cute posers (more performativity)
November 1, 2008

I’ve been thinking about and observing social performativities. one of the thinks that caught my attention is the idea of ‘cuteness’, quite an important concept in Japan. to start with, it is what it is. cute means cute. but why I refer to it is because I think in Japan it occupies many spaces: cute is a style, and a way of behaving, a way of singing, a way of designing posters and using furry little mascots in every metro publicity, cute is using drawings instead of pictures, cute is giving characters big eyes and small bodies. in Japan they have words for cute: kawai, moé, and cute itself, of course. in Japan, male escorts (I’m not sure if they are prostitutes all the way) are slender, elegant, dressed and made up, and somehow feminin. my friend Dex says that way they are not threatening. my impression is that in Japan both girls and women generally like to pose as girls. a lot of them walk a clumsy walk, with knees rotated inwards, wearing high heels but constantly tripping over them. I am quite sure it is a fashion (and a sexual stereotype) rather than a generalized postural deficit (and: a fashion that might be rapidly increasing the ammount of women with postural problems). the idea, I suspect, is to look cute.

so, trying to get somewhere from all that ranting, though the whole cute thing doesn’t completely work for me, I am fascinated by how it works in groups, by it’s acceptance (or something like that). I try to be more clear: I think everyone sees it as a pose, but the cool thing (really cool social code?) is that everyone is cool about it. one poses as cute, and another one who poses as something else (we are all posers, right?) celebrates the cuteness of the first one. I find it surprising that different groups or characters don’t seem to define themselves (at least not so much) in opposition or conflict with others… is that very democratic?

October 15, 2008

today I tried a little bit more around the idea of my ‘Japanyze’ side-dish – that is, a small semi-spontaneous side project I do during this trip. with ‘Japanyze’ I’m just wondering about the racial aspect of my fascination with Japan, and I’m wondering about desires of racial exchange, of being someone else, or something else… I heard once about make up products designed to make Japanese women look like they have bigger, more open eyes (which is, apparently, one of the cannons of beauty here – hence the eyes of the Manga and Anime drawings, for instance). so I thought, why not me? why not do the same but inverted? so I started tryng to tape my eyes, practice a misplaced temporary lifting, pulling the skin from my temples to make my eyes look like Japanese eyes… somehow.

a few times, now, I’ve tried to do it. today I found a better technique to hold it. and I checked also how it looks with yellow tape. I think the colour of the tape can also be an extra layer of reference. I also want to try it with white tape. maybe do a series of fotos… I would like to do a bit more of a performance with it, but I still doubt and wonder, and fear it might be offensive for someone. 

I had a nice conversation with Matsuo, in the meantime. we both drunk coffee while I was trying out the tape thing, and we had a cool talk about my idea and the potential reactions… I mentioned going out in the street like that, and also that I would like to go to a game center and do some pictures with taped eyes in a Puricura booth (a ‘game’ where you take some pictures and add some quick preset glittery effects and then get a few prints in small formats, for your wallet and your friends’… apparently popular amongst groups of people going out… hey, I even did it once we were out for dinner in Yokohama). and we talked about the posibility of people feeling offended, about a history of Japan being submitted to American racism, and about Japanese racism – while Japanese people might be offended by my gesture of pulling my eyes back, apparently old Japanese people use the same gesture to refer to Koreans and Chinese. we talked a bit about the Japan Bashing period, and about Japan’s incredible economic reconstruction after WWII. I brought in some unclear reference to Takayuki Tatsumi’s theory of ‘Creative Masochism’ and Matsuo agreed on my friend Ernesto’s comments (check a few posts ago) on the Japanese people being very adaptible.

