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: Would you talk about your solo at the end of Tyler Tyler?
Kayo Seyama:
I never did anything in that sort of frame or choreography ever before.
Yasuko Yokoshi: Originally, I wanted to put in a piece called Sumida-gawa (“Sumida River”). It’s a major classical form where the mother loses the child and she comes back to where the kid was kidnapped and eventually died and the mother goes crazy—crazy in a Japanese way. [Laughs] I wanted to put that in, but it is obviously a big piece and of course it wasn’t possible to be taught in such a short period. I wanted to get the essential thing to bring that choreography of mother losing a child: a loss of somebody, because I’m dealing with war and loss in Tyler Tyler. I put it into one simple form. There’s a part in Sumida-gawa where the mother loses her consciousness because she’s so shocked after she learns the child is gone. How to deliver that moment of the mother learning that she’s gone? So it’s not about dancing; it’s not theater either because there’s no storytelling. It’s a moment of someone in despair in the most devastating manner that you could ever imagine. So to put her in the set up. She knows Sumida-gawa, of course. So then she understands what I’m going after, but she’s doing the essential form. She tried to do it with [a] minimalist [approach]. She did an amazing job.
Kayo Seyama: That was just beyond, beyond. And Masumi Sensei told me that is my weakness—that sort of expressing the drama is my weakest part. So I was very concerned how to deliver that.

Time Out New York: How did you get past that difficulty?
Kayo Seyama:
I just believed in Yasuko’s work. Just through believing.

Time Out New York: Do you think you performed it well?
Kayo Seyama:
Not bad. The fact that I could challenge myself made me really happy. It was such a satisfying experience. That the opportunity was given to me was a pleasure.

Time Out New York: How did you prepare? How did you put yourself in that state?
Kayo Seyama:
The only way is to move, to use your body. It’s a visceral thing. I just started—not dancing, but moving. Using the body to show what she was asking me to do.
Yasuko Yokoshi: It’s so detailed. It’s super detailed direction I gave her: just when the cloth touched and how it let go, where the hands were positioned, when the knee goes, how slowly it takes to hit the floor, how you get up. Where is the head? Where are the eyes?

Time Out New York: Did you want to spend more time working with Yasuko after Tyler Tyler? How did you feel when it was over?
Kayo Seyama:
I felt very empty. Because there’s no future. I just went back to where I am from. Time goes by and that emptiness gets less and less.

Time Out New York: How much time passed between Tyler Tyler and BELL?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
It was quick, but she was brought in much later. In Tyler Tyler, I had to learn Dojoji right away for the Dublin Dance Festival; then the [NYLA] commission came in after the festival. I took the commission, but I had a completely different idea. Commissions have to tour; I had a very different cast. It would be an American dancer and me—so it’s doable and manageable, but then the dancer, Neal Beasley, got injured. I had to think, Who do I bring in? One thing I could do [was get] Kuniya. He was the only one I could think of as a male-female person. So Kuniya came in and the musicians came in, and as I started to construct the piece I thought, It should have Kayo Sensei in it so that it progresses. So she was invited in a little later. This piece started two years ago when I got commissioned. It was a very different idea. I had to learn Dojoji by myself because it’s a heavy piece for the family to give out, so there was some hesitance about it being taught. There was a lot of reservation from Masumi Sensei to teach; I was left alone often.

Time Out New York: How did you learn it?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
I just waited patiently. I didn’t have help; I had to do this piece. Kayo Sensei witnessed how hard it was. It was a very difficult process. The choreography was taught, but once you learn the choreography and put it onstage it’s very different. And no one helped. Masumi Sensei was there but she wouldn’t teach.

Time Out New York: Why did you choose that solo?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
It started from Dublin. Laurie Uprichard gave me a gig—a 50-person lecture thing, so I was going to do lecture-demo, a little nothingness, and then she called me to ask if I would share a program with Jodi Melnick for 500 people. It was the opening act of the Dublin Dance Festival. And it’s a solo. “Can you do it? Give me the answer by the end of the week.” Whoa. That’s a big difference, so I could not do a lecture-demo anymore. The only thing I could do was Dojoji, so I asked Masumi Sensei, “I have to perform at Dublin Dance Festival, and I have to get it done in two months.” So in January and February she was really teaching me. In March, the earthquake happens. Everything stops. People said, “Get out of Japan.” It was like that, so [as for my] practice, I had to make it happen. I quickly learned the choreography and delivered it at the Dublin Dance Festival. So that was it, I thought. Then I came back to New York, and New York Live Arts gave me a commission. I said, “I’m not making anymore; I’m burned out from Tyler Tyler. But Carla [Peterson] pursued it. I thought about it. Maybe I will try. I learned it, it’s a beautiful piece—let me try. Then I tried to progress it and that’s when it got a little bit difficult. Learning it and doing it in a dancing way—I wanted to do it in a traditional Japanese way and I asked Masumi Sensei, “Please teach me how it’s done.” That’s when she started to [pull back]. It’s such a special piece.

Time Out New York: And she was probably like, “What would you do with it?”
Yasuko Yokoshi:
Yeah. “What are you going to do?” She trusts me. Why me out of all the people? I always ask, “Why me?”
Kayo Seyama: She permitted, so it’s okay. In Japan, this would absolutely never happen, but Yasuko is special.

Time Out New York: Is Yasuko really that good at this dance practice?
[Yokoshi bursts into laughter.]
Kayo Seyama: Of course. She just understands Kanjyuro Fujima’s aesthetic more than anybody in the whole world. Of course, technically no—she is not trained, but the spirit and mind is there. It raises the spirit of the artist and Yasuko would never disrespect or change or shift or destroy Kanjyuro Fujima’s art, no matter what.

Time Out New York: What is your part in BELL?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
She’s coming in at the very end and doing this dance called Kane no Misaki. This is the dance I danced in what we when we. That’s where it all started: my life with Kanjyuro Fujima. Remember when I went to the graveyard [with Masumi Seyama] to ask permission if I could learn this piece? So Kayo Sensei is going to perform that part, which I really want her to do because technically and as part of art history, she’s the only one who would deliver it in the way I would like to see. She is going to do it at the end of BELL, and that’s what I wanted to show more than anything: This is what I believe in, in terms of Kanjyuro Fujima’s art. To get to that, the Kabuki dance version of Kyoganoko Musume-Dojoji is the prelude. People in New York City will understand why this form is so beautiful and special after seeing Dojoji. Viscerally you understand, Wow, this is different.
Kayo Seyama: I’m so grateful for the opportunity to show that dance in the most beautiful form. I performed 30 years ago with the full costume.

Time Out New York: How do you reframe it without the costume?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
It’s a real kimono, draped; she’s doing BELL with a straight, simple kimono, no makeup. It’s postmodern. You see the bones. That’s what I’m most interested in because you see the dance most clearly. The bones, without relying on extra—[the costume is] beautiful information though. But you want to see the dance in the best way, especially this kind of choreography. It’s so beautifully made.

You might also like

Cédric Andrieux

  • Price band: 1/4

Melissa Toogood

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice
See more in Dance