Hiroaki Umeda, Haptic, 2009, photocredit by Bertrand Baudry
The practice of choreography:
the perception is a prism
I would like to start this conversation with one question concerning your choreographic practice. In your work you question the intensities of the body, the states of motion variations. Can you define – in the overall of your artistic experience – the notion of composition, and what this concept involves in your imagination of the body?
Basically, choreography is the construction of movements in order to make changes in time and space. Any movement of body has a particular texture. It means that the texture of body movement represents the texture of time and space in a choreography piece. What I mean by 'texture' is more something about an abstract and physical texture, and it is not related to emotional or narrative aspects.
Can you talk about your approach to movement – using the form of a glossary – in four key concepts?
Relaxing – any human body movement depends on a process that alternates tension and relaxation. Controlling movement means to be aware of how you tense and relax your body.
Natural force – it is based on the process of relaxation: you can get natural forces in the body to be the trigger for the movements.
Sensory information of movement – what is it a right movement? I have to rely on sensory information to know what right movement is. You cannot get that only by seeing with your eyes.
Passive statement – Do not try to control the body. You have to accept everything that happens when the body is moving. Constantly you have to observe your body in movement, to collect sensory information and to make natural forces to spring out in body by relaxing it.
Hiroaki Umeda, while going to a condition, 2002,photo credits by Shin Yamagata
I find there is a very important principle in your work: the micro-movement, understood as the precise control of the minimal internal aspects of movement. Can you talk, whit specific examples, about this aspect?
Even in a tiny small movement, like bending a part of a finger, you have to be aware of whole body. Any tiny movement is strongly connected to other parts of the body. On the surface, it may seem tiny or micro but that movement is derived from a whole body movement; at the same time, the whole body movement is also derived from those tiny movements. In dance, precision of movement comes from the precision of consciousness of the body.
Adapting for distortion (2009)
In your work perception has a very important role: can you talk about changes of perception in relation to the audiovisual feedbacks in while going to a condition (2002), or Adapting for distortion (2009) or Repulsion(2010)? Do variations, in these cases, involve a new composition of movement, a new body's configuration in the space?
In while going to a condition, that is my first piece (2002), I realised that sound and light should be just physical elements for the piece. Those physical elements can cause a physical stimulation for the audience body. Another aspect of sound and light in my works is to consider them as a perceptive control of body rhythm. In my pieces, there are a lot of repetitions in sound, light and even in choreography. That is necessary to make rhythm in audience body to be sensory perceived. Repetition gives a static space on time perception. Having a static basis makes changes happen, which is necessary for composing a choreographic piece. In while going to a condition and Adapting for Distortion you can see all those things. In both, there are so many different frequencies of sound, as well as physical stimulation and repetition patterns of rhythm.
In while going to a condition, light and sound have a special role for speeding up the composition. You see some developments in time with repetition of light and sound. The repetitions give a rigid frame for every scene of the piece, and dance gets freer for bold improvisation.
In Adapting for Distortion the main concept was visual illusion. The role of body movement, here, is totally different from other pieces. The body is conceived of as a tool for composing shapes and lines for visual images.
In 2.repulsion, three dancers are on stage and they do the same choreographic pattern; what remains are some differences of dancers’ body characters, and this was a purpose of the choreography. Hip Hop dancers are very good at dancing with beat. So sound composition was rigid and static with beat. That was a way to use the differences of bodies as a sort of fluctuation. Lighting design was also dealing with the same concept, I wanted to use lighting as a fluctuation.
The logic of presences:
moving audiovisual image for moving body
Now I’d like to focus on the idea of presence of the body. The contrast light/dark allows the disappearance of the body in favour of a figurative impression of movement, as it is the case in Haptic (2009). This movement becomes like a vibration in space, and seems to be imprinted on the spectator’s retina, or, as for Duo (2007), it almost duplicates itself. Can you talk about your interest in the body figurations (shadows, reflections, etc.) as a form of presence on stage?
In Haptic, as you said, the theme was transmitting dance in the form of light. As I have been considering dance as visual art, I wanted to try colour as a variety of different frequencies. One important fact with dance is that you cannot see dance without light. Lighting gives not only shapes to the dance but it is an essential part of it. For me it is impossible to tell where and what it is the border between the two elements, these two factors can only be considered as one.
In Duo, the piece came in the same direction of the concept of double. We can see pop star singers singing on TV. But in reality, what you see of them is just a set of numerous pixels of light, and we recognise those lights as singers. That means that we can see lights and recognise them as humans. I believe that this is also the way we perceive dance visually.
