In the sublime of Kota Yamazaki’s “Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination”

Julian Barnett, Mina Nishimura, Raja Feather Kelly & Joanna Kotze (Photo by Stephanie Berger)

Kota Yamazaki’s second installation in his Darkness Odyssey trilogy, Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination, is a sublime and stunning work, running Dec 13-15 at Baryshnikov Arts Center. I saw it both in development during a BAC Artist Residency and at a final dress rehearsal on Wednesday, so while I didn’t get to encounter it in full performance, I find myself transformed by my viewing. In the sublime, we find both both the transitive verb and a kind of Buddhist harmony. Performances from Julian Barnett, Raja Kelly, Joanna Kotze, and Mina Nishimura elevate the solid to vapor and back again. The score by Kenta Nagai, lighting design by Thomas Dunn, and set and costume design by Yamazaki transport us to abodes divine. It is a living mobile, a performative sculpture of delicately balanced moments constructed of dancer, sound, and light – a fragile, magical collection of suspended gossamer and vibrating humans, slowly stirring, swirled by some hidden breeze. Like many of Kota’s recent works, this is a work I want to immerse myself in or return to again and again. Sitting in the front row of the Howard Gilman Performance Space, I felt as if I were almost inhabiting their fractal realm. I would have this piece on an endless loop that I might wander through like a cherry blossom viewing “hanami” stroll on the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto, or to sit in the midst of like Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu’s hidden cave, or soak in like a yuzu-scented hinoki bath in the woods.

When I saw the showing at BAC months ago, I was captivated by each dancer’s individual passage through the piece. I recently asked them a few questions prior to the run.

I was compelled by the accumulation of worlds in the space and glimpsed the hallucination. It was tempting and seductive. How do you come together as the incredible individual performers I know each of you to be and inhabit this darkness odyssey as an ensemble? How much time do you spend attuning to one another and how much do you focus on your individual journey?
Joanna: For me, we are really entering a world together. I am not sure what the world is and I don’t need to know but it is clear we are all inhabiting the same type of place. It’s mysterious, it’s ever-shifting, it can be trance-like at times. It feels necessary to be at once focusing on each minute movement that I am doing – there are so many movements – and yet always trying to tune into the other performers, to their minute shifts, states, places in space, ways of being.
I am new to Kota’s work and the biggest thing for me has been to watch him, to try to absorb, to see what I can take in and then how that manifests in my body. He works quickly, so it’s challenging! To me, I think Kota is interested in our individuality, in us not all being like him, in how we take in this information that is so at home to him and connect it to our own bodies where it takes on a new and different life. There is a certain kind of concentration needed to do the work and then also a letting go of how you think it might look and just doing it more from the absorption of energy and physicality around you.
Kota likes to change things a lot, so we have to continually tune into each other to hold onto any reference point we might have and to understand the whole organism. I feel extremely lucky to be inhabiting this charged space with Mina, Julian, and Raja. They are all very special people and dancers and we trust each other a lot.

Mina: Although we mainly have been working with Kota individually, this work asks performers to sensitize and maximize our listening skill and sensitivity to each other. Otherwise, it won’t work. We find a way to take an individual journey further and deeper while connecting to others with micro-level sensitivity. We do this in order to create the universe and the larger picture; it is one of the most important and challenging tasks given to performers!

In general, Kota communicates with dancers through his body. And unspeakable thoughts are transferred to dancers through his movements.

I saw Akira Kasai years ago in Tokyo and was immediately enamored as well, and I saw one of the last performances in Hijikata’s Asbestos Kan, so I’m curious about how that legacy finds its way into the current work, into your understanding as performers about the tasks presented to you?

Raja Feather Kelly & Mina Nishimura (Photo by Stephanie Berger)

Mina: Having studied butoh and being close to Kasai-san and his family through Kota, I believe the legacy is, in a way, speaking to and alive in my body, although the influence may not be direct. Sometimes when I improvise, I feel Kasai-san’s forms in my body even if I had never studied with him directly. It is such a surprising, strange, but wonderful feeling. I’ve been individually studying and influenced by Hijikata’s butoh scores. It’s been part of my artistic practice and has been informing the way I approach dance.

However, Kota’s intention is not to pass this legacy to dancers, he has never spoken about it to the dancers. I feel like Kota considers butoh as more like a movement-based philosophy rather than as a specific dance form or technique. Anything can be embraced through the lens of butoh. But we as dancers have been learning the accumulated knowledge and history in Kota’s body by learning phrases he made or by being given specific approaches to movements.

Do you all discuss any of the Deleuze and Guattari theoretical material that is mentioned in the work’s description? Is the approach related to fluid identities, capitalism, power structures?

Mina: Like the relationship to butoh, Deleuze and Guattari we never discussed as a group. But, by learning Kota’s approaches to body and movements, such as “no subject” “no-fixed body” “schizophrenic body” “fractal being” “always in a process of becoming, and never becomes anything” “pre-human body” “pre-body body” “vaporizing body” “extremely fragile body”, our bodies have been going through some states which might be aligned to some of Deluze and Guttari’s theories.

And I believe Kota’s approach to seeing and thinking without labeling and categorizing, but rather remaining in a blurry and soft vision can be a strong strategy to slip away from inescapable capitalism and to see the world which was forcefully divided into a thousand bits by human minds in a new way.

Can you share how Goze music has fed into the piece?

Mina: Goze music is from Northeastern Japan where Kota, Hijikata, and Kenta (composer) are all from. It is said that customs, lifestyles, and landscapes of the area formed a heart of Hijikata’s Ankoku-butoh. As composer, Kenta has been researching Goze, and his music is probably influenced even though it may not be obvious. I think images of Goze women (visually impaired women) have been very close to Kota as he grew up in the area. I can feel some images of these women in some of movement material I’ve been doing in this piece. But again, we never discussed it, and it is not Kota’s intention to represent these women’s images.

Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination continues tonight at 7:30pm at Baryshnikov Arts Center.

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