Behold ‘surprised bodies’ in Kyoto

by Mika Eglinton

Special To The Japan Times

Kyoto is going global in the world of dance this month, as the city’s Monochrome Circus teams up with the Norwegian company Wee on “The Surprised Body Project.”

Begun in 2005 as a workshop in Oslo led by Italian dancer, choreographer and cofounder of Wee, Francesco Scavetta, “The Surprised Body Project” had its world première in Buenos Aires in 2010. Since then, it has been presented successfully in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East — and this Kyoto production will be the first in Asia.

The initial contact between Monochrome Circus and Wee was through a mutal friend, but over the last two years their links have strengthened. In 2012, Scavetta held a workshop in Kyoto, and Monochrome Circus spent a month in Sweden in winter 2013, showcasing a piece at the Vitlycke Centre for performing arts in Tanumshede, where Scavetta is artistic director.

According to Scavetta, “The Surprised Body Project serves to “define a metaphorical space, in which the body is constantly alert, able to surprise itself and to communicate surprise.” The piece consists of combinations of defined choreographic phrases and free-contact improvisation, as though “lights were floating like clouds across the sky,” to coin a Scavetta description.

For this Kyoto production, three powerful Wee dancers — Gry Kipperberg, Orfee Schuijt and Meri Pajunpää — will collaborate with Monochrome Circus dancers, while experimental Norwegian composer and musician Kim Myhr provides the live sounds.

In a rehearsal on the Jan. 24, just a day before the Wee team arrived in Japan, Kosei Sakamoto of Monochrome Circus — who is also directing a piece at Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting this year — noted how the projects are both challenging and refreshing.

“For Monochrome Circus, I tend to choreograph pieces in a more rigid way. In contrast, Scavetta allows us more freedom via improvisation, which opened up our sense of movement,” he explained.

In an email interview, meanwhile, Scavetta promised more surprises to come.

Asked what he’d discovered by working with Monochrome Circus, the Italian artist said, ” ‘The Surprised Body Project’ is an ongoing creative process and the meeting with Monochrome Circus gave me a very interesting opportunity to articulate it further.

“Their dancers’ artistic personalities are strong and that helps the creativity, along with their good sensitivity and being used to working together. The tasks I proposed for the improvisations worked as triggers to create interesting personal material.”

Obviously enjoying the collaboration, he added, “Each version of ‘The Surprised Body Project’ is for me a learning occasion. I try to find different ways to structure the piece and to involve each participant in the most personal way, starting with individual qualities — and you can see this clearly in the Kyoto version.”

For Scavetta, even though cross-cultural projects are nothing new, he concedes, “It’s not easy to get into the quality of the movement material that grounds the performance and this, in previous versions, sometimes led to frustration in the participants in the first stages of rehearsals.”

However, he pointed out that in the case of Kyoto’s venerable dance company founded in 1990, “The dancers maintained a very concentrated attitude to the work from the beginning, with good energy, creativity and lightness of mood. And though the lack of personal, defensive, ego-conflictual attitudes might be affected by cultural values, basically I guess it is a ‘personality’ issue.

“It’s great when we don’t need to waste time with unnecessary struggles and can just focus on the concept of the piece itself, as with ‘The Surprised Body Project Kyoto.’ “

For the future, it seems Monochrome Circus had better check their passports because, Scavetta said, “I’d like to continue to work on this version in a new collaboration in the United Kingdom. The intention is to tour Scandinavia, Britain and France in spring 2015 — then possibly come back to Japan for more replays involving other cities.

“It’s quite an ambitious plan, but after performances in 22 countries over the last three years, we feel confident it can be done.”

“The Surprised Body Project Kyoto” runs at Kyoto Art Centre Auditorium from Feb. 7-9. Tickets are ¥3,000 (¥2,500 for students and ¥2,000 for members under 18). For details, visit www.monochromecircus.com. Workshops will also be organized by Art Complex Hiroshima on Feb. 15 and 16 (details at blog.ap.teacup.com) and at Architanz in Shibaura, Minato-ku, Tokyo, on Feb. 17 (call 03-5730-2732 or visit a-tanz.com).