The initial exchange introduced us to the amazing Takeshi Yazaki. He and his company, Arrow Dance Communication, were our long-lost siblings, closer to us spiritually and artistically than any company we’ve ever encountered. We put together a project with Arrow and spent six weeks in Kyoto at the end of 2003, creating You Are So Beautiful. These journals are from that extended residency:
David’s 2003 Kyoto Journal
December 6, 2003 En-route, Dallas to Tokyo.
Turns out Christy brought a walkman with a handful of CD’s. When she saw meflipping through the American Airlines Attractions magazine for a radio guide, she produced her set-up. I’m listening to Nirvana, Nevermind. Why, I don’t know. I wanted to listen to something moody and atmospheric, or soothing and melancholy. Maybe something I hadn’t heard before. Christy has tons ofmusic that’s super cool, that I’ve never heard and I usually like when I do hear it. I almost put on a band called Sparklehorse that I always love when Christy is playing it in her car. Instead I put on Nevermind — something old, familiar and insistent. And angry and self-hating. “I don’t have a gun” he says in the song over and over. And then in real life he goes and blows his head off. We’re just about 5 hours from Tokyo. Now I’m sitting in the bulkhead seats with Rich and Dexter. Richholds a book with arms cradled around Dexter whowatches “Finding Nemo” with enormous head phones that cover his 2-year-old ears and half his cheeks all at once. Now he’s playing wishbone with the headphones. And Amy has come and sat back down. She was in the back of the plane. Maybe talking to Andrew, Christy, Nichole and Ruby who are sitting in the very last row of seats. They are back by the lavatories and seem to function as the stewards lounge. We’ve all been popping “NO JET LAG” pills every two hours. These are from the same company that makes a product called “DRINK EASE.” The insert advertisement for that product says, “I’m never going to get another hangover.” How many times have you said that yet you keep doing it and suffer? Drink Ease, it turns out is a homeopathic remedy “designed for those who enjoy drinking.” We all got a good laugh out of that, but we know NO JET LAG works. Andrew and I took it last year when we flew to Japan. The trick is to stay awake for the first day in Japan and go to bed at a normal time. No naps! Our bodies will feel like its 2 in the morning when we arrive but it will be 3 in the afternoon in Tokyo. If we make it to a normal bedtime without sleeping, then we will wake up the next morning completely adjusted. Such is the power of NO JET LAG. Yesterday’s crisis has quickly helped us to feel our contours as a group. We are a sudden community of eight joined differently than when we are five headlongers rehearsing in Philadelphia. Its not just the addition of Rich and the kids. ts the animal of us as a group, navigating a new terrain away from our full, complex Philly world of jobs, spouses, friends and lovers. Yesterday, for a while we thought we would have to cancel our Tokyo performance. Our late flight into Chicago meant we missed our connection to Tokyo and American said no room on flights until Sunday which meant us getting to Tokyo too late. But then Trish, Nichole’s step mom located a flight out of of Dallas. So we flew to Dallas to spend the night and take the flight to Tokyo the next day. It worked. And there was some small shared joy last night after our brutal day of continental hopscotch as we laughed together about the absurdity of finding ourselves in Dallas instead of Tokyo. Honestly, I was glad for a good night’s sleep and a little more transition time before getting to Japan. My life has been screaming along way too fast for too many months before this. I’ve been doing a hundred on a highway and the road just ended at the edge of a cliff. Now, I’m sailing through air. I have a chance to turn my mind to what’s in store: the collaboration with Takeshi, Megumi and Kentaro. I’m excited. Its only now beginning to dawn on me. All has been bureaucracy and frantic scheduling until now — an abstract plan. But now its begun; we get to make a dance. Together, 5 of us, with 3 of them. I can’t wait to see Takeshi and Megumi again, whom Andrew and I made a quartet with a year and half ago in Kyoto. And I can’t wait to be back in Kyoto, the most wonderful city I have visited. I wonder if it will still feel that way in early winter instead of early summer. I haven’t even thought of Tokyo. We spend the first few days in Tokyo where we perform in the Jade Festival before heading to Kyoto for the rest of our time to actually make the dance. In Tokyo we will be performing in the ballroom of the Hotel that “Lost in Translation” was filmed in. We are to perform TAKE 3 and SWINGINGING. But right now I wish we were headed straight to Kyoto, land that I love. According to the creeping airplane graphic on the in-flight gps map we are where the Sea of Okhotsk meets the Pacific. We have 3 hours to go to Tokyo, 1123 miles. Then we go, with all our stuff, right to the ballroom for a meeting and then, god help us, to a rehearsal. We’ll see if we we make it!