so, while having this very interesting conversation, I had the space for two very important things: to keep thinking how to frame this idea (this image?) in an effective way, and to observe Matsuo’s response to my little performance. because, for the first 4 or 5 minutes, I was still using the tape and talking to him with pulled eyes – with Japanese eyes… I don’t know what he would say if he reads this in the blog (maybe he will tell me soon?), but I felt he wasn’t very comfortable. that’s why I took it off soon, but I think it was a great starting point for the conversation… maybe that is a nice format… maybe it can be a starting point for conversations… and going back a little bit: it seems quite important to find some layer that makes the little performance easier to bear, or to engage with, somehow to make sure it doesn’t seem like an offense. I think it could be quite funny, and that it should be clear that is not about mocking Japanese people but about making fun of my own desires and fantasies. that is what the framing, the form, needs to be about… some kind of balance between triggering something a bit visceral, and building up a friendly space to share, maybe by exposing oneself (the performer) to ridicule. this is an idea I’ve been working with when I was teaching, and sometimes in rehearsals, as a way to relax a bit the atmosphere and encourage some shamelesness from the other dancers… I think I have been very succesful at making myself look like a real idiot, but I am actually quite proud of it. I have to think about Robert (Steijn)’s teachings (I hope, Robert, you won’t take me wrong – I’m just trying to acknowledge influences).

so, to finish, I’m doubting wether to place a picture here or not. but I think it’s nicer to leave it to your imagination. in any case, I will probably show up with pictures or video or a performances at sime point.

the end is coming
October 14, 2008

today we had another showing at the University. that is, the members of the Dance Club performed a pre-general run, showing all the pieces to more of the sempai (coaches), to the technicians, to one of the teachers and, most important, to the director of the department. the atmosphere was a little bit tense… I have to admit that I was also very nervous. though I met the director (professor Izaki) the day I was teaching my workshop, we never talked much about the work, and all my contact and organization has been through Shiho and the dancers. today was the first time she was seeing my work.

and I got specially stressed when, deciding to say something for the first time during the whole run, the director called Shiho (Shiho sempai) to ask her some things and make some comments in Japanese – after that, it took me a while to be able to concentrate again in watching the rest of the run and writing down some feedback. I couldn’t stop trying to guess what they talked about…

but all in all, the run was good. I like the way my piece is going – it’s kind of fragile, but probably that’s its best value. though it works fairly well, the structure could be a bit better. and the dancers have been taking a lot more initiatives and decisions in the last rehearsals. I feel like they start to appropriate the piece, and that is great. there are still some lacks in the group listening, somehow, but already the performance is much more nuanced and rich.

plus, I got some simple but very valuable feedback today. I may be, at times, too focused on achieving a certain thing (or getting rid of a certain habit), and then I miss the fact that my requests to the performers provoke some unclarity… that seems to be the case with the eye focus, for instance, and the two teachers from the University mentioned it today. I’m happy they said so, and have to think a little bit about how to be efficient in working on that. I only have one rehearsal left, and it’s the evening before the performance. I have a few things that I would like to clean up (some cueing and spacing), and I also want to just run the coreography to keep practicing the performance of it… mainly, to keep practicing how to make it more musical.

for me it’s an interesting aspect fom this process to try to keep working on things, but at the same time trying to build up the performers. I feel that they are not so used to work on their performativity (maybe they have been taught that there is only one way of performing), and sometimes I feel like I have to be very cautious with my comments on that level. I don’t want to discourage anyone, but help them feel more fully that they can dance with every little part of their bodies and every little part of the piece, even if it’s just walking or looking at the space.

impro imperf
October 9, 2008

today I participated in an open improvisation performance. the rules were: 5 minutes, and improvised. and so I did. it was a good cozy thing to be again in a space like that, we all did our stuff and then had a feedback round, so it made me feel a bit at home – well, except for the fact that all the feedback was in Japanese. but Chico Katsube, one of the organizers of the Contact Impro Festival in Tokyo (and organizers of the Intensive Contact Impro week this week, the frame for this open performance), did some translation for me, and then I also talked a bit with some people.

I felt a bit lame, somehow, not really in all my powers. I was happy to dance, because I feel like I’m not doing it much here (funny, eh?), and I had a lot of nice dancing energy. but I think that maybe it was too much, and I felt like I couldn’t manage my timing so well. I improvised mainly around some spatial ideas of which I’ve been talking a lot in my rehearsals and in the class I taught, and I felt a bit tried (self-tried), with the pressure to do it very good. at least for myself. and though I believe being a good performer is not a condition sine qua non for being a good coreographer, I do feel sometimes in rehearsal that I should be able to demonstrate things. but maybe not…

run run dry dry run
October 8, 2008

yesterday we had the showing, a kind of dry run for the sound and light technicians, and for three coaches (sempai) to watch and give feedback. then there were Matsuo, who wanted to see my run, and me. we didn’t get a table as tall as the other observers, and we didn’t get the sheets with all the information of the pieces, but it was ok. we also didn’t get the special individualized martial salute that the other 5 got, but that was also ok.

