Earlier this summer our program director Yusuke Hashimoto interviewed Kyoto Experiment 2017 participating artist Darrell Jones. Darrell is currently on a residency at Kobe Dance Box creating a new work entitled CLUTCH which will be premiered at this year's festival.
Yusuke Hashimoto (YH) Voguing is clearly an important aspect of your dance form. Could you please give us your own definition of voguing?
Darrell Jones (DJ) I sometimes use the word voguing in places where people might not have a lot of information about it. But I feel it’s surface level information. The workshop we’re doing at Kyoto Art Center is called vogue aesthetics. I got very interested in not just the voguing moves but also the philosophies that I see inherent in the artistry. I’ve always been curious why they do moves like this duck walk thing, with the arms. Why did that become fierce, what is it about that? I started to play with what that does to the body. It’s very hard on the body; it takes a lot of strength in the legs, but there is also a lightness in the arms. Maybe the aesthetic is this ability to have two contrasting energies going on at the same time. You work hard but you don't let them see you sweat.
YH This contrast between lightness and heaviness that you talk about, do you see that as representative of a kind of contradiction within a human being?
DJ I think that that contrast has the possibility to be liberating in the body and that sometimes liberation isn’t ‘Oh I’m free’ but ‘Oh this is hard’. It’s work to do these two things at once. Alchemy, I use this word a lot, the way that the elements go together can create a certain energy in the body. I think that’s why I sometimes refrain from using the word voguing, because I feel there’s something deeper than just the movements. I feel it’s my traditional dance. I’m an African-American, gay and male. This form was created by the work of these bodies. When I was studying dance I started to look around at the bodies that were teaching me. They had a lot of information but they didn't look like me, or didn't have my background. It was very interesting to think of a dance form that was formed by bodies that look, live and fuck like me.
YH You talk about your traditional dance or the dance that you feel represents you. When you perform, the audience perhaps understands and sees you are African-American, gay, male. They understand your background and connect the information. But I guess you don't want the performance to finish there. Do you have any strategies or methods to ensure the audience doesn't just label this, how do you encourage the audience to explore further?
DJ The workshops I've done are very helpful, also going out to clubs, talking to Bubu de la Madeleine. This community engagement means a work isn’t made and we just go in for a tech period. I mean that’s totally valid too, but something that’s very helpful for me is to see how bodies and particularly in this country, Japanese bodies, do the movement, where the challenges are. The challenges are actually the place where I get the most information because then I’m trying to solve a problem. If I say ‘hai’ their bodies respond in a certain way that might be different from ‘sou sou’. I feel that this kind of research is helpful when I come to the production. I tend to work like a DJ with tracks, but I utilize a series of movement tracks. I go to a place, hopefully start to understand a little about the cultures and the challenges of picking up certain aspects of the movement, then I choose tracks. A DJ has a series of songs that they might play. They look at the crowd, see the way this crowd is dancing and decide what tracks to play - they curate in the moment. I feel like this pre-research process is the ability for me to curate which tracks to share for Kyoto Experiment.
YH Without giving too much away about your performance in November, I’d like to hear about your impressions of clubbing in Japan. Did you see anything unique? How is it different from Chicago and the US? Is there anything you found that you didn't know before?
DJ There are a couple of things that have been connections for me. The workshops in Kobe were very interesting. I’ll be specific. There’s one exercise we do that’s gathering. The challenge is to gather quickly around the clap, to go in the space and when you hear the clap to go quickly to the sound. To be ready is the philosophy behind it. Usually in the United States when I do this, with that demographic, people come in and their bodies are in a kind of fighting stance. What I found with the Japanese was people come in like this (standing completely upright). Their bodies are at a tension but in a different way. First I tried to correct it but I realized that their alignment, their ready, was as a group. There was something about a community of readiness as opposed to an individual readiness. That’s something I will integrate in to the work, that’s choreographic material for me.
YH Really? I wonder if this is due to the strict Japanese education system in Elementary and Junior High school!
DJ I wonder too, there are certain trainings we get in our body that we don’t know are training until we go somewhere else. What’s interesting for me is the idea of liberation. When we’re aware of these trainings we can go with them or we can go against them, and that can be a type of freedom. If we don't know our trainings we’re just going along with everything. Knowing there’s certain training in our body and going against it might not feel freeing but the act of that might be cultivating something. That alchemy.
Photo by Junpei Iwamoto
YH I’d like to change the subject a little. I assume there’s a difference between dance in the theatre and dance in the club and I guess you are trying to break that barrier, or trying to go between these two worlds and connect them. I’d like to know how you created your career as a dancer in theatre. Could you also tell us specifically about the choreographers you worked with?