December 9, 2003
Tokyo to Kyoto.
We’re on the bullet train, Tokyo to Kyoto. Christy clapped her CD headphones on me. Its the band Modest Mouse singing a song that says, “Ohio, Ohio, O-hi-o gozaimasu” over and over. Ohio Gozaimasu means good morning in Japanese. The single most said phrase so far on our journey. By us and to us. We all reinforce our language acquisition. Ohio gozaimasu we say to each other over and over as we see each other for the first time each morning. Dwellings upon dwellings, valleys, mountains near and far, and occasional fingers of water rush past us. More than urban Tokyo, this says Japan, Japan, Japan, you are really in Japan. Strange little pyramids of something that looks like hay lay bundled in the farm fields we pass. Neat rows that stripe across small squares of dun. I can’t help thinking of the swollen haymows that dot rural America: fat, rolled plugs. These tiny, elegant teepees on their neat patches of earth are hemmed in by low houses and apartments that carpet the land as far as the eye can see, up to the feet of the distant mountains. Often, the train is boring through mountains and we don’t see anything but black. Upon arriving in Tokyo we endured a painful 2 1/2 hour bus ride from the airport to the Park Hyatt to see the space. Painful, because by then we were sick to our stomachs with exhaustion. Ruby and Dexter were as much a mess as us adults and giving voice to it. And we were crushed by the convoy of luggage we had to tote around: 11 enormous bags in addition to our backpacks and carry-ons. The bus was stifling hot. Our bodies knew it was 3 in the morning, though Tokyo pretended it was 5 in the evening. We finally made it through the interminable Tokyo traffic: picture a suburban rush hour in the U.S. and times it by about 50 and you start to get the picture. I think it took 45 minutes to get the few blocks from the highway exit into Narita to the Park Hyatt in the center of Narita. Narita is the section of Tokyo where we were staying and performing. The odyssey of getting all our bags plus children through the park Hyatt building complex to the ballroom confirmed Rich Kaufman as a hero for the ages. Depleted state notwithstanding, he nimbly hoisted a cranky child in his arms while towing a stack of luggage down steep stairways, through finicky mall-like concourses of shoppers, and into utility corridors and service elevators. All with nary a raised voice or harsh word: a saint. The ballroom was a splendor to behold. Picture a white room ceilinged by moderne, dimpled cubes that lower and raise to any height in the two story air. A press of Japanese techies are hanging and focussing lights when we peek in, so several of these five foot by five foot square cubes float at different heights in the space. A spectacular, breathtaking room. Sadly, this giant, white room is being converted into a black box theater for our performance. Descending cubes will all be pulled back into the ceiling. The temporary stage will be hung with black and floored in black marley. The generic and neutral has triumphed over the fabulous and singular, so that we artists may reliably re-create our own visions without any taint of context. And to be fair, at least three different companies need to be able to perform in this space and who knows what moods their pieces need to evoke. But I mourn not being able to dance in the cool, white dimpled palace of floating cubes. Here we are greeted by Sato-san and Ritsuko. My heart jumps for joy. I have missed them. They are JCDN (The Japanese Contemporary Dance Network) who hosted Andrew and I in Kyoto a year and a half ago and are sponsoring our performance with Arrow in Kyoto at the end of our collaboration. And Nori (Sato-san) presented our work to the other Jade festival programmers to get us into our Tokyo performance. They are a couple on a mission to open up more space for contemporary performance in tradition-bound Japan. Without Nori and Ritsuko there would be no Headlong in Japan. But more than that, they are wonderful people. Passionate, playful, and incredibly hardworking. When Nori laughs, which is often, his eyes get this most mischievous glint. And Ritsuko disarms with these exhausted, wry looks. I feel I should write about the actual performance. Why is that so hard? It went fine. TAKE 3 was difficult as always. Often, the frustration of rehearsing it gives way to joy in performance for me. Not this time. Couldn’t find the right rhythm, the right touch. hat piece is the most challenging act of consciousness. Working with an interpreter wastricky, although Meneko did an awesome job. SWINGINGING rocked, the three ladies performing and intricately improvising with their usual jaw-dropping virtuosity and brilliance. The structure for SWINGING is Andrew’s brainchild and its one of my favorite all-time dances. I just can’t believe its happening every time I see it. Its simple, simple, and then accumulates shocking density all at once. It speaks to my hidden minimalist. Very hidden, since my tendencies are towards the complex, the simultaneous, the expansive profusion. When SWINGINGING ends and the stage goes black, a single plaintive voice wails out “mommy.” Dexter wonders where Amy has disappeared to in the mysterious dark. And it reminds me that I, too, am often left with a small longing when the lights go down, and some lovely, intricate world vanishes so radically and permanently. December 14th First Night. Okay, so our arrival in Kyoto quickly turned into a situation fraught with our deepest fears. We arrive at an unheated