so we watched the run of the 13 short pieces (some are as short as 2’ 30”!), and in the end were asked to give a little bit of feedback to each of the makers. the whole event was interesting and I couldn’t stop making comparisons between this showing and the dry-runs at the SNDO. to start with, the around 20 or more dancers stood in four lines in front of us, and greeted each person with a loud formal phrase (I don’t know what they said) after one of them introduced each of the people that were watching the run (except Matsuo and me). it almost freaked me out a little bit… and then for showing the pieces it also seemed like it’s very codified how they indicate the beginnings and endings of the pieces, and the whole mechanics of speaking briefly (and rushing, of course) with the technicians while the next group prepares. but in the end, after it was formally concluded, suddendly it got reversed and they were all coming to us (the coaches, and Matsuo and me) almost demanding feedback. somehow, with the politeness a bit overthrown, the room picked up a very nice energy. I found it very funny.

and then, the run itself: it was very Modern dance, and somehow very Japanese. after noticing a certain expressionism and a certain cartoonesque absurdity coming back in several pieces I couldn’t stop thinking that these Japanese dancers grew up watching a lot of… Japanese cartoons. which actually felt quite beautiful and imaginative, and humorous – and it kind of made up for the modern dance things. or, actually, no, it didn’t. maybe it just made the modern dance look even less creative… in any case, some of the pieces were actually very well crafted and nice, even if it wasn’t very much my taste.

and then: the run of my piece. it was a bit awful, I have to say… dear dancers, if you are reading this, please don’t take it personal. but I felt that quite a few things that worked better in rehearsals were a bit lost in the run. it even felt better during the run we did half an hour before the showing. but I think the whole atmosphere was a bit tense (not only in my piece) and that spacing and specially timing got a bit abandoned. and, of course, some serious structural problems became also evident in the showing. it keeps amazing me how you just need to have someone standing next to you and watching with you to see, yourself, things in a different way, and to notice how bad some of your work is. so, conclusions are: the piece needs to be a bit more compact and it needs a lot more nuance and dynamic variations. some of  it should come out of the improvisation, but I also think I need to bring some more complexity to the structure. a few cues here and there, and maybe some extra new elements – as simple as possible, because we don’t really have time to bring in new elements, but I’m thinking of very simple variations of things we already do. in any case, I remain positive and I seriously look forward to the coming rehearsals (x3). it is also exciting to rehearse when you feel like you know exactly what you need to work on – no ponderings, no hesitations, just practice. so, let’s see… 3 more rehearsals to go, 13 dancers (minus someone missing every time), a structure that is almost complete, a movement quality that needs not get lost, some improvisation that needs a bit of work… I think it’s enough to keep us entertained until the performance day.

October 6, 2008

today we had a very good rehearsal, I enjoyed it and got a bit reconciled with my coreography. the dancers also keep surprising me with their capacity to deal with a lot of new information and quite improvised forms (or, maybe, it’s my prejudices that keep surprising me). the problem is that the rehearsals are still short, and that I would love (as always) to have more time to work.

in any case, what we did today was to start defining a structure. we didn’t manage to organize and practice the whole ‘piece’, beginning and ending, etc, but we tried out a 7’ chunk of forms they go in and out of. the coreography consists of using 2 or 3 basic steps/patterns of movement within semi-open frames. they have a series of group situations, mainly related to spatial decisions, and they shift in between them, trying to create certain dynamics… I find it actually quite nice, and I think they are working well on it. today I also felt that they are starting to make much better use of timing and –shyly- of space. oh, and I was also shocked to find out how much smaller is the stage compared to what I rememberd from visiting the theater.

