Try to keep doubting and asking ‘what is dance’ – an interview with Yukio Suzuki
Interview date:21 August 2012 Date published: 15 September 2012
© Dominique Baron-Bonarjee 2012
‘YUKIO SUZUKI founded Kingyo (the Japanese word of goldfish) in 2000. His way of producing dance pieces, which do not use established ways of body expression, maximizing dancers’ characters, get good review among Japanese contemporary world. Recently he has choreographed for other companies including the Tokyo City Ballet, participated in the Asia Dance Conference and led workshops on butoh. He has received numerous honors, including the Lab Award from ST spot (Yokohama), selection in the final performance of Next produced by the Saison Foundation in 2004. Then he advanced to TOKYO Competition #1 and also won the maximum number of audience votes in Session House, ‘LBP’ in 2004. And he received the Audience Award at the Toyota Choreography Award in 2005, and the nomination in the Kyoto Art Center Performing-arts Prize in 2007. And in 2008, his work “Confronting Silence” won the Grand prix at the Toyota Choreography Award. In 2012, he participated in ‘Danse Elargie 2012′ (Theatre de la ville, Paris), was selected as 10 finalists.
He is a performer, producer and choreographer, does workshops based on Butoh method and contributes to young artists’ education.’
Yukio Suzuki belongs to the younger generation of Japanese dancers influenced by Butoh. He choreographs and performs with his company, Kingyo and is currently working on an artistic collaboration project with in Seattle followed by a mini-tour in the USA.
I went to two of his open classes in August and interviewed him in a quaint little coffee shop in Shinjuku on 21 August 2012. A few days later, I joined him, his company and friends for a summer party at his beautiful traditional Japanese house in the outskirts of Tokyo and had the most wonderful day with such a welcoming host.
DBB: I saw video extracts of your performance ‘I am not jealous of a dog’s vein’ which seems to be talking back directly to Hijikata’s text ‘From being jealous of a dog’s vein’. When I read that essay, I noted this quote in particular:
“ Only when despite having a normal healthy body, you come to wish that you were disabled or had been born disabled, do you take your first step in Butoh. A person who dances Butoh has such a fervent desire, much like a child’s longing to be crippled.” (Tatsumi Hijikata)
Can you tell me more about your piece and why you gave it this name? Did something provoke you in Hijikata’s writing? Is your dance also inspired by the failure of the body through disability or disease?
YS: At the age of 24 I went to the Asbestos Kan. Motofuji Akiko invited different Butoh teachers there so I met many teachers over a short time. I knew the surface of Butoh and I heard stories of Hijikata. So I took many workshops for 2 years. Motofuji-san performed in many places and I would go with her and be an extra or help her in some way. Then I joined the group of Sal Vanilla. Sal Vanilla used multimedia in their work. This was around 1998. In 2000 I started Kingyo (my own company).
I only studied Butoh, no other dance, but some of the members of Kingyo learned classical ballet and contemporary dance. (As regards) Butoh, my mind has changed from the white paint and shaved head. Before I felt that if I didn’t have this look, I couldn’t dance, but this felt like imitating and so I had to find my own dance.
An important event was meeting Murobushi Ko in 2003. Murobushi-san was looking for a young dancer for a piece in Mexico. A friend told me and I contacted him. Then I went there and met him. He was a good influence. I joined his work for 6-7 years. With him I learned about Butoh’s essence. After 3 years I started to understand his idea. It was really good learning with Ko-san. He said “dance does not exist” so we have to think ‘what is dance?’, ‘what is Butoh?’. I went into making my own group from that time.
‘I’m not jealous of a dog’s vein’ was made in 2006. Before this I made ‘Confronting Silence’ which won the Toyota Choreography Award. My work takes over Butoh’s essence. My thought was that I didn’t want to make dance
I am not inspired by the disability of the body but I try to ‘fail’. I use the idea of failure, of making gaps. Changing the timing.
DBB: When I read over my notes to prepare for this interview, my conclusion on this text ‘From being jealous of a dog’s vein’ was:
“A constant thread of the objectification of the body, a masochistic desire for sublimation of the body.”
When I interviewed Masaki Iwana he explained that in his process of developing his own method he started off by ‘transforming his body into an object’. What do you think of the body as object in dance/on stage?
YS: I sometimes use the body as ‘object’. Stillness is very strong so I use it. Many people don’t move because it’s easy and then sometimes dance can just be movement (for the sake of it). I try to find a middle point. It is difficult to find the balance. I try to have a strict idea.
DBB: In an article by Katja Centonze* you said that the younger generation are more comfortable with calling Butoh a ‘dance form’. What do you think Butoh was at the origin and how has it changed and morphed into a dance form?
YS: There are many types of Butoh dance. First there was Hijikata
This interview is no longer available online
* ‘Bodies shifting from Hijikata’s ‘Nikutai’ to contemporary ‘Shintai’: new generation corporeality’, Katja Centonze, AVANT GARDES in JAPAN (2010) edited by Katja Centonze (Libreria Editrice Cafoscarina)
Relaxing with Yukio and Kingyo members and friends in Fujino