Amy’s 2003 Kyoto Journal: Part 1

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:

Amy’s 2003 Kyoto Journal

Part 1

After a crazy adventure (missed connection, unplanned stay in Dallas), we finally arrived in Tokyo. It felt like midnight, but we still had a full day ahead of us. We went to the performance space, which is in the Park Hyatt tower, where “Lost in Translation” was filmed. There, we were met by Lang, the English-speaking tech director, and a bevy of extremely efficient Japanese staff. Luckily, our living quarters were nearby at the Olympic Memorial Center, built in 1964 in fabulous moderne-Japanese style. The rooms were tiny, but beautiful, and there were amazing views.

After a delirious late-night run-through with our TAKE THREE translator, Mineko, we finally hit the sack. The next day, we had a rehearsal, then tech, then dress rehearsal, then performance. It would have been a super-busy day even if we had not been suffering jet lag. The other groups on the bill were from Russia and Costa Rica, so it was a very international and varied program. Unfortunately, the evening was billed as dances that use humor, which they did to very different degrees. The Russians were funny at times, and the Costa Ricans were absolutely unfunny.

We performed SWINGINGING and TAKE THREE. SWINGINGING went well, although really not very funny to the Japanese. TAKE THREE was a challenge — trying to work the translator into the dance and still staying true to the piece as we usually do it. But the audience seemed to enjoy it and we were happy with how it went.

The next day we did a short presentation at the Tokyo Performing Arts Market, the Japanese version of APAP. There we ran into Bill Bissell from Dance Advance, and Ellis Finger from Lafayette College. It was surreal to casually run into people we know from the States in the middle of Tokyo. Ritsuko, who is one half of the Japan Contemporary Dance Network, along with husband Nori, took the train with us back to Kyoto, where they live. She helped Rich and I get settled, showing us how to use our appliances and taking me to the supermarket. Thank god we can cook — it really helps us feel more normal when we can eat a home-cooked meal of something familiar, especially when the rest of the day is spent wondering what is in what we are eating.

The first day we had a lunch meeting with Takeshi (Arrow choreographer), Megumi (dancer and translator) and met their third dancer, Kentaro. We talked a little about possible ideas for the piece and how we could get to know each other.

So far now it has been about a week of rehearsal, with a usual schedule of 10-5 with a break for lunch. Every day a new person leads warm-up, which has been really fun. They vary from set exercises to very open dancing structures. People generally try to teach in their nonnative tongue, which is difficult, but fun. The day I lead, I tried to stick to patterns that are simple and repeat a lot, so that after learning them, we can just keep doing them, with “mouikkai” (repeat), and “hantai” (change) as the only imperatives. Learning the body parts has been hilarious. On the first day, I taught the Japanese the song “head, shoulders, knees and toes,” which we then also did in Japanese. That led to us playing with an idea that might actually end up in the piece, a song about body parts (for example, “hana, hara, hana, hara, hana, hara, me” = “nose, belly….eyes”).

One structure we have been doing a lot of at the end of warm-up is a get-to-know-ya sort of dance-making structure: we make a big circle, one person steps out into the middle, invites someone out to dance with them, and they make a dance. Others may join, too. Lots of nice following, contact, and short minimalist dances. Sometimes music informs the tone, but they are very open in style.

It is truly amazing how much we have in common with Arrow. All three of them are great funny people, and all three are dancers with lovely technique and very good improvisers — a rare combo. In terms of aesthetic, Takeshi is interested in a lot of the same ideas we are, even to the point of being just formal at first and letting content come later (this is a radical idea, I think, even in the States). He likes to use talking and singing in the piece and is into lots of different ways of working (give an assignment, set a structure, set movement to music, are all on the plate).

I worry a little about Headlong dominating the Arrowhead process, because we are three and Takeshi is one, and because we are doing most of the talking in English, and because Takeshi is by nature (and nurture, I suppose) a shyer person. But we have been fairly intentional about asking his opinion and giving him lots of decision-making power. So far, at least, I think the collaboration has been quite equal and mutual, and I am really excited about what we come up with.

I’ve also been really happy with Nichole and Christy’s participation, which has really been great. They bring a lot to the table, but know when to step back and let the many choreographic voices have their chat. Their teaching and dancing and connecting with Arrow has been a pleasure to see.

A brief list of some of the ideas we’ve been playing with:

Conversations in which one person speaks Japanese, one English. Dancers dance to the sound of the talking.

Singing “Nothing Compares to You” with upside-down faces while Megumi dances a solo.

Translating dance into English, Japanese, nonsense.

Women’s quartet – four sisters intertwining and competing.

Men’s quartet – a zen square dance to a slow sad country song.

A map of the U.S. made out of bodies. Amy leads Takeshi on a honeymoon/tour.

Amy sings a Japanese soul song while other women do a jazz dance based on classical Japanese gestures.

Duets, mostly one American, one Japanese. About connecting or not connecting.

So that’s all for now. We’ll just keep playing and working until the dance gets made!