Kaori Seki on her new work water and tears

March 30, 2018

A contemporary choreographer based in Japan, Kaori Seki explores the possibilities of the live encounter, engaging the audience’s senses and evoking nostalgia and memories that are difficult to record. Kaori began studying classical ballet at the age of five and performing in modern and contemporary dance from the age of 18 while simultaneously creating her own choreography. She has presented her work publicly since 2013 and established her company, KAORI SEKI Co. PUNCTUMUN the same year. In 2012, Seki was the winner of the French Embassy Prize for Young Choreographer at Yokohama Dance Collection EX 2012 for Hetero, co-choreographed with Teita Iwabuchi, and the Next Generation Choreographer Award at the Toyota Choreography Award 2012. Her other accolades include the Elsur Foundation New Face Award in 2013 and Japan Dance Forum Award 2016. She was a 2014–17 junior fellow at The Saison Foundation. Fusebox curators Anna Gallagher-Ross and Betelhem Makonnen spoke to Kaori about her sensuous approach to dance and her new work water and tears, which premiers at Fusebox 2018.

Betelhem Makonnen: We know you are in the process of making this new work. Can you tell us about your process of making work?

Kaori Seki: For this new creation, I, the choreographer, will perform as a dancer as well. Thus, we proceed with the choreographic process with the help of under study dancers. Currently I am searching for a way to set the time frame in the work, from one moment to another, so that each individual moment can have an individual meaning. It is like trying to find a way how to separate one moment from another, without having any influence on the continuing moment. You could say the way I work now is like producing a clay animation, I consider about each moment of the movement phrase, back and forth.

Anna Gallagher-Ross: What are the origins and the questions underlying this new work?

KS: In 2016, when I was at a residency in the US for this project, I felt the diversity and at the same time, the conflictive situation, and how difficult it can be to respect diversity in a society. What I felt during this stay is one of the motivations for creating this new work. Another motivation of the work is my thinking about what it is actually to “live,” and how the existence of a living thing could be described. This thought returns every time I create my work, although every work has its own theme. Another aspect of this work comes from books I’ve been reading about Japanese myths and the ancient time when human beings were not yet identified as having individual minds.

AGR: Your dances often engage with the physical sensory experience. Past dances have included fragrance and another incorporated fabric — what an incredible multi-sensory approach to dance! Could you talk about this approach?

KS: The first motivation for using fragrance in my work came from a simple question: why is dance perceived only by the sense of eyesight and hearing, although we, human beings, live our everyday life using all five senses of the body, including the sense of smell? Also, I want the experience of watching my dance performances to become every audience member’s own unique experience, and so I include these physical sensual elements in my work. Nowadays, we have access to many diverse exciting entertainments and also to devices, with which we can watch dance from anywhere / any time. However, I believe that there must be something which can only be delivered in the performance space, where human beings actually set their own bodies together, and spend the same time together. This is why I regard physical sensory experiences as important. In this accumulation of moments, the distance between audience and performers, every subtle changes in the space and in bodies both of audience and performers, the information passed by visual sense and from other senses, these are the things I count and wish to share with the audience, and in doing so, touch their imagination.

BM: Could you tell us about your training in dance? You began in ballet and transitioned to contemporary. Who has influenced you?

KS: I don’t actually have anyone who influenced me as an artist. When I think back on my childhood, my artistic process moved from classical ballet field to contemporary dance and then, starting to create my own work was very natural to me.

BM: Who will you be working with for this piece?

KS: For this new piece, I work with my fellow performer Masashi Koyama, my choreographic assistant Yui Yabuki, and under study dancer, Kozue Takamiya. Other company members, who will not perform in the piece this time, are joining in the creation process as well.

AGR: Could you tell us about the portmanteau you created for your company (the words “punctum,” meaning a small point, a spot, or a puncture in Latin, and “un,” meaning one in French. It denotes that one is in fact a collection of countless small points.”) Could you tell us about the meaning of this and how it resonates with your practice?

KS: My practice of approaching the body is to recognize the human body as a collection of small points, same as the meaning of the word I created for my company, “punctumun.” If you imagine a three dimensional drawing of a human body using pointillism technique, there must be countless small spots starting from the surface of skin, internal organs, and the bones. I view these countless spots as a starting point in my training and I try to sharpen the various sensations of the body, for example sharpening skin sensation, or replacing various sensations in body. This idea of the human body as a collection of small points is a tool for meeting and experiencing a fresh sense of my body as well as new body movements, and also for compiling options and choices of bodily movements. I feel like I could work on my body for my whole life without getting bored, because if I move one point to another position in my body, an entirely different movement and sense arise and it this interests me so much. I also use this word “punctumun” because each dancer is an important piece of the company, same as each point in the human body plays an important role in movement.

BM: How does your practice relate to both the larger contemporary dance landscape and the historical traditions of dance performance in Japan?

KS: I started my dance career with classical ballet training and the aesthetic of ballet I acquired from the experience is still present in my dance. However, my practice is about creating my own body language, and using the rhythm as well as a philosophy that originates from my own body. I am influenced by the historical context of Japanese dance, and also the aesthetic traditions of Japanese art, in my way of thinking how to cut away elements instead of adding them, and how to perceive “existence” on stage. This might come from the environment I was born and grew up in in Japan –– such as the humidity in the air, which has accumulated in myself. It affects my sense of body and how I capture pauses between time and time. I wish to convey the intention of my work using rhythm and the blank space born out of cutting out unnecessary elements and the open space where the audience can imagine things using their own senses. I ask my dancers to “be” on stage with their bodies filled with a lot of information, instead of spending time on stage simply moving.

AGR: What’s on your mind these days?

KS: Recently I was thinking about this current moment, in which I have my own consciousness and exist as “myself.” What does it actually mean to live? I was also thinking of the time, in which languages were born and before, and of the meaning of animism in different cultures.

Photo Credit: GO