing?
We are in a different era from the late 1950s, ’60s and ’70s decades when butoh was most strikingly and radically different from everything that was going on in Europe and North America. I think butoh now has infiltrated a lot of contemporary dance expression. In Hijikata’s first work, Kinjiki (derived from the Yukio Mishima novel of the same name) his audience was shocked by its violent sexual content. Marie Chouinard, Canada’s current contemporary dance icon, has forged her reputation using similar sexually-charged vocabulary, often with butoh-like animal movements. Sankai Juku, whose artistic director, Ushio Amagatsu, was also a co-founder of Dairakudakan, choreographs a sanitized form of butoh that it is popular with mainstream audiences. I think Dairakudakan retains more of Hijikata’s irreverence for society’s standards and I like that Akaji Maro also has a healthy sense of humour that always is present in his work. I know that Kokoro Dance’s butoh is not mainstream because we have difficulty in getting Canadian presenters to present us. We could not get any interest from other Canadian presenters to extend Dairakudakan’s tour to other Canadian cities so that to me is indicative that butoh, apart from Sankai Juku, is not considered mainstream. I think it is a good thing that Sankai Juku has been accepted by mainstream audiences. Their work still is evocative even if it is not particularly provocative.
One of this year’s artists is Benjamin Kamino, who is based in Montreal and Toronto. His show is called Nudity. Desire. Tell me about him and the show he’ll be presenting.
Benjamin Kamino is a cocky (no pun intended), talented, dude. He performs Nudity. Desire totally in the nude (audience advisory). He is a hapa like you and me. His mother was a dance teacher so he grew up dancing and has performed with Toronto’s Dancemakers, where he recently was appointed co-curator, and Montreal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard, among other notable companies. Nudity. Desire has an interest in investigating societal values, but does so in an irreverent butoh-like way, although Kamino professes to know nothing about butoh. In fact, I found it hilarious when I first saw it and it takes a lot to make me laugh out loud. Of course, we are quite comfortable with the nude body so depending on your sensibilities, you might have a completely different reaction. There’s some horror in the piece too, so something for everyone, and maybe too much for some people.
You and Barbara have been running Kokoro Dance for going on thirty years now, with no signs of slowing down. In that time you’ve raised children and seen them grow and leave home. Through the years you’ve seen the cultural scene grow and change, companies come and go. And you certainly haven’t done things the easy way – but you’ve done them your way. What keeps you going, and where ARE you going?
Hey, don’t forget that we now have five grandchildren who keep us young. Kids are so great. I don’t know why we have to train them to become adults. We should forever stay as imaginative, trusting, and loving as kids.
I have to say that we are probably more than a little bit insane to continue to do what we do. Our bodies definitely are complaining a lot. Still, I can’t imagine enjoying anything more than continually trying to create something new except maybe finally to learn how to play the guitar half-decently.
You’ve got a new home in the Woodward’s Building. Have you moved in? Tell me about the space.
We are ecstatic to finally have our own long-term office and rehearsal and production studios. We have taken over the premises formerly occupied by W2 Media which includes 2,315 sq. ft. of office space that we share with the Vancouver International Dance Festival, Raven Spirit Dance, and Vancouver Moving Theatre, as well as the former W2 Café that is 1,129 sq. ft. of space that we are converting into a dance studio, and a 3,802 sq. ft. basement production studio that we will be fully outfitting for use as a production/rehearsal space. Our intention is to make the Woodward’s Atrium into a hubbub of creative activity with year-round performances and workshops happening in the Atrium and in our studios. We will be making the studios available to the arts and DTES communities at affordable rates when not in use by ourselves and our resident companies.
We hope to have the renovations completed by the end of the summer.
Speaking of Kokoro Dance, you’re presenting a work-in-progress at this year’s VIDF, The Book of Love. Tell me about the piece and when can we expect to see the finished product?
The Book of Love will have Billy Marchenski, Molly McDermott, Barbara and I as dancers with music composed by Jeffrey Ryan and performed by the Standing Wave Music Ensemble. The set and costumes will be by British artist Jonathan Baldock with lighting by Gerald King. The work will premiere at the Roundhouse and run for two weeks between November 25th and December 5th, 2015. We expect the piece to be a serio-comic look at the myriad ways we express love to one another. We take inspiration from the lyrics to the Magnetic Fields’ recording called The Book of Love especially the first verse:
The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It’s full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would just like to add that for only $98 you can see all eight shows that we are presenting at the 2015 Vancouver International Dance Festival including Dairakudakan at the Vancouver Playhouse. Tickets can be bought online at vidf.ca or by calling the VIDF Box Office at 604-662-4966.
2015 Vancouver International Dance Festival
March 8 to 28, 2015
Tickets: Free to $50
All 7 shows VIDF Festival Pass: $98
Various Vancouver Venues
Box Office: vidf.ca/tickets604.662.4966