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Artists Open Doors: Japan/UK    
4. Contemporary Practice Panel:

Naomi Inata
Un Yamada
Shobana Jeyasingh
Graeme Miller

Un Yamada

My workshops are offered to people who have no previous experience of dance. In the beginning, the way I communicate through movement is cautious and gentle. Gradually, my interactions become more playful, even audacious, and the movement I introduce starts to tug and pull at their expectations. The workshop aims go beyond these kinds of communicative exchange, however, since what I want to facilitate is a meaningful and creative experience for each participant. (Time in a workshop then flies!)

I always begin a workshop with what I call a handshake dance in which participants start by greeting each other in turn with a handshake. Little by little, the gesture grows into dance. No matter the number of participants, I always begin my workshops in this way. The reasoning behind this is that the handshake signals that our relationship in the workshop is not 'me vs. all', that is to say, 'me', the facilitating artist, versus 'all' of you, the participants. Our exchange in the workshop is instead on an individual basis, which is importantly marked when we all individually greet one another at the outset.

The handshake dance additionally opens a channel between myself and each individual participant, so that they are able to move and respond directly to me without watching what others are doing. To give an analogy, if the workshop participants are as plants, my role is to plant seeds and water them. The participants draw in the water, grow and flourish, and hopefully bloom.

The next stage of the workshop for me, is to try to make the channel invisible so that the participants are unaware of my input. In other words, they will not realise that the water they draw up comes from me, as the experience of flourishing will seem to come from inside themselves. I do not want them to feel that they are dancing under my, or anyone else's influence, but rather dancing freely for themselves.

There are several ways to achieve this experience, depending on the time and context of the workshop, but a pragmatic method is to draw more and more on the participants’ activity and input as the workshop progresses. Of course, the shift is subtle, even nonchalant. For example, imagine I lean on your shoulder. You will respond by supporting me. If I lean with slight pressure, you will support me with little effort, and if I lean more heavily, you will support me with stronger force. By the same logic, I adjust by degrees my interaction with the participants to loosen the relationship.

In communicating with workshop participants, I stay conscious of what I would term individual ideas and universal ideas. At a glance, the two might seem to belong to different orders of thought, yet a workshop is more successful when the two concepts are taken into consideration equally. In addition, I am cautious of the influence on myself of past experiences leading workshops. For example, when in a workshop something does not go as smoothly as I had expected, I try not to rely on experiences drawn from other workshops, either successful or not. Instead, what is happening now in a workshop has to be solved within its own particular context.

What I am saying is that we carry within ourselves the courage to act, without stress or tension, in the present moment. I aim not to depend on myself, nor on others, nor on the environment nor on past experiences, but rather give myself fully to what is 'now' in the instability of the present. The workshop process is thus each time renewed for me. Rather than over-preparing beforehand or trying to direct the workshop minutely, I hold onto a sense that I and the participants are standing side-by-side; something will emerge when we affirm together, 'here we go'.

This philosophy is reflected in the creative processes I use in my company. For example, no matter how many dancers, up until a certain point, I work individually with each of them. I am building on my experiences of facilitating workshops to create a strong channel of trust between myself and each individual dancer. As the process evolves, I work with all the dancers, and, as in the workshops, I gradually give less and less direction, save for pushing and pulling at their expectations, encouraging them into new rules and creative freedoms. Through this process, the dancers forget that they are working with my choreography and own the movement for themselves. All of this depends, of course, on that first channel of trust opening between us at the start of the process.

In my work, I am trying to make it possible for dancers and workshop participants to forget that their reason for being there was to 'perform choreography' or to 'learn something' and simply to move from sensory impulses. I draw movement from people's bodies in choreography and in workshops because I relish the moments when people move on impulse, out of curiosity, letting their moving bodies take them on an adventure. In these moments, it as if the colour of the sky changes from darkness to sunrise, and any muddle of contradictory thoughts inside me turns to clarity. More and more, as I lead workshops, I realise that my creative questions and ideas shift and move on by how they are received in others' bodies.

I find that I want to say that a workshop is as a side dish and that creating work is as a staple food, like rice. In truth, I love rice, and am content to eat rice alone while knowing that I need to balance it nutritionally with other foods. Rice is all the more delicious when there is a side dish, and I often crave the side dishes. I also want to eat seasonal vegetables in season and regional delicacies. It is not that workshop experiences contribute to my choreographic practice, or vice versa, but rather that the two go together.

Incidentally, if I were to compare my recent choreographic works to food, they could be likened to Japanese cuisine in which the flavour of each ingredient is best served in a simple dish. As a result, I do not suffer from indigestion – but nor do I aim to eat 'too' healthily. To conclude my presentation today, I suggest that as artists today, a key consideration for us is as to the kind of workshops we need to offer to society. I think we need critically to consider how dance as a field has its own power whether or not it is included in educational or social systems.

 
 
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