A palace is typically extravagant, filled with too many pillows and luxury items. It's the ultimate signifier of wealth and consumption. But for Japanese choreographer Kota Yamazaki, it’s a frenetic, meditative space where dark and light coexist.
Inspired by utakai (poetry readings by Japanese aristocrats) and renga (collaboratively composed linked poems), Yamazaki brings his vision to life at the Miami Light Box in his latest piece, OQ (okyu is the phonetic reading of the Japanese word for "palace").
The Japanese choreographer was born in Niigata, Japan's northern countryside, where he grew up watching the river next to his home. But since 2002, he's been back and forth between Tokyo and Brooklyn, where his main studio resides. The city's concrete, though harsh compared to soft blues and greens of the countryside, also serves as inspiration for the artist.
"The river became my basic landscape. A person has to be fluid, not solid, so that a communication or exchange between different things becomes more organic and easy. This has been a principle in my life," Yamazaki says. "I find great possibilities in between place and time."
Inside Yamazaki’s palace, the internal and external are in constant synchronous conflict. He explores this dichotomy through butoh, the Japanese theater dance he has been practicing since 1977, linked with modern styles and ballet.
"Each butoh artist carries their own philosophy. At first, the style was all improvisation and very impulsive — it dealt a lot with internal energy," Yamazaki explains. "My image was to have a poem reading ceremony in this anarchic palace where it doesn’t belong to any specific culture or era or people."
OQ comes in two acts: kyo (imaginary) and jitsu (real). The first act is a schizophrenic dream. Masahiro Sugaya’s score elevates the dancers' expressive movements with dissonant natural sounds. Their costumes are colorful and floral, Yamazaki's take on the aristocratic "elegance." The second act is tempered by a soft piano and white minimalist costumes. The dancers' movement is slow, but the focus remains steady, like a river traveling calmly. If Act II is a mindful conversation, Act I is a buoyant shout.
"These opposing elements have to be there in one poem," Yamazaki says. "So I applied the structure to a form of movement phrases. Act II portrays no sense of time — quiet, almost like nothing happens. People exist in one space, people accept each other, people recognize each other. It’s a totally opposite space."
Yamazaki is most interested in finding the common elements between seemingly opposing forces. The butoh, which used to be called "ankoku butoh,” was known as the dance of the darkness. But for Yamazaki, darkness is more like a black hole, absorbing everything around us. Each person has his or her own channel to access this darkness.
"My ultimate goal is to find the black hole in our body that can accept and absorb everything," he says. "Running is my daily practice, and when I run, I try to connect to different elements in the world — buildings, nature, city. Staying in tune with nature is how I access my black hole."
Mina Nishimura, a Tokyo-born dancer and choreographer who has been performing with Yamazaki's Fluid Hug-Hug troupe since 2004, explains he shares a somatic practice before each creation. Key to OQ is the "starfish practice."
"You have a lot of feelers or tentacles on your skin. So imagine that you're covered by 1,000 feelers and each feeler is receiving different information, and you can have feelers on your feet so your feet are always moving, shifting from one feeler to another like a starfish," Nishimura says. "Instead of walking on flat feet, we escape from the floor, moonwalking, but more like starfish. A lot of small dances happen simultaneously on the body; it's not a coherent movement, but a lot of different small, tiny movements."
Each fiber of physical body becomes important through this technique, mirroring the butoh philosophy that "one is too many" and "many is one." Through this internal bodily synthesis, the external exudes language.
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"After I met Kota, I started choreographing work because that’s what he kind of encourages us to do — to seek for our own movement or dance," Nishimura says.
The last stop for Yamazaki's OQ will be Miami, an appropriate resting place for the meditative and colorful piece. The Magic City's ocean, like the dreamy Act I, is one universe, constantly unearthing it's existence and replenishing itself. But the river, like Act II, is a steady motion.
"Miami's atmosphere is very open and soft," Yamazaki says. "I feel like there is a soft breeze always blowing."
Kota Yamazaki’s OQ
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, February 19 and 20, at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami. Ticket cost $15 to $50. Visit miamilightproject.com.