To begin with, each of the members were already busy with activities in their individual fields, so it was not a situation where any one of us could become the person in charge of overall creation. As a result, we used a division of labor, and that was the meaning of the “collective.” That resulted in the give-and-take and sometimes conflict occurring between the creators serving as the driving force in the creative process based on.
For example, our most recent work
THIS IS WEATHER NEWS
that premiered at the Aichi Triennale 2010 was actually a further development of my solely directed work
Aa nattara, ko naranai
performed at the [Yokohama] Red Brick Warehouse Hall. First of all, the core members of Nibroll (staff in video, music, costume, stage art, etc.) gathered to discuss what issues were there in society today and what approaches we could take toward them in order to attract a large audience. For example, if I say, “If such-and-such happens, there won’t be such-and-such, and if that happens, this won’t, and that bothers me.” Then the members will start researching for examples. One member comes back and says that the world is starting to run out of water, and another says that there is a rapid increase in the number of grasshoppers, and as we all discuss things ideas are born. That stage of the creative process goes on for about six months.
After that the various creators work separately, the dance people on dance, the video person on visuals, etc. Then we bring these elements together in the studio and exchanges take place, such as, “If the video is shown at this point the dancers can’t be seen, so will you take that part out,” and if the opinions of the video artist and the music director don’t agree, I doesn’t really concern me. With a new work we will begin working together on it in the studio during the final three months before performance date. During that stage we look at each others’ parts and the ideas may change as a result, and we may make adjustments to bring things together. After that process the work has generally taken final shape about one month before the opening performance.
In the past there was quite a lot of disagreement and conflict between the creators, but since we have been working together for 15 years the frequency of such conflicts has decreased considerably. In a sense, I think that is actually a bit of a problem, but it has also led to realizations.
In order to continue creating works for such a long time, having a good creative environment and access to studio space is certainly a very important issue.
From 2001 we were given access to the Morishita Studio thanks to ongoing support from the Saison Foundation, and in the last five years we have received support as resident artists at the Steep Slope Studio.
Next we would like to ask you about solo activities you started in theater in the form of the MIKUNI YANAIHARA Project in 2005. Around the same time
began presenting dance works he had choreographed and it seemed to establish a creative connection between small theater works and dance. What led you to begin working in theater?
In 2003, Nibroll participated in the Guardian Garden Theater Festival with a performance of
, but in fact, the years I spent in New York in 2004 on the ACC fellowship led to some encounters with theater that truly came as a shock to me. One was a performance of
by the Wooster Group that began with a drawing of sticks to see which actor would perform which role, and the other was a work titles
that used an interview with choreographer William Forsythe himself. As the film of the interview was projected, a group of people who had absolutely no experience in dance are talking on and on about how they are going to try to become dancers, but of course they can’t dance. I didn’t understand the [English] lines well but I found the physical expression in the play to be fascinating, and it made me think that if this can be considered theater, I would like to try my hand at it, too.
Then in 2005 I got an offer to do a performance for the opening of the new Kichijoji Theater in Tokyo and I agreed if they would let me do a theater piece. What I created for that as the first MIKUNI YANAIHARA Project production was the work
(High School Senior Class 2).
With Nibroll you had already used the physical expression of non-dancers, so were you intent on exploring the dramatic aspects that exist within dance?
In terms of such “dramatic aspects that exist within dance,” Pina Bausch, for example, said she was consciously introducing common things from daily life into dance. In contrast, the stages of the Wooster Group involved concerted efforts to remove the daily-life aspects in drama.
In short, these are cases of thespians and choreographers approaching the commonplace and daily-life elements in completely opposite ways. The choreographer introduces commonplace moments of surprise into dance, like the moment when you plunk down at a desk or the moment a chair falls over. Normally we would say, “Oh!” in surprise at a moment like that, but in dance you express that surprise in movement, don’t you? Of course, even in dance it is possible to use vocal expression, but generally we will use a motion that makes the viewer realize that the person has just experienced a moment of surprise. The act of striking something in a way that creates a noise is also an extension of movements that express surprise, and rather than being the product of an attempt to translate the surprise into movement, it can be something that comes out naturally.