artists’ hostel, which is supposed to serve as our home for the next 5 weeks. We promptly decide not to stay there. Turns out that is easier said than done and we are deeply enmeshed in that most difficult of American-Japanese maneuvers: nitty-gritty negotiating. his happens in light of a complex set of previous agreements and financial transactions made by Takeshi and Megumi. Which means that we are putting our hosts in a most uncomfortable position. The owner of the hostel is a personal friend of Takeshi’s and an arts advocate in this tight knit community. He runs a performance space for contemporary performance to boot. Oh the angst and exhaustion on all sides. And we’re starving and cold, and there are no good solutions, and above all there is no way for anyone to save face. Just blunt, blunt Americans saying no way. I am sure Andrew has written about this night in detail so I’ll skip it for the most part, except to say that I was terrified this harsh beginning would wreck the good will we needed to have a satisfying, hopefully joyful collaboration. We are to spend the next two and half months together after all. But it all worked out, truly and fully. No lingering ill effects on our affection, excitement and energy in the studio. Not right away, but over the next couple of days all was put to bed. And as for that first night–we ended up at our cherished Yoshimizu ryokan where we had lived last time we were in Kyoto: a magnificent, traditional Japanese home nestled amongst the shrines and footpaths of Muryama Park. Expensive, but heavenly. First Day Dancing. First day’s rehearsal confirms my expectations about this project. For reasons I can’t fully explain, our bodies speak the same language in the studio. Our visceral sensibilities are freakishly similar. The mix of abstraction, theatricality, formalism, physical thrill and intelligence, interpersonal fearlessness and sensitivity–all this and more it seems like we share in similar degrees. For the first day, Megumi led a warm-up. Then I set up some structures for us to dance together. I wanted us to feel each other, manifest our dancing selves with each other; begin to discover and embrace each other and lay the groundwork for pushing each other’s idiosyncratic, composing selves. For about 25 minutes we danced duets while short pieces of music (half a minute to 3 minutes) played off my iBook in the corner. We stood in a hippy circle and one person would enter and pick another to dance–improvised duet after duet. I love the first moment someone enters the space and chooses. Such a moment of desire and will, no matter how low key. Its in the structure. You have to pick and there are a million reasons why you might pick one person or another, but you do have to pick, to decide, to follow through with the leap into the unknown of intimately interacting with the presence of another person. The second structure comes from my beloved mentor Richard Bull — a performance and rehearsal structure called “Visions.” The same short piece of music (45 seconds to a minute) plays over and over. (This time we danced to Erik Satie: Meditation, A Albert Roussell) Each dancer leads one “vision” or round of the song. The other dancers enter and support or elaborate the material the leader has begun. A vision can have any number of dancers in it, preferably a mix over the course of all the visions: solos, duets, trios, and so on. Everyone dances the last one. That means we did 9 visions since there are 8 of us. I love the way this structure forces you to compose instantly, to see as fully as possible what is happening and make it cohere. The dance is so short that you must act and compose with instantaneous, full commitment. No getting bogged down in the daunting complexities of possibilities. And the redundancy of the music emphasizes the sense of a known terrain in which much is possible, but not so much that you can’t focus or push against something. Its a perfect structure. The visions were lovely, everyone expertly led and followed, and followed through on the developing logic of each vision. Or, someone might sensitively transgress the developing rules. Its hard to describe this exactly. We are on the same page when it comes to the development of form and conversely, the limits of formal logic. It seems important to note that we don’t have this degree of consonance when we step into the studio with other dancers and choreographers closer to home, whether they are experienced improvisers or not. How is it that we Americans and they Japanese arrive at this similarity of sensibility and skill coming from such different places? And indeed I believe we arrive here on pathways forged from radically different starting points. Lastly I split the group in two and gave a choreographic assignment. I thought it important that we feel out actually making something together, not just improvising together. I wanted us to feel how communication might work between us all as we suggest and refine ideas for working on a particular, intended thing. Not just to see how we communicate and collaborate as artists, because I have a great deal of faith in that. But more, how the technical problems of speaking different languages affects our ability to share ideas. Of all of us, only poor Megumi is fluent in both Japanese and English. So we had to feel it out before there was too much at stake in the developing dance. I made two groups out of the pack of us: Takeshi, Amy and Nichole in one group; Megumi, Andrew, Kentaro and Christy in the other group. I decided at the last minute to