DJ My history is very much in contemporary dance; I was studying contemporary, contact improvisation, West-African dance. But at night I was often going to the club. That was like a mating ritual dance, it was in the context of trying to pick up people, but it was dance nonetheless. I continued to work in those two ways and when I moved to Chicago I got very curious, they both were a kind of training in my body and I started to try to put them together. And it was not smooth at all. It continues not to be smooth because these two cultures are very different. For example, rehearsing - with contemporary dance usually we rehearse four days for four hours and then do a show for a week. Within the club environment I show up and I do it, and by continuing to do it I get better at it. The preparation times are very different. In the recipe of putting these things together I continue to experiment with trying to find structures that are predetermined. It wouldn’t be effective for me to say to the lighting designer well let’s just show up and see what happens. So there are things that are set in time and space, but we allow an improvisational aspect to come in. For example I say to the lighting designer, we’re going to do a five-minute section and after twenty seconds, continue to change the lighting. For us it’s a kind of improvisation but it also allows the lighting designer to have a structure to play in. I feel like I’m constantly trying to play between those two things. Some of the choreographers I’ve worked with, Bebe Miller, Ralph Lemon, Min Tanaka, Urban Bush Women - the aesthetics of the movements of these choreographers are very different. In particular I think they have all worked with radical experimentation. And I think they often work with and against the culture. Whether it be the culture of race or the culture of theatre protocol.
YH Except Min Tanaka, are they all African-American choreographers?
DJ Yes, and I can tell you a story. The first time I was working with Min he said ‘This is not Butoh.’ It was years later I think I understood what he was doing. I was studying with him at a time when there were many people coming from other countries, taking workshops and then going back to their countries and teaching Butoh. They were sort of appropriating the culture. His reaction to that was, you’re not going to call this Butoh, what we’re doing is not Butoh, I will not name this, this can’t be sold as a commodity. I feel like there’s a similar history with many black movements, of jazz or hip-hop. I think Tanaka understands about the culture of the movement and that sometimes you have to be slightly sly about continuing to change the name of it so that it can’t be held on to, or taken, or appropriated. Or maybe it’s about keeping the form alive? Sometimes I think that stance is confusing for people in the culture because they think why not go that direction and make lots of money. Ralph and Bebe I think were the same, when they make something they continue to erase it, so that they're starting anew. I can simplify it. I think for me it’s been about a rigour and process with all those artists. There’s been extreme rigorous process, sometimes years, and the finality is not the show, but it’s the process. That is the thing that changes you, that changes your body, not necessarily the show that someone might see. Although I think that the show can have an affect where people can see that process.
YH My last question is about your new work that you will perform in November in Kyoto. Could you tell us your current vision or ideas for the work?
DJ One of the structures that started to present itself when we were working in Kobe is something called Tabata. It’s a training workout form and Dr. Izumi Tabata is a Japanese exercise scientist who became known for the "Tabata Protocol", a form of high-intensity interval training. For example, twenty seconds of rigorous activity, stop, ten seconds rest, and repeat. It’s a pattern and you can do it with many kinds of activities, twenty seconds of push-ups or twenty seconds of running and then rest. His research was in what’s the right timing of rigor and rest and the amount - which is usually seven to eight sets. So it should be about four minutes for that one activity. I became curious about this; it feels like a structure where you can insert blocks of different physical material in the rigorous periods and rest periods. For example, with the DJ I was working with, during our rest periods he was inserting birds chirping, a body breathing, bells. What we’re doing now is we’re placing in rigorous tracks of material and expanding what might be rigor for our bodies or what might be a rigor for an audience. We’re playing with these rigorous movements, alongside rest movements and the states that they cultivate for participants and observers. It feels like a ripe structure to be able to insert movement tracks that we’ve made in Kobe and Kyoto, while also utilizing tracks that we’ve created before. We’ve also started to play with extending the time period of the rigor and rest periods. As the structure goes along somebody watching can get a feel for it, and then you can start to play with it, with these in-between things. I can look at this relationship of rigor and rest on many different levels (structural, physical, philosophical) as well as an organizing principle that can connect the various contributions of my collaborators. For example lighting might be an opportunity to play with the dichotomy of twenty seconds of one look against ten seconds of another. There is a thematic structure of rigor and rest that we can play with as dancers, as lighting designers, as sound designers, as curators. When there’s a structure we find that fits we can all come to it in our different ways.
Interview: Kyoto Art Center, June 6, 2017
Edited by Juliet Knapp (Kyoto Experiment)
Photos by Junpei Iwamoto
Photo by Junpei Iwamoto