so the whole thing was quite positive… there are still times when some of the dancers seem overloaded and they drop either the movement qualities or the use of the eyes, or the use of space, etc… but at the same time some of them are very beautiful performers, and nice to work with. it’s very cool to see someone accumulating information and working in every rehearsal with each and every idea we have been working on from day 1. I have the feeling that this performance is going to be quite different from the other pieces they present that evening, and that the big risk is that it ends up in between worlds. for instance, in terms of performativity, specially because it seems difficult to maintain all the time a certain use of the eyes or a more casual walking.

as a process, it’s very exciting for me. I think I am drawing a lot from Debora Hay and specially Zambrano. it’s just a pitty that I’m not as good and inspiring as them. I keep bumping into some language difficulties, and it’s not about the Japanese-English issue, but more about my own lacks. in any case it feels like I will have learned a lot (hopefully?) from this process in terms of motivating and triggering some things in the performers… let me repeat: hopefully…

tomorrow we have a showing. a kind of dry run. lighting designer, sound technician, some of the teachers and sempai (something like student or graduate coaches) will be there to watch a run of everything and start arranging program order and technicalities. I have to admit that I am quite nervous about it, but I try not to and specially not to transmit it to the dancers. they seem to be much cooler than me, and I am both surprised and thankful for that. also Matsuo will come, probably, and I think that makes me a bit nervous too. he’s quite opinionated about performances… in any case, let’s see tomorrow.

Attending the Parades of the Divine Palanquins
September 15, 2008

today I spent the afternoon and evening wandering around Asagaya and Narita Nishi, the neighbourhoods close to where I am staying until tomorrow. there were some Shinto Festivals (Matsuri) taking place during this weekend, and it wasn’t rare to encounter a group of around 30 people all dressed in the same way, carrying around a “divine palanquin” (thank you BBC website on Religions & Ethics), shaking and shouting, kind of dancing but not really, yelling at each other and laughing and parading through the streets of different neighbourhoods.

apparently the Shinto shrines and temples celebrate their local gods by allowing the community to take them out for a ride on the aforementioned divine palanquins, a small-scale imitation of the Shrines where the gods (Kamis) reside during the procession. but the nice part of it is that they not only make the gods parade, but they also demand from them to go out of the divine palanquin (from now on, Mikoshi) and bless everything around. specially the shops. how do they manage? they shake the damn thing with enthousiasm… it’s a very beautiful event, where the participants alternate in carrying the Mikoshis (which are mounted on top of a grid made of big wooden poles) and shaking them around, while chanting and yelling, and sometimes being accompanied by small groups of Taiko drummers who make stops to play while the procession passes by.

this evening, after having followed a few Mikoshis around, I attended also the celebrations at the Omiya Hachiman-gu, a local temple at Suginami-ku. after a couple of days of parading, several Mikoshis ended up entering the temple through a large traditional gated path (I hope the description is ornamented well enough to make up for my ignorance) surrounded by food and drink stalls. oh, and a fountain with holy water to wash your hands and mouth (which is ok as long as you do it with the proper ritual). so, suffice to say that we ate and drank, and watched the processions and made pictures and videos, and then entered the temple yard to see the arrival of the Mikoshis and some small performances happening on a side stage (specially a couple of very cute children who must have repeated the same 4-steps ‘traditional’ dance for about 45′). in spite of having lacked Bon Odori dances, which I’ve been looking forward to participate in, it was a great evening.

so, to wrap up, I guess, what I liked a lot was the mixture of form and informality. a very exciting mix, I have to say. on one hand, the whole event seems marked by tradition and yearly repetitions. the form is extremely clear. there are roles and behaviours, there are rules, there is representation (it was beautiful to see not only the Mikoshi carriers pretending to try to break into a small police post, but even more to see the three or four guys who pretended to be holding them at bay), there is a path and a spatialization, there is progression and development, a beginning, stations and an end. but at the same time, to see the freedom, lightness and playfulness with which the participants perform their roles was extremely fun and engaging. I wanted to dance and carry their shrine with them, and I felt totally invited to follow. they would react towards people filming or taking pictures, and they would constantly be teasing and joking with each other. and there was an incredible ongoing energy: the parades started in the morning around 11 which means that, even with pauses, they were shaking the Mikoshis around for quite a few hours…

PS: I just finished reading that BBC article, and apparently the Mikoshi can also be described as a portable altar or portable shrine (so no need for the word ‘palanquin’ anymore)