I tried to concentrate on this aspect in an experimental way, by using video processing system in which some video effects are used on a “virtual me”, in order to create movements that are impossible to be reproduced in dance. You can see the “virtual me” dancing in the image of the projection next to the “real me”. Both of them are dance for me.
In your work, one declination of the notion of presence is the sound dimension of the body. The granular soundscape is a partner, an impalpable dancer… Can you talk about – with some examples – the role of sound in your work?
As I mentioned, all elements that can move are parts of choreography in my pieces. In this way, I consider sound as a physical stimulation. I hardly put a melody in my works, as I consider it more like a language than physicality. It is more interesting to me to conceive sounds on stage as physical materials that have movements, like the body. Sound is a very special movable object on stage, one that can cover the whole stage and can reach the audience in different levels. Sound is an auditory dance and can also give direct stimulation to the audience body. I am interested in using sound in this two ways. Choreographing sound is very inspiring for me as that allows me to access another layer in space that dance cannot reach. The specialities of a sound conceived of as movement are speed and rhythm. It is definitely not a simple illustration of each other, nor BGM. In Holistic Strata, especially, I used sound as a movement with a closer texture to that of dance, by working with a computer programmer.
Hiroaki Umeda, Adapting for Distortion, 2009, photocredit by Alex
Choreographing lived composition:
the criteria of different devices
Some performances are accompanied by installations. You designed different formats on the basis of themes or suggestions. I find this way of working on the scenic device very interesting. Can you talk, through examples such as Haptic (2009) or Holistic Strata (2011), about the common elements and the difference between them?
I have always been interested in sensorial perception, as well as in how people see and enjoy art with their senses. I think that we tend easily to limit our senses or limit interpretation of senses. To face art, I think it is better not to limit senses too much. One of the main aims of my installation works is to access and shake the way people perceive their senses and how people interpret their sense with art, so that they can accept direct stimulation openly. It means that artist can have more possibilities and ways to communicate with people through art. Art form, through installations, guarantees definitely another way than that of dance to access people’s perception.
Hiroaki Umeda, Haptic, 2009, photocredit by Bertrand Baudry
In your idea of composition, is it possible for a choreographic ambience to generate an expression of its principals autonomously, or even a choreographic thinking – like in split flow(2013), for example – without the body?
For me, as choreography is to compose movements, it is not necessary to concentrate only on the body for a choreography. I believe that I can get the choreographic ambience I’m looking for even without human body. It is really true that the body is very rich in movements but at the same time, it is also true that body doesn't have all the possible movements. To understand distinction and imperfection of the body movement in dance, it is important for me to do my art trying to compose it in other art format, but always with choreographic eyes. Also it is not necessary for me to do the same thing between dance works and installation works. The choreographer has to make his piece with an understanding of the characters and natures of the dancers he is working with. Exactly like every dancer has a different speciality in dance, anything like light can have a different movement from that of the body.
What is the main difference, in your choreographic experience, between the composition of solo pieces or of ensemble choreographies?
Basically what I am aiming in both is the same, but the process of each is different. With the same concept as for dance, I design choreography for light and sound in different processes and techniques. The human body is a more complicated and rich natural object. If there are some humans on stage, space can become much more rich. In the past I hated to use such a complicated natural object in piece, as I had to spend so much energy and time to give them an order. But now I found myself to be totally fascinated in facing those complicated natural objects. To work with nature like the human body, you need patient observation thorough consistence, and a clear vision for creation. I found that it is very confronting but fascinating.
In this perspective, can you talk about your project Superkinesis? What are the logic and the aesthetic direction in relation to the body and the audiovisual device? I am referring particularly to Centrifugal (2009) or Repulsion (2010).
Superkinesis describes a choreographic concept of dance. This word and concept are inspired by idea of Superorganism coming from biology, and it concerning a collection of agents, either insects, plants or animals, act in concert to produce a single phenomena governed by the collective. Exemplary case can be seen in, for instance, colony of ants and flock of migrant birds. Inspired by this biological concept, I commenced my ten-year choreographic project Superkinesis in 2009. In this project, I attempt to compose all kinetic movements on stage, that is, not only bodies but also, for example, lights, sounds and imageries, and by harmonizing all the kinetic movements on a transcendental (super) level, a spatiotemporal artifact that is analogous to a gigantic living organism comes into being. And in order to materialize this organism, I basically choreographed all movements on stage.
In this frame, dance is movement and choreography is construction of movements. For me, movement is not only dance, but is also involved in all the elements of the piece that change in time. To create choreographic piece is mainly to construct a whole movement out of multiple movements. In Superkinesis there are several stages. Initial stage: to materialize movements from natural forces. Second stage: on the bases of these movements, to discover elements and research ways that dancer can share in space. Third stage: discovering and researching the order from the elements and the materials. Final stage: pursuing qualities of space from the order.
