When a Dramaturg Encounters a Choreographer

The choreographer Aisa Shirai responds to four questions by the dramaturg Mariko Miyagawa.

Miyagawa: Down through the years, there have been many kinds of dances: how have you approached them?

Shirai: One of the videos you introduced to us during the first rehearsal was a piece called Everything Has Been Done. (Ed: A video about a group of elderly men who keep on talking about how all kinds of ideas have been brought to fruition.) It reflects exactly the situation I now find myself in. And there's little I can do about it. On starting out with my studies, I became deeply depressed, for whenever I thought I’d come up with a “great idea,” it then struck me that it was a mountain my predecessors had already conquered long ago.

Though I realised “there was no such thing as an original work,” I still needed to open my mind to something more profound. As soon as I decided to create a hybrid form, drawing on as many influences as possible from various dances from the past, I then started to feel more positive. It would be no exaggeration to say that I, living in the here-and-now, have been indirectly influenced by all those dances down through the ages. I think that the stimulating way to approach these dances is to assimilate them as objects of pure interest, without being too afraid or overly cautious about them.

Miyagawa: What does “choreography” mean to you? And, how does choreographing for yourself and choreographing for others differ?

Shirai: For me, choreography is a program to use in order to realize a dance through the medium of a dancer. There’s quite a gap between the dance that eventually emerges as a result of the dancer processing and executing step by step this program and the original program text. The choreographer’s task is to anticipate this gap and to try to devise a program that is at once as simple and strong as possible.

Whenever choreographing for others, I sense the need for a stronger and clearer choreographic vocabulary. To some degree, you know how your body will execute each command, and while trial and error is effective, when you’re choreographing for others, it’s not that straightforward. Whenever the choreography you've been trying doesn’t work, then your ability to use choreographic language comes into play. Moreover, for me, as someone who had been working in seclusion, it was quite stimulating to experience the process of creating a choreography while receiving feedback from other people's words through their bodies.

Miyagawa: It strikes me that none of the performers in this project are what one might call a “dancer.” What were your criteria in selecting them?>

Shirai: Ultimately, I chose each dancer on condition that he or she be “an individual” ever before they are “a dancer.” I expected that the choreography would involve lots of movements such as “standing” and “walking,” so I thought to myself that if we had someone “dancer-like,” their “dancer-likeness” might well get in their way of standing and walking, unless they were highly skilled. Moreover, given that I myself am not a dancer and unable dance skilfully like a dancer would, I was searching for someone who’d be captivated by my inferiority complex and who’d also be willing to join me throughout this process. The other vital factor is that each of them has a field apart from dance which they can make the most of, and yet living a life that “also” embraces dance. As far as I was concerned, it was vitally important that they had an outside point of view whenever exchanging opinions about dance, and not be blinded by it.

Miyagawa: For you, does dance represent a sense of freedom or of constraint?

Shirai: I would say of being constrained. I’m not convinced that freedom is necessarily a good thing. Rather, I feel that the joy of dance is to create a better sense of constraint. By developing a completely different kind of constraint to those physical constraints we encounter in everyday life. By throwing our bodies into those constraints, a special and attractive physical state emerges... that is what I feel “creating dance” is all about.

Reproduced from the special website for the performance Untitled//Meishoumissettei by Aisa Shirai (https://meishoumisettei.com/article/161)

Translation: John Barrett

Aisa Shirai

Choreographer and dancer. Born in 1987, she lives in Kanagawa Prefecture. She now primarily works as a dance unit called Agnes Yoshii (Aguyoshi) and has posted many short videos of themselves dancing outdoors on social media. She graduated from Rikkyo University with a degree in Body Expression and Cinematic Arts, and has to date performed as a dancer with dance companies such as Megumi Kamimura and Kaeru P. Her major choreographic works include Untitled Meishoumissettei and Container.

Mariko Miyagawa

Graduated from the University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies (Culture and Representation). Ph.D. (Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies). Her research focuses on Butoh and contemporary dance, with a particular focus on Kazuo Ohno. After working as a Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (DC2) and as a part-time lecturer at Chiba University and other universities, she is currently an assistant professor at the Department of Body Expression and Cinematic Arts, College of Contemporary Psychology, Rikkyo University, (fixed term). In addition to her research activities, she has contributed to theatre reviews such as Theatre Arts, Dance Work, artissue as well as other publications. She has also worked as a dramaturg and actress in theatre and dance performances, including Syake-Speare. She is currently seeking how to interconnect her research with practice in the field.