In theater it is the opposite because from the beginning you have a script that includes depictions of commonplace aspects of everyday life and to that you have to introduce completely different perceptions of reality [to make it theater]. So, when I do theater, I feel it is meaningless to have the actors talking in colloquial, everyday fashion, right? That’s why I have them shouting or make them run when, otherwise, there might not be a need to. They are a good number of directors who apparently feel the same way. For example, [Toshiki] Okada will have his actors move and speak as in real life [rather than creating fictional daily life scenes], and Kohei Tsuka has his actors practice speaking their lines while doing sit-ups and dispensing with any type of pretense or show. I believe that is the result of the different sense of reality each of these directors has.
I believe that in both dance and theater you are pursuing raw reality as you perceive it, but how about as a playwright?
[Butoh] artists like Min Tanaka and Akaji Maro have said that it is difficult enough to speak lines that others have written, but writing your own words is even more difficult. In the past it was unthinkable to have dances speaking lines on stage, but today it has become commonplace. That has created the need to bring words with true originality into dance and made it necessary for choreographers to choose their words carefully.
Because I was doing dance from my youth and learning a variety of dance technique, my own forms of movement come out naturally, but when it comes to words it is more difficult for me. And, when it comes to writing plays, it is not something I am used to, or studied, and I haven’t read a lot, and since I haven’t read enough, it takes a lot of time for me to write. It is only recently that I have become able to search for my own words like I search for new phrases of physical movement in dance. From now on I want to be able to write down the words that come out from within me.
Watching your play, the length is about 90 minutes but the script is very long and the lines spoken so fast and overlap so we can’t really hear what the actors are saying at times (laughs). Is it directed that way intentionally for a specific effect?
Usually the script for a play is about 35 to 50 pages in length, but mine are about 80 to 100 pages. When I write, the actors and their character assignments are not yet decided and I am writing with just an image of the different roles, so when you read it as text you get an idea of the kind of story it tells, but when you put it on stage [the actors] say often that they don’t understand it.
In fact, with
, up until three days before the opening performance the play had a running time of three and a half hours. The producer asked that I cut it down to at most two hours, and I tried but I just couldn’t cut it. Then Takahashi said we could increase the speed to cut the time, so we tried to see how fast we could make it in those remaining three days. Each day we timed it and it got faster, and finally it was down to one and a half hours. The fact that it was then hard to understand what the actors were saying added to the sense of speed in a way that people said was interesting. If so, all the better. So I decided to do it that way, and I made that a new kind of style.
, which won the Kishida Drama Award, premiered in December of 2010 at the Shakespeare Competition. Then I revised it in 2011 for performances at the [Komaba] Agora Theater and other places. The award made me happy, because it showed that my work had been recognized as a play. In the performance the actors are speaking very fast, but there is also the question of how the actors use physical language to convey to the audience the contents of the lines they are speaking. When I am creating a theater work I am always looking for things that go beyond words. I am often told that I should believe in words more, but words and languages are different throughout the world and each language has its own beauty. I want to create theater works that lightly and effortlessly transcend those words.
You have another project launched in 2004 involving just you and your visual director [Keisuke] Takahashi that you call called “off-nibroll.” I imagine that you started it as a versatile, easily applicable unit and you have in fact applied it on a large scale for a number of international art exhibitions and collaborations with overseas artists. Has it led you to new discoveries about the possibilities of combining video and dance?
The concept behind our off-nibroll activities is one of art and it affords an ease of footwork, so we can say the two of us will go [to an exhibition] and set up an exhibit and can have a performance ready in about thirty minutes. And, since we have been doing it, it has brought me realizations about new possibilities for bringing together video, technology and the body (physical performance). It began with the work
we premiered at the BankART 1929 in 2005. This was a collaborative work that we created with Jo Lloyd of Australia’s Chunky Move Studio in residency stays in Yokohama and Melbourne. It was born from the idea that the nature of extremely private spaces and very public spaces can be reversed depending on the conditions created there, and if people can transcend the meanings of those spaces and meet there, it can perhaps bring about better understanding between people. This project is continuing in various countries and cities around the world, and I want it to be a platform for collaborating with more overseas artists.
