Choreographer, Yoshiko Usami (AKA Yokko) & Producer Bob Lyness responded to some questions from DC Theatre Scene.
Tell us about the moment where you said to yourself: “I just have to do this!”
Yokko: The idea came to me few years ago with the title. While I was having a conversation with my friends, I thought about evolution, and not only physical evolution but the mental evolution that we do everyday. In fact, we do evolve every single moment- just those are so subtle, and we do not realize it. But we live, we breathe, and we are influenced by other elements in the world.
In 2013 I created the short dance piece, SHINKA-evolution– using Japanese sword combat with two male performers to tell the story of human struggle and acceptance and how we transform through the reconciliation of those things. I knew then that it was an exploration for a bigger piece. But I was not sure how to approach it at that time. In 2014, the piece evolved into a work with three male dancers, telling the story of world destruction and creation with a physical evolution element. At that time, Butoh, a contemporary dance from Japan, was influencing me more and more, and the work became a butoh piece. Also I started becoming more aware of what kind of society we live in, and started to think about what is our- the artist’s role in this world, and what art can do.
So then I wanted to create a full length piece out of this idea. I started to ask myself, what is the story here? As in Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. If the world is a reflection of ourselves- what is happening right now in the world is also our internal world. If we as individual humans transform, maybe the world will transform too- maybe little by little.
It may be a very small action, but if we don’t try it, if we don’t do it now when will it happen? History repeats itself. We cannot ignore the things happening any more. Wars have not disappeared from the world since the beginning of human history. I want to explore us- humans, all living beings on this planet. And wanted to create an opportunity for all of us to think and feel about not only external world issues, but also our own transformation and -hopefully- what society we can create – what kind of world we want to experience.
The funny thing is— I had never thought I would be interested in this 4-5 years ago. I was quite self-centered, and focused on my own career as an actor. I certainly have been evolving myself through this project. Last year, we put all the pieces together individually to present the work in NYC for our community there. And I received some wonderful feedback- But then after the election in November, I felt like I really needed to complete this piece and bring it to Washington DC.
Bob: The show is composed of Yokko’s visions. And I love her vision. I love the way the work can transcend what is physically happening on stage, and take us to a larger place. I wanted to help her bring it here in this strange tumultuous time, and hope that people will see it.
– Why is it important to you to do this show now?
Yokko: I met Butoh, a Japanese contemporary dance. I fell in love with this art form. Butoh has been a strong influence on not only my theatre work, but my personal path as a human being as well. Butoh definitely changed my life. Through Butoh training, I experienced many transformations. I was so surprised by it each time. Of course it is not magic, it won’t change you instantaneously, but in a way it was sudden enough that I do remember how my mind shifted from A to B, and how my way to view the world changed. Coming from a theatre background I have experienced such things in theatre training as well, but Butoh has been a really strong experience for me. Acting, theatre, Yoga, and Butoh- all these elements are inside of me and I love each community. And the collective energy that these communities provide is powerful. Every time I see my performers or students transform, I am extremely moved. So this work needed to be an ensemble butoh piece, and it needed to be done now. In the end, I simply want to share something, and start a dialogue not only within our little community but with the larger society as well.
Bob: Why this show, now? This is a strange time we’re in. With alternate realities for each person it seems. One of the things that has attracted me to butoh, and to dance these past few years, has been its honesty. There’s no subterfuge in dance done honestly. I think sometimes you can say more by just being, and telling your story simply and honestly. I think butoh has a lot of capability to do this, maybe more than other art forms, maybe not. And I think Yokko’s work has a simplicity and honesty that I hope more people will see. I think this is a good show for people to see now, and to see here in Washington DC, this place so full of words and little meaning.
– What story are you telling in the performance?
Yokko: A story of living beings. Love, Transformation, and Living.
Bob: Be present, be aware, be willing to change.
– When the performance is over, what do you want the audience feeling or thinking about?
Yokko: Hope; to think of all living beings; to be kind to each other a bit.
Bob: Ditto on what Yokko said. I couldn’t put it any better than that.
Yokko is the founder/producing artistic director of Ren Gyo Soh, an actress, Butoh & Movement artist, Solo performer/writer, Theatre educator and certified Yoga instructor from Nagoya, Japan. She has acted in, devised and choreographed a variety of local and international shows, having won several awards, including “Best One-Woman Show” for her Butoh Medea (United Solo 2014 at Theatre Row). Butoh Medea was invited to present at United Solo Europe, Warsaw, Poland (Teatr Syrena, Warsaw, Poland), then toured to Edinburgh Festival fringe (Paradise Green), and is nominated for Asian Arts Award. Her work is deeply rooted Japanese culture, and she collaborates with local artists to blend different cultures to create new work.
Bob Lyness comes from a theater background, but has primarily studied and performed butoh for the past twelve years, studying with Yoshito Ohno, Diego Pinon, Vangeline, Joan Laage, and others, and really considers Yoshito Ohno as his main mentor and inspiration. He is thrilled to be helping Yokko bring SHINKA to Washington DC.