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Artists Open Doors: Japan/UK    
3. Understandings of Contemporary Panel:

Junko Takekawa
Alistair Spalding
Saiko Kino
Bin Umino

Saiko Kino studied dance at Ochanomizu University, Japan. After graduating, she spent some time creating solos in collaboration with musicians and visual artists for theatre as well as for site specific locations in Tokyo, Yokohama and Seoul. She received the Yokohama Art Foundation prize for her choreography Edge and in 2004, was granted a fellowship from the Japanese government's Agency for Cultural Affairs to study with Jose Cazeneuve in France. Currently based in the UK, she has been a dancer with Russell Maliphant Company since 2005, performing in Transmission and Cast No Shadow.

Today I will talk about 'understandings of contemporary' through my experiences of being involved in dance in Japan and Britain. I studied dance in Japan and for the last three years I have worked as dancer in London with Russell Maliphant Company. Since my area of knowledge is dance and choreography, I will not attempt to talk about how the concept of contemporary is understood in relation to other art forms.

What is 'contemporary'? In Japanese, it would translate as 'same generation, modern'. In the UK, everything I make is 'contemporary'. In Japan, contemporary dance and modern dance are different forms. In the UK, this distinction does not seem to exist; a choreographer makes his or her piece according to his own philosophy and particular approach, whatever that may be.

My understanding of contemporary is inextricably bound up with the conditions of globalisation. As I mentioned, I work for the UK-based Russell Maliphant Dance Company. Maliphant himself is Canadian-born British and his dancers come a spread of countries including Cuba, Australia, Italy, Argentina, Korea and Japan. When we work together, I find myself fascinated by the choreographic potential of the different physical qualities of our embodiment; a tall, powerful male dancer from Cuba, for example, moving differently to a shorter, slight female dancer from Japan. These differences are only partly a function of different body-types; our contrasting cultural habits of thought and background are also significant. Our individuality is certainly fed by these differences, but the point I want to make is that, working together in one company, the differences stemming from the countries of our upbringing are accentuated.

Technique is readily imported or exported, but our bodies are not changed so readily. By comparison with contemporary art or contemporary music, globalisation lags in contemporary dance. It takes time for our dancing bodies to process and embody cultural change (which is one reason for my continuing passion for dance). In dance, our communication need not rely on language; given time, we can think about each other, understand one another, and so do almost anything. (Russell, I apologise if this does sometimes take me a long long time!) The possibilities of this work are immense for me as an artist by how it supports me to feel intensely and think independently.

Dancing in Maliphant's company, I have not only absorbed different techniques and approaches, but feel that I have found 'Japanese' qualities in my body. When I created Ichi (2008) for the Place Prize, my first collaborative work in London, some people commented on what they saw as Maliphant's influence on how I worked with the lighting design. For me, the fundamental influence was in terms of collaboration, in balancing and making together (in this sense, it is not 'my' piece). My collaborators, Shizuka Hariu (set design) and Takashi Ueno (dancer) are Japanese artists, whereas Alies Sluite (music) is Australian and Jackie Shemesh (lighting design) is Israeli.

Originally, my working title for Ichi was Exploration of moving light. The initial idea was of moving light and a duet with shadow. This concept led us into reflecting on Japanese perceptions of beauty. We explored and experimented with a feeling for the beauty of darkness and shadow, with a Japanese sensitivity to what is 'inside' darkness; watching not only with eyes, but also with skin and heart.

Ichi was also influenced by a Japanese tale that became known world-wide through a fantasy story. The dance grew from just three movements that I imaged in Japanese Minimalism (for example, as Tea ceremony). I then explored how their qualities are changed by lighting and situation. Three movements danced three times. At first, we danced together in darkness, secondly, we danced separately in two rooms, thirdly we danced together but with changing directions, creating more aggressive qualities.

Takashi Ueno's movement qualities are soft and sensitive compared to the powerful qualities, frequently of male dancers, who I saw working in London. Ueno's movement 'type' is very unusual in London, which is one reason that I wanted to ‘import’ him. With Light comes Shadow, two from one; I think too of the love felt between a man and a woman, of alter egos, and of Yin and Yang.

It has felt to me that in making this work I have re-discovered my originality as a Japanese artist. Previously I was perhaps blind to these Japanese qualities in myself. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found the collaborators I have and I look forward to inviting them to continue our work together in Japan. Globalisation will no doubt extend more and more, and local, regional and national characteristics will be of continuing interest and influence. For me, dance relies on bodies in direct communication. Ironically, by staying in the UK I have found myself as a Japanese artist; I may in the future return to Japan to work. Perhaps I am a characteristic 'Londoner’, living in a city that gathers people from a multitude of cultures.

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