Like many art forms in our rapidly shrinking world, dance is constantly experimenting with variants of the cross-cultural, extending and blending boundaries into innovative re-imaginings of genre. Choreographers such as Akram Khan, an English dancer of Bangladeshi descent, have found great success by combining ballet or modern dance with more traditional forms of movement — in Khan’s case, classical kathak training — to forge exciting, contemporary works that nevertheless honor the past. Two upcoming productions in the Tokyo area reflect this trend in dance.
Okinawan ballet artist and choreographer Ryoki Midorima brings his blend of traditional Ryukyu dance and classical ballet to Shibuya on Oct. 20 with “Tokoiriya: Ryoki to Ai vol. 4.” Ryukyu dance was a part of Midorima’s upbringing from a young age.
“I don’t even remember when I was first interested because it was so familiar and close to my early childhood,” Midorima explains. “For example, Okinawan wedding ceremonies open with traditional Ryukyu dance and there is a lot of Ryukyu dance entertainment at other ceremonies, festivals and parties. When I was a child, it was common for me to perform ballet with groups of Ryukyu dancers at the same events.”
With his background, it’s natural for Midorima to incorporate different genres into his choreography. In addition to Ryukyu dance, his newest work also melds traditional Japanese shrine-maiden movements, his staging evokes an ancient cave, and his dancers’ costumes borrow their patterns from 17th-century Ryukyu art.
“Arts and cultures always exist on the foundation of our predecessors,” he says. “It’s like taking over their dreams, spirits and thoughts to create new performance using their pieces and styles of dance. It is essential for all artists.”
For Ohad Naharin, artistic director of the acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company, based in Israel, dance provided an opportunity to create new forms of communication across all cultures. Famed for his movement language “gaga,” Naharin’s imaginative body vocabulary emphasizes delicacy, imagination and the human need to explore individual limits within improvisational movements. It has made Naharin an international force in dance, attracting a wide range of devotees from beginners to professionals. He kicks off his nationwide tour at the Saitama Arts Theater on Oct. 28 and 29 with his 2015 production, “Last Work.” The company is also offering a “Gaga Workshop” on Oct. 27 and 29, led by Batsheva dancers, aimed at allowing dancers and nondancers alike to communicate freely in movement.
As tension waxes and wanes between globalism and nationalism, between world citizen and patriot, culture provides an opportunity to meld the many possibilities of a broader view of the world.
“It’s very natural,” Midorima says. “I strive to encounter various genres of dance, taking their characteristics into my work to create new styles of movement.”