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: Everything disappears when you don’t see the body.
Yasuko Yokoshi:
Right, right. Correct. When you put on so much, then it becomes the thing.

Time Out New York: It’s so hard to review traditional dance when it’s all about the costume.
Kayo Seyama:
Since I was small, I had a very specific idea about it. It’s crazy for someone to say that to see the dance is better without [the costume]. For me, that is eye-opening.

Time Out New York: What is it like to perform without all the embellishment?
Kayo Seyama:
To put a lot of decoration, you need a lot of stamina to carry the weight and because of that I went to Su-odori or “bare dancing.” I did that in my forties. It’s not that common to do. My generation still puts on the full costume! They are traditional dancers, and they still prefer costumes. That’s more common.

Time Out New York: So maybe you have some Yasuko in you?
Kayo Seyama:
I don’t know! I’m so thankful to be compared. Thirty years ago, the costume was really hard on me, so out of necessity I thought I shouldn’t do this. I was thinking about myself, my body—to preserve it.
Yasuko Yokoshi: She teaches for hours. She is unbelievable.

Time Out New York: No massage, no swimming?
Kayo Seyama:
[Laughs] Maybe a little pat on the back from Masumi Sensei here and there. Once in a while.

Time Out New York: Why did you decide to bring Giselle into the concept for BELL?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
The piece is made for New York audiences only. I don’t want to tour, I don’t want to restage it. I think it has a lot to do with the RCA [Resident Commissioned Artist] program. I’ve been given this great opportunity, and it’s like winning the lottery or something. I feel so close to the New York downtown community. I wanted to do this piece for the New York dance audience and my colleagues and to make this piece, Kyoganoko Musume-Dojoji, accessible. Nobody [here] knows what it is. To do that, I bring in Giselle as a base note, so when the audience hears Giselle and sees the vocabulary in it—like the flower scene or the famous scene when she is going nuts—they realize that the base plot between Giselle and Kyoganoko Musume-Dojoji is similar: a young girl, betrayed or lost in love who then wants revenge. Once Giselle kicks in the audience’s mind, they don’t have to worry about what Kyoganoko Musume-Dojoji means. They go with it, because they understand Giselle. That is a contemporary-artist strategy to be making this for a particular audience who doesn’t have that history.

Time Out New York: Who is performing that Giselle choreography? The Americans?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
Yes. They are Giselle and the Wilis at the same time. And then they are used as monks; Kyoganoko Musume-Dojoji has monks. In order for her to enter the temple, she has to get permission from monks.

Time Out New York: Does the Giselle connection make sense to you?
Kayo Seyama:
I haven’t seen the whole thing yet. So the similar plots—putting them side by side—is a very interesting attempt. I never knew about Giselle. I heard about it from Yasuko.
Yasuko Yokoshi: The funny thing about the Kabuki version of Dojoji, is that it doesn’t follow the plot. It’s very strangely made. No version of Dojoji can you follow the story. The girl does become a snake and goes crazy, but in the Kabuki version it shows only the beauty of woman and the growth of how she changes, so it’s a display of female celebration in a way.
Kayo Seyama: I observe that Dojoji is harsh. It’s really intense, but it’s beautifully done as a form, whereas Giselle is romantic and soft and girly. And it reflects the polar opposite, which I find fascinating that they are based on a similar story.

Time Out New York: Is Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, in it?
Yasuko Yokoshi:
No, Myrtha is not because I didn’t want to make a moralistic judgment. Dojoji is based on Buddhist teaching; Giselle has a resurrection, and Dojoji is reincarnation. Once you hit that very deep end of who is punishing, it’s a very Western thinking. Dojoji is more universal: Any human could have this darkness. It’s a teaching of calming that spirit, and it’s not that one unfortunate girl goes crazy. It’s that any human has this insanity. And by doing it, calming the spirit is a different agenda.

Time Out New York: Talk about the title.
Yasuko Yokoshi:
In Japan, every temple has a big bell. Monks strike it or the visitors of the temple strike it for cleansing, because people are born with earthy temptations and desire, so that a bell represents lots of things about desire, sin and life itself. I don’t have a bell on the set; it’s used as a metaphor. And bell also means beautiful, like bella, the Italian word for a beautiful woman. Here, it’s kind of about being punctual and very disciplined. The idea of a bell at school already projects or challenges the mind. My bell is coming from Japan and it’s very different than how Westerners think about it. But then with a beautiful bell we can have a similar point.

Time Out New York: What do you think about when you think about bell?
Kayo Seyama:
I never questioned it. It’s been with me since I was tiny. It’s nothing I ever put into a different perspective until Yasuko brought it up. [Laughs] I’ve been so soaked in the traditional world that I would never question or put things into different perspectives. I never had to do it.

Time Out New York: Have you changed a great deal since meeting Yasuko?
Kayo Seyama:
A lot. My mind was reset to zero. Everything went back to zero. It wiped everything that I knew and I went back to neutral zero. [Her eyes fill with tears.]
Yasuko Yokoshi: I think it’s a hard life. I know what she went through from hearing or seeing her. I feel a huge responsibility. Plus, I am so happy to be able to do it because I am here and able to do what I do. I will do it in the best capacity I can. And I want to make her happy. It’s such a joy.
Yasuko Yokoshi presents BELL at New York Live Arts Mar 16, 19–23.

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