Saturday, November 25, 2006

(D) Interview with Ushio Amagatsu - Nov 22, 2006

Photo by Bridgit

The world-renowned Sankai Juku dance company, which specialises in the highly stylised Japanese dance form known as butoh, will make its first appearance in Malaysia with the award-winning dance, Hibiki: Resonance from Far Away. Break-a-Leg has an e-mail interview with Ushio Amagatsu, artistic director and founder of the 30-year-old company.

AMAGATSU-SAN, you have, reportedly, created your own version of butoh. What is it like?

I would say, “to each his own style”. What those of my generation went through, the experiences that I’ve had as well as my qualities as an individual are different from those of the first generation of butoh dancers such as Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno.

You were trained in Western classical as well as modern dance. Why did you choose to focus on butoh?

The 1960s and 70s in Japan was a time in which doubts and questions were being raised about the arts. Through my encounters with numerous people during this period, I was introduced to our own dance style, butoh. I did not make the decision to immediately enter the world of butoh after watching its performances. But, eventually, the attitude toward creativity and the methods utilised by the first generation of butoh dancers made a tremendous impact on me.

I find it interesting that you have reportedly described dance as ‘a dialogue with gravity’. How does this relate to your dance philosophy?

The word “dance” is a synonym for tension, and human movement is composed of two states: “tension” and “relaxation”.

A newborn baby spends about one year on its back before he stands and begins to walk. Once he learns to stand on one leg he can produce steps and rhythm to form a dance; or, in other words, being able to stand on one leg is the beginning of dance. But my approach to dance looks at the body before it learns to stand, as well as the process it goes through to get there. This is the dialogue that the horizontal body has with gravity until it learns to stand. It is the attempt to master tension from a base of relaxation.

Western dance would generally relate to the concept of liberation or rebellion from gravity while the basis of my work would be a synchronisation with gravity.

In 1980, you were invited to perform in Europe for the first time. How do Europeans relate to butoh?

I believe that the way butoh utilises the human body is not the same as the way Western dance forms utilise the body. Butoh’s different method of expression has been accepted as a distinct approach towards contemporary dance. Those who have been influenced by it have gone on to create yet other styles and forms.

You have performed in more than 700 cities. Are there similarities and differences in how butoh is received around the world?

Similarities would be in the primitive emotions expressed so well by butoh; primitive emotions that all humans possess, and the impression that they get from seeing these emotions within butoh. But there are some minor differences in their (the audience’s) reaction depending on race and geographical region.

What is the inspiration behind Hibiki?

The life of an individual is “non-continuous” in the sense that there is a start and an end. But the life of mankind could be described as being “continuous”, like a flowing river, in the sense that it has been around and will continue to be. The resonance of life in relation to this “non-continuity” and “continuity” is my source of inspiration.

How is Hibiki different from your other works?

I do not think there is any major difference from the other works. There have been 15 Sankai Juku works so far but I’ve not thought of doing something that is totally different from my previous works for the sake of variety. My works are a culmination and snapshots of the creative process that had taken place up till that moment.

You have done well in your career. Do you think that you have accomplished your personal goals?

For me, unresolved issues are the impetus for creation, and so, there probably is no final goal. And although I make the effort to search for answers, it is probably because no clear answer can be found that I can continue to create.