Yesterday we performed for the opening night of the Festival of Foreign Female Dancers Tokyo – an exciting week-or-so of performances, workshops, and discussions, organized by Keio University Art Center. It was our last performance of the project, and a lovely way to leave things before dispersing. Here is a film of the Tokyo Experimental Festival gig – part of a two-month marathon of great performances by Easter-Island Head, Hugo Morales Murguía & Diego Espinosa, and Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, among others. To read a bit about what happened over the last month in Tokyo take a scroll through the dated entries below.

ShaLeigh, Rosa, Joe


Two days to show. I have been very excited about this new version. To my greatest pleasure, this past week we have scheduled ample rehearsal periods set aside purely for movement research. It has taken a great deal of time for my cerebral ideas to shift into a visible embodiment. In fact, I feel it is only beginning to be realized. Even though it has only been a few days with an expanded cast, simply being able to see how they negotiate the material has been eye opening. The ghost of our initial point of departure seems to have created this version of the dance on its own. It is as if the Noguchi room was created specifically to make visible the memory of rooms. Compositionally, one can literally see several spaces being inhabited at once and yet also fully separated by the design and restoration elements of the room. Sheer white fabric hangs like nostalgia. The movers have been placed in such a way that the audience will experience different bodies and vignettes simultaneously through varied layers of fabric. Falling in and out of moments of unison, I hope to create a visual sense of echo making visible some of Joe’s sonic design.

Near or far, the fabric itself is creating a kind of timescape, with the denser layers projecting time past and the body most revealed a kind of suspended present. It seems to have served us well to have redesigned the initial movement ideas for the Tokyo Wonder Site performance. The movement created by interacting with Rosa’s evocative set design has become the most adaptable form as well as the most easily inhabited by the dancers. Admittedly this is precisely where I wish we were just beginning … as the next step would be to dive deeper into how the performers live inside of this movement and to identify the inherent meanings that are emerging from the subtle transitional moments. The tasks are repetitive and durational. It will ask patience from the audience though I am hopeful that they may well engage more personally within its subtleties and its ever-shifting compositions. The space for interpretation is greater in this work than in any I’ve previously created. I feel both an initial burgeoning sense of satisfaction and yet an immense eagerness to press forward. So many new and beautiful relationships have begun to occur. The editing process has clarified the movements that no longer ask for meaning. It is here, where I feel at last, we have found the dance.


Photo: Joe Snape


The Noguchi Room is daunting. Huge and layered and framed in ways that are more conducive to meditation than performance: a triptych of red leaves to gaze at through the windows; a skyline of faint city blocks to muse on through the aperture of Noguchi’s Mu sculpture; and this dreamy light that seems to stream through the place at all times of day.

I arrived before anyone else yesterday and felt overwhelmingly that nothing could be done. Certainly no paper could be hung in a place so beautiful. And bodies would surely either get lost in expanse or squashed in between existing architectures. It thankfully wasn’t that long before Joe and ShaLeigh arrived with enthusiasm and concrete ideas about how to manage things. There isn’t so much need to ‘make’ an environment as there was in the white gallery space of Tokyo Wonder Site, so installation will involve something simpler – some papery lantern-like things drawn from Noguchi’s akari (popularized by Ikea as those white paper-and-wire lampshades we’ve all seen and probably sometime owned). There won’t be the same closeness of bodies in space as we had before, and there will be more bodies. It feels like the performance has to be about the space, as much as about the sonic and movement material we’ve generated, so we want more bodies to inhabit and spread