In the end, activities like this that are an outgrowth of Nibroll are connecting back to Nibroll in various ways and places. For example, our next [Nibroll] production will be a work based on the off-nibroll work
that we created during an artist residency at Seoul’s National Museum of Contemporary Art. At the time of last year’s devastation 3.11 earthquake and tsunami (Great East Japan Earthquake, March 11, 2011) I had returned to Japan to do a workshop at the Kichijoji Theater in Tokyo, and this work [
] was one that I created as the result of my thoughts at the time about why the living give a flower in memory of the deceased [at Japanese funerals, etc.] and the feeling that I had to memorize with the body and records the things that were happening and make a proper work from them.
Many artists overseas reacted very quickly to the 3.11 disaster. The Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung with whom we had collaborated in an off-nibroll work last year contacted me to say they were having a charity event for the 3.11 victims at a gallery in Ho Chi Min City and they wanted me to submit a work. I had not done anything connected to 3.11 but here were artist overseas of my generation who were all trying to do things for Japan. It made me feel how unresponsive I had been and made me determined that now I have to do something, so I did a charity reading with director/playwrights Akio Miyazawa and Yoji Sakate at Tokyo Wonder Site. With the belief that I had to commit the things I felt to memory immediately, I have been recording things in detail over the past year and I want to put them together into works to present at the 2012 YCC and Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale.
I believe that you are now an artist who pursues your own visions of reality and explore movement in the areas that interest you and realize your ideas in ways that have won you international recognition. You are also contributing to the nurturing of the next generation of artists though your capacities as artistic director of Agora Theater and by running a studio. As my final questions, I would like to ask what you want to communicate to people of the next generation, and what you think is needed in Japan’s contemporary dance?
Doing performance tours with
as a repertoire work in countries around the world, I feel that it also uses up a lot [of energy, resources, etc.]. Compared to places like Europe where there is a lot of national support available for the arts, I feel that Japan lacks the base to nurture and support dance companies that can truly represent our culture [abroad]. How to change that situation is one of the big issues we confront.
My desire to have people see my stages, feel disturbing things in them and come away with questions in their mind is the same as when I first started out in dance. In order to help create an environment where choreographers can create works with new sense of value they have found and then have large audiences see those works, I am also doing art exhibits and theater. I believe that physical expression [dance] is a valid form of contemporary artistic expression, and of course I believe that physical [body] movement translates into words, and so I want to cross the boundaries of artistic genre and spread interested in dance in ways that will attract larger audiences.
To young people I want to say that there definitely are new forms of expression to be found in dance if they remain dedicated and don’t give up. And, because I believe that they are already crossing over the boundaries of genre more than my generation has, I want them to find their own forms of contemporary dance that are different from Butoh and different from Western contemporary dance. To do that, I want to say that we can work together toward that goal.
Born in 1970. In 1997, Yanaihara joined with fellow artists in the fields to launch the performing arts company Nibroll and has served as the group’s representative and choreographer since. With a unique choreographic style based in everyday movement and expressing the atmosphere of contemporary Tokyo, she and her works have been increasingly invited to perform at overseas festivals. In 2005, she launched the Mikuni Yanaihara Project with performances at the Kichijoji Theater in Tokyo and commenced activities as a playwright and theater director. In 2012, her play Maemuki! Taimon won the coveted 56th Kishida Drama Award. Paralleling her activities creating stage works, she works with video (visual) artist Keisuke Takahashi to create video art works under the unit name “off-nibroll.”
MIKUNI YANAIHARA Project vol.5
(Hey Timon, Let’s Think Positive!)
Written, directed and choreographed by Mikuni Yanaihara
(Sep. 2011 at Komaba Agora Theater)
Photo: Nobutaka Sato
Choreographed and directed by Mikuni Yanaihara
(Feb. 2002 at Park Tower Hall, Shinjuku)
Photo: Yasuyuki Masunaga
Romeo OR Juliet
Choreographed and directed by Mikuni Yanaihara
(Jan. 2008 at Setagaya Public Theatre)
Photo: Kenki Iida
Mikuni Yanaihara Solo Dance
Aa nattara, ko naranai
(it is not so because it is so.)
(Mar. 2010 at Yokohama Red brick Warehouse Hall)
MIKUNI YANAIHARA Project vol.3
Ao no Tori
(The Blue Bird)
Written, directed and choreographed by Mikuni Yanaihara
(Sep. 2007 at Kichijoji Theater)
Photo: Nobutaka Sato
one into 2 is
(2011, video installation)