Last night, we had Daisuke Muto talking about Japanese dance history. Tonight, Nanako Nakajima was all about “The Archiving Body in Dance”.
Nanako’s trained as a traditional dancer – she studied and taught odori, which grew out of kabuki movements – but she’s now a dance researcher and dramaturg who works mostly in contemporary performance.
Last year, she got involved as a “cultural negotiator” in the Saison Foundation’s Archiving Dance project in Japan. Ong Keng Sen, Daisuke Muto and her worked with seven Japanese choreographers to create “archive boxes” as a form of transmitting their craft.
NN: The archive is the product of the modern to resist time in more ways than one… Whenever a nation-state approaches a turning point in its history, there are calls for its past to be reinterpreted in the context of the present.
As a preamble, she talked about the history of archival: 19 th century systems of registration, attempts to preserve missing stories, oral histories. How it was performance art collective Fluxus that first began creating archive boxes full of film loops, puzzles, etc, as alternative repositories of their art.
How other performance artists and choreographers have attempted to recreate dancers’ oeuvres, such as Martin Nachbar’s performances of work by German expressionist dancer Dore Hoyer; how Takao Kawaguchi re-enacted movements by butoh master Kazuo Ohno.
Takao Kawaguchi: Ohno is said to have created his works from the inner self, connecting himself with the soul and the cosmos. But I purposely took the opposite approach.
And the contrast with Japan’s Iemoto system, in which dance knowledge is simply passed down through families, thus allowing noh to survive for 400 years and kabuki for 400, a whole genealogy of Living National Treasures…
Anyhow, back to the 2014 project. Chie Ito, Ikuyo Kuroda, Yukio Suzuki, Tsuyoshi Shirai, Natsuko Tezuka, Mikuni Yanaihara, and Zan Yamashita all spent a couple of weeks discussing the possibilities of the archive box before creating one of their own.
Daisuke Muto later elaborated on this process:
DM: Keng Sen always pushed us to go beyond somewhere, to find a new horizon of the archives box. What kind of archive box is possible? According to Keng Sen, it was very important to make the archive boxes open for the users. It was not aiming for recreating original work, but aimed at reinterpretation. It is aimed at creating something new. The end result must be something new. So this policy was maintained among the creators.
Unfortunately, one choreographer – Ryohei Kondoh – ultimately agreed to drop out of the process, because he strongly felt he should record his personality, not his choreography.
As for the others, Nanako showed various slides demonstrating how they’d decorated and filled their boxes with costumes, cassette tapes, manga, origami, even directions on how to unpack the boxes, and what music should accompany the discovery process.
Eventually, the choreographers exchanged the boxers, and became “users” of the boxes, interpreting their contents in a semi-public performance. They then refined the boxes to better reflect their intentions and ideas.
The seven boxes have been given to seven new choreographers, mostly from South Asia, who’ll be using them to create new work as part of SIFA’s Dance Marathon: OPEN WITH A PUNK SPIRIT! on 29 August and 5 September.
We’ve got Padmini Chettur, Margie Medlin, Preethi Athreya, Mandeep Raikhy, Venuri Perera, Rani Nair and Chey Chankethya all jamming with this new material – with the accompanying tensions that many of them are trained in traditional South Asian dances, and have postcolonial qualms about absorbing “dance wisdom” from developed nations like Japan.
Nanako has in fact explored this theme in relation to Japanese and Western artists drawing on Japanese dance traditions (from kabuki to butoh) in superficial ways: touristically consuming artistic forms without content.
Rustom Bharucha: [we] have to get beyond the “use” of other cultures for the assumed rejuvenation of our inner states of desiccation; instead, we need to develop a more heightened awareness of the ecology of cultures, whereby we do not enrich ourselves at the expense of others.”
Nanako herself isn’t against appropriation full stop – she actually feels it is necessary for inspiration. But she asks for genuine dialogue, a real relationship to be forged. For instance, she reported a positive experience of this training Singaporean artist Ming Wong in traditional dance styles for his 2013 work Me in Me, and which involved an exchange of knowledge about video editing.
(Incidentally, a friend later told me he couldn’t stop smirking during this talk when we talked about boxes. How Mikuni Yanaihara putting stuff into her “box”. How other people becoming users of her “box”. Yeah, we're respectful here at the festival. Real respectful.)