sit out I am not sure why. I wanted to observe what happened, how the different groupings might function differently. I wasn’t sure it was wise to hold myself apart, but I went with my impulse anyway. Both groups created lovely, coherent short dances in the space of half an hour. We performed them for each other and then I had each group meet and discuss the other groups efforts. They were to come up with a suggestion to give to the other group for pushing the material further, or refining it further in some direction. I wanted us as artists to begin to be able to critique and make specific choices together. That second stage of editing and refinement, after stuff has been generated can be such a pitfall in collaboration. Strong, visionary choices need to be made in service of the work itself, not in terms of egos and ownership. And I thought this might be a friendly way to get our comfort levels up around that kind of pushing of the work. Each groups suggestions were generous, insightful and pushed the work. The two groups went back and worked more on their dances for about 5 more minutes and showed again. Exciting and better dances had emerged. Amy, Takeshi and Nichole showed a formal and evocative face dance, a shifting 2 and 1 structure that began with Nichole’s and Takeshi’s outrageously elastic, expressive faces shifting in response to each other. Between them sits Amy, back to the audience. The trio ends with them on their backs, heads uncomfortably cocked back towards the audience singing “You are so beautiful” through strained throats. Whereas group one was contained, formal and very theatrical, group two is looser, spacious and very physical. Megumi, Andrew, Kentaro and Christy begin spread out, each in their own odd, physical world. Christy sighs something plaintive and unintelligible. The dancers coalesce around her in a frantic ineffectual community of concern. Suddenly, the community unifies: Kentaro is the problem and they menace him. But when they attack, instead of ripping him to shreds, they hoist him high and flap his gangly wings into the air. Amy finished the day with the children’s game, “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…” An inspired idea. We played it in English and then in Japanese and so began to learn the Japanese words for body parts, which we have been using constantly in rehearsal ever since. December 17 Rolling Along and The Ecstasy of Kyoto. Okay, so I am the slowest of the group to pick up on the language. But I fantasize that my algorithm of learning simply follows a different trajectory. After some period of slow absorption and gestation, I am going to leap ahead with full blown sentences and canny phrase choices. My Japanese friends will reward me with spontaneous oooohs and wowwwws. Meanwhile my senses, if not my linguistic centers, are processing at full tilt. The ecstasy of transitions: Here in Japan, change ofspace and activity and interaction are marked in small, unavoidable, sensual ways. There are rituals of transitions, so that I am always conscious and carefully so, of each new situation, each tiny shift of geography: the slippers on, the slippers off. The heat turned on, the heat turned off, as one passes from the warmth of a room inhabited into the iciness of a room just starting to be occupied. The cooking of a meal can’t sprawl into a simultaneity of actions, a homogeneity of attention. Instead, space imposes a temporal discipline, each part of cooking requiring its own focus: one must chop this, set it aside, clean up, free up a dish and some space and then chop that. Then, when all is ready, and each phase of preparation has in its turn been completed, and space and dishes recovered, one may cook, fast as possible on the one burner, so that one thing is not cold before the second has been warmed. Thank god for the mandatory rice cooker in every kitchen, no matter how otherwise spartan its furnishment. Muryama park is a joy. I love the shrines ensconced in permanent gloam amidst the intimate sprawl of footpaths, ponds and bridges. Every time I go out I am constantly, vainly, trying to match the comportment of the japanese as my huge, careening body attempts to slip amongst the bustling crowds. I can’t stop myself from squeezing down the mad, market streets so that I may gaze upon the most breathtaking array of mushrooms. In these cases, I don’t care whose way I get in. I must study the alien fungus to decide if I want to buy the bouquet of tiny, tendrilled, spotted ones, or the enormously fat, cartoon specimens that come individually wrapped. Best of all maybe, is biking down the tiny side streets in the middle of the night, the cold, exhilarating night. This happens in quiet Kyoto, the biker slightly abuzz from beers around a small, sunken table in a very warm and very intimate restaurant whose soft, secret glow is carved into the pervasive subterranean gloom that lurks just off any major street. The dance rolls along. Four days rehearsal, I think. We have a dozen small dances that we could delve backinto. But already time feels like it is runningshort. We need to make some decisions that will allow us to push deeper into this thing. Everyone is such aspectacular performer, such lovely, strange, generous beings. We have to live up to that. The potential is so great. But so far we haven’t been able to really set the sail and run out into the wide open sea. We’re sloshing around the harbor right now. But soon, I feel sure, we’ll find the mouth and summon the wind and we’ll be streaking into unknown waters full tilt and sure.