Yasuko Yokoshi talks about her new dance BELL

Yasuko Yokoshi talks about BELL, inspired by traditional Japanese dance, with dancer Kayo Seyama

Time Out New York: Hard. So you have been there ever since. What was it like when Yasuko arrived?
Kayo Seyama:
[Laughs] I was very surprised. There was a lot of stimulation I was receiving. I was like, Wow—this kind of person exists? Her words, her way of dancing, the way she talked—everything. Yasuko picked me up from the garbage. She took the dust off and put me in the front of the stage.

Time Out New York: What was happening before?
Kayo Seyama:
I had been in a dark, dark place—an unseen dark place, a nonpublic place. Meeting Yasuko made me realize that.

Time Out New York: As a choreographer, what did you see in Kayo Seyama?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
She is a treasure of Japan. She’s so not known in public in Japan because she’s not pushed to the front. I find it tragic that people don’t realize that artists like this exist in Japan, and because I am active in New York, I am permitted to bring her to the front [so she can] be appreciated for her beauty of unbelievable dance. This is a gem that should be seen. It’s frustrating. Why can’t she be seen? That’s one thing. But to make it happen in New York City is one of the biggest pleasures for me in doing work like this.

Time Out New York: Why isn’t she seen?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
That’s a tough one.
Kayo Seyama: I live in Kanazawa, and my teacher is in Tokyo, and there’s a foundation or institution that takes over the traditional dance world. There’s a protocol. Unless your teacher is from Kanazawa, you are not supposed to have a show there. I am not given any permission to put a show up.
Yasuko Yokoshi: I’m not really sure how it works, but it’s a regional power game among families. Kanazawa has its own history, and Tokyo has its own history. They don’t correspond well. She happened to be in Kanazawa, but she is stationed in Tokyo so that she is not allowed to put a show up in Kanazawa. That’s one little example.

Time Out New York: It sounds like the mob.
Kayo Seyama:
Exactly. It’s very territorial.
Yasuko Yokoshi: If you don’t play your cards right, you just don’t get it. It’s so complicated and irrational.

Time Out New York: So you met Yasuko and she was unusual. What was Yasuko doing or saying to indicate that she had a very different mind?
Kayo Seyama:
Her ways of seeing things and her perspectives are so different from what I’m used to. That gave me stimulation. I’ve never met a person like this! [Laughs] Never. She is half Japanese and half non-Japanese—the way she thinks. There are things that are toward this Western world; it struck me that, Wow, you get this way of thinking if you live in a place like New York City. It was like a very refreshing wind. 

Time Out New York: You were in Tyler Tyler, but were you also around for the development of Yasuko’s piece what we when we?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
Kayo Sensei’s involvement was just a little bit around that time. With Tyler Tyler, she was fully involved. The concept of what we when we was how Japanese artists were born and raised in Japan, but trained in Western dance. [In the cast] all of us shared a similar background and because of what I went through as a contemporary dancer being immersed in traditional dance, I wanted to see how close could we get access to our culture. In Japan, also, they don’t teach to the general public. It’s such a closed society, very exclusive. So even growing up in Japan only a few people get access to the traditional dance. But we are trained in dance, so can we quickly assimilate ourselves to the beautiful form? I was a kind of quick learner. Then, what can we do about it? What does it mean? You’re from the culture, the tradition—you’re detached because traditional dance doesn’t allow it. How can we [get] close to that as dance artists? With Tyler Tyler, I wanted to see how traditional artists could assimilate themselves to contemporary dance-making. Can they get close to it or are they so narrow that there’s no way to do it? That was my question. Therefore, [I used] Kayo Sensei, Naoki Asaji and Kuniya Sawamura, who is an actor from the traditional world. And then I had Kayvon [Pourazar] and Julie [Alexander] to coexist in the world.

Time Out New York: How did you find the process of working on Tyler Tyler?
Kayo Seyama:
I’ve never seen or done anything like that. It was such a first. I was shocked—oh my God, there’s a way to make dance this way? And then [I discovered that] Kanjyuro Fujima’s dance doesn’t discriminate; his choreography can be applied to any music, to any environment. I was impressed by his ability to make that happen. That somebody like Yasuko could apply [her own approach] and it still doesn’t get destroyed. It maintains its beauty, and I was amazed by that. I realized there’s a way for this to make sense from the contemporary artist point of view.

Time Out New York: Can you give me some examples of what Yasuko asked you to do?
Kayo Seyama:
I wasn’t asked anything! There were a lot of demands. She told me, “Don’t dance.” When I came out with the cloth at the end, her request to me was, “Don’t try to dance.” I was shocked. Also, I never danced to digital or contemporary music in my life either, but that’s what she asked me to do. I really wish to do what I’m asked to do as accurately as possible. I try.

Time Out New York: How did you figure out a way to dance to that very different music? Was that a challenge?
Kayo Seyama:
I had to fill myself into that sound environment. That’s all I could do.

Time Out New York: What were you worried about not capturing?
Kayo Seyama:
In the group piece, there were three solos going on simultaneously, so my challenge was not to stand out.
Yasuko Yokoshi: It’s a communal environment, but it’s a solo. It’s one arrangement of choreography, so her challenge was how not to stick out.
Kayo Seyama: It helped to study myself on video. Until Tyler Tyler I hadn’t been onstage for 15 years. There was no opportunity. There were all kinds of conditions that didn’t allow me to perform.

Time Out New York: Did you miss it?
Kayo Seyama:
I just forgot. I practiced and that’s all I did. Even the concept of what it’s like to perform was gone.

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