1. centrifugal and 2. repulsion is on the first stage. I focused on natural forces to create movement, which are basic materials of my movement. In parallel with researching body movement and choreographic methods, I’m also researching a way to choreograph sound and visual materials. The goal of this project is to find a choreographic system and method to be fundamentally common for any materials.
The geometrical atmosphere of the stage:
visualscape and soundscape are tactile environments
In your works there is an ephemeral dimension of the stage. The invisible or inaudible part of the "real" emerges on the scene. The technology seems to make it possible. You conceive the scene as crossed by interdisciplinary events, as a sensorial whole, by structuring beats and sonic textures as well as the light effects. Can you talk about how the process of work for While going to a condition (2002), or Haptic (2009) started, for example?
In works there are two directions, especially in solo works: the visual side and the dance side. Those two pieces you mentioned are on the dance side of my works. For this kind of pieces, I began with drawings, which were just simple lines. I would say that that was a representation and images of space’s tension, and that it became a score of the pieces. Once I see the construction of the piece described by the drawing, I put materials and elements of the piece in place according to the score. If you can see some invisible or inaudible part of the real in my piece, it may be a stream of tensions in space.
At the same time, in your works, colours have a very important role: white, blue and red, in particular... Can you talk about your interest for what can be defined as a logic of colours on stage?
Basically I try to avoid to put my own personal image on colours. I consider colours just as various stimuli. For me, light is a physical stimulation for the eye and colour is a different frequency of light. I distinguish definitely their roles between black & white and colours, as they have different functions and they are processed in different parts of human eye. For example, human eye takes slightly longer response time for processing colour than for black & white. I should mention that technology gives us a way to access and control those kind of precision for art creation.
while going to a condition (2002)
The sound (like the architectures or the light) acts at a subliminal level, operating directly on the spectator’s perceptive system through the use of low and high frequencies. The spectator is submerged in an environment crossed by continuous vibrations. The device demands the spectator attention, not only based on optic parameters of reception, but on cohesion of visual and auditive aspects. The glance and the listening required by this device are synaesthetic: an active and simultaneous relationship of the senses. Can you talk about this tactile aspect of your work, through examples from Adapting for distortion (2009) or Holistic Strata (2011)?
I suppose that the way in which I compose visual materials and sound for choreographic pieces would be similar to an orchestra music composition. You would have to consider sound of each instrument and then you would get the harmony you want, though I wouldn't like to use the word 'harmony' for my composition. This word is just for an example. Especially in Holistic Strata, I really focused on sensation of movement from both visual and sound aspects. In doing this, you can sense different layers of movement in the space, as if many dancers were dancing for eye and ear.
It is very important that firstly you have to know what kind of stimulation you want to transmit to the audience in every scene of the piece. Visual and sound shouldn't be illustrating each other. You really have to see, choose and ask yourself what kind of sensation you get from this sound or that lighting. From making to interact this visual image with this sound, do I get that sensation? I have to admit that this process of creation is totally “handmade” and it is a most essential part for my art.
Can you talk about the main aspects of the new creation, Peripheral Stream (2014)? In this work, what is the level of the relationship between the body and technologies, sound and light?
The challenge of this piece for me was about how much dance movement could be expanded. I gave the dancers a very simple system of movement, which I called 'stream'. Then they worked on with the system and expanded that into their body movement and dance. After that, from their texture of movement, I expanded the textures into sound and visual images. What I wanted to get was multiple layers of streams, as the one that is caused by body movement.
Hiroaki Umeda is a choreographer and a multidisciplinary artist now recognized as one of the leading figures of the Japanese avant-garde art scene. Since the launch of his company S20, his subtle yet violent dance pieces have toured around the world to audience and critical acclaim. His work is acknowledged for the highly holistic artistic methodology with strong digital back ground, which considers not only physical elements as dance, but also optical, sonal, sensorial and, above all, spatiotemporal components as part and parcel of the choreography. Based on his profound interest in choreographing time and space, Umeda has spread his talent not only as a choreographer and dancer, but also as a composer, lighting designer, scenographer and visual artist.
Born in Tokyo, 1977, Umeda first studied photography at the Nihon University in Tokyo. At the age of 20, he gained interest in art more suitable for creating intense bodily experiences, which he is now known for, and started taking numerous dance classes such as ballet, hip-hop, modern dance and so on. After around a year, in 2000, Umeda stopped attending the lessons, founded his company, S20, and started creating his own multidisciplinary works by freely integrating all distinct dance practices and other art forms. In 2002, his ever-popular work while going to a condition received great acclaim at Yokohama Dance Collection R (Yokohama, Japan) and was immediately invited to Rencontres Choréographiques Internationales (Paris). In 2007, his new solo piece Accumulated Layout premiered in the prestigious Théâtre National de Chaillot with much anticipation, which resulted in a sell-out performance and another great acclaim. Drawing further from his now signature style of mixing digital imagery, minimal soundscape and extremely potent corporeality, Umeda’s other solo works such as Adapting for Distortion (2009), Haptic (2009), Holistic Strata (2011) and split flow (2013) has transfixed the audience in major festivals and theatres worldwide such as Festival d’Automne (Paris), Pompidou Centre (Paris), Biennale de la Danse (Lyon), Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussel), Festival Roma Europa (Rome), Tanz im August (Berlin), Tanzquartier (Vienna), NY Live Art (New York), The Barbican Center (London), Sydney Opera House (Sydney), National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center, R.O.C (Taipei) and Aichi Triennale (Aichi). In 2009, Umeda commenced his ten-year choreographic project Superkinesis and started working with dancers of distinct physical background such as contemporary dancers (1.centrifugal, 2009), hip-hop dancers (2. repulsion, 2010), classical ballet dancers (3. isolation, 2011) and Asian traditional dancers (4. temporal pattern, 2013). Extending from his interest in providing an unknown sensorial experience to the audience, from 2010, Umeda has been working on series of installations which mainly focus on optical illusion and physical immersion. The main works include Haptic (installation) (2010) commissioned by Aichi Triennale, Holistic Strata (installation) (2011) premiered at Exposition EXIT at Maison des arts de Créteil, and split flow (installation) (2012) commissioned by the Van Abbenmuseum of Eindhoven. His string of works combining visual and physical sensation has earned him Prix Ars Electronica, Honorary Mention, in 2010.
Enrico Pitozzi is a professor-in-Charge of “ Forms of Multimedia Stage” at the University of Bologna and teaching “Aesthetic interfaces” at the Accademia di Belle Arti - Brera in Milan. He was visiting professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal – UQAM (Canada). He gives seminars and lectures at the Universidade Federal da Bahia (Brazil) and Universidade Federal Rio do Sul do Porto Alegre (Brazil) as well as the European Institutions and Universities. He currently collaborates with the scientific committee of the project “Performativité et effets de présence” directed by Josette Féral and Louise Poissant at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and the project “Poéticas Tecnològicas” directed by Ivani Santana at the Universidade Federal de Bahia (Brasile). He is a member of the observatory on the analysis of the movement led by choreographer Isabelle Choiniere (Montreal, Plymouth, Paris) and the multimedia laboraratory « MeLa research » at the IUAV University of Venice. Since 2004 he has regularly published in specialised Italian and international magazines with essays on European, Canadian, USA and Japanese performing arts. He is editor of the italian magazines “Art’O” and “Culture Teatrali” and he is a member of the Scientific Committee of the magazine “Antropologia e Teatro” at the University of Bologna (Italy) and the magazine “Moringa” at the Universidade Federal da Paraiba (Brasil). In 2005 he took part in the workshop within the 37th International Theatre Festival of Venice Biennale directed by Romeo Castellucci and in 2013 at the “Biennale Danza College” directed by Virgilio Sieni. The essays: with A. Sacchi, Itinera.TrajectoiresdelaformeTragediaEndogonidia, Arles, Actes Sud, 2008; De la constitution du corps de synthèse sur la scène performative: perception et technologies, in R. Bourassa, L. Poissant, (dir.), Personnage virtuel et corps performatif : effets de présence, Ste-Foy, Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2013; Perception et sismographie de la présence, in J. Féral (dir.), Le réel à l’épreuve des technologies, Rennes, Presses de l'Université de Rennes, 2013 ;On presence, in « Culture Teatrali », n. 21, 2012; Corpograficos, in M. Isaacsoon e W. Lima Torres Neto (dir.), Corpo, performance, tecnologia, Porto Alegre, UFPR, december 2012. In this frame he has concluded a book Sismografie della presenza. Corpo, scena, dispositivi tecnologici, Firenze, La Casa Usher, (Autumn 2014); Spectra, Bologna, CLUEB, (Summer 2014) about the Dumb Type’s works and Bodysoundscape. Perception, movement and audiovisual in contemporary dance, in Yael Kaduri (dir.), The Oxford Handbook of Music, Sound and Image in the Fine Arts, Oxford, Oxford University Press, (2014).