Like many others in Japan’s rising performing-artist generation, 34-year-old Ney Hasegawa says he first felt the lure of the stage when he went to see shōgekijō (small-scale youth theater) plays while he was in high school. After that, he started taking an interest in dance, too, and when he formed his company Fujiyamaannette in 2003, his clear aim was to blur the boundaries by creating unique and highly visual dance-theater programs.
Nowadays, the Tokyo native smiles wryly with confusion when he’s described as a “dance artist,” maintaining that he simply makes theater without words — not dance programs.
Speaking ahead of the Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting festival in Yokohama, where he is presenting a double bill of new works, he explained, “I went to Berlin a few times to see theater, and I found that if it was a good production it was quite possible to enjoy it without knowing any of the words.
“Since then, I’ve been searching for new ways of telling a story through movement, using hardly any words. I’ve tried mime and contemporary dance, and also mixing a few words with dance, but I’m still groping for my own way.”
Hasegawa did, however, acknowledge another influence on his work, saying, “In 2004 in Tokyo, I saw Lebanese artist Rabin Mroue’s political plays ‘FaceA/ FaceB’ and ‘Biokhraphia,’ in which he cleverly presented stories that blended together his private life and Lebanon’s history and showed how ordinary people can be totally subsumed by what’s happening in their country. That made me want to convey such intensity through my works.”
Yet as much as he loves dance, Hasegawa conceded “it doesn’t work so well in telling a direct message” — which is perhaps why the theme of both his upcoming TPAM programs is “What is dance?”
In “Attack on Dance,” he brings together contemporary, ballet, Balinese and butoh dancers, along with jugglers, and asks them questions such as how many hours a day they practice and what they earn through dancing. Then he presents their answers as graphs on a screen, before asking them to express themselves freely in brief performances that, taken together, convey a sense of the condition of today’s dance world in Japan.
In “Black Tomatoes,” meanwhile, Hasegawa takes the stage with Lee Ju Hyoung from the Seoul-based troupe Dance Theatre 4P, and Japanese dancer Masaharu Imazu, who together debate the meaning of “dance” — sometimes explaining their ideas through movements.
“I think a big difference between the two countries is that South Korea has a proper system of theater and dance education at university — and it also has military service,” Hasegawa said. “So if performers win a certain level of competition, they are exempted from military service — and that’s harsh, but it can really motivate a person.
“However,” he said, “we also discovered the enviable situation that people visit theater quite casually in Korea, whereas in Japan you have to be a more serious fan because the runs are typically just a few days. Also, choreographers are often asked to create a short, catchy piece purely for business reasons.
“So that’s reinforced my intention to make quality works that will still be good 10 years from now.”
Fine. But in practice, how did Hasegawa see his contribution as a guardian of Japan’s performing-arts scene?
“I’m very interested in mixing creative genres,” he said. “I am now preparing a performance for July with mime artists, and we are searching for a never-before-seen form of expression, because mime actually has quite fixed rules and I’m always skeptical of conventional methods.
“So I am trying to reach an unknown point nobody’s ever seen, and I’m also thinking about creating a dance program with no performers on stage.
“Dancers always insist that dance is about physical movement, but I believe dance is a concept — and I want to prove that without dancers. I don’t know the actual content yet, but perhaps the audience could create a performance without professional dancers.
“Why not? Let’s try and let’s see.”
“Attack on Dance” and “Black Tomatoes” run on alternate days from Feb. 12-15 at Noge Shale Theater near JR Sakuragicho Station in Yokohama. For details, call 080-5496-7555 or visit fannette.net or www.tpam.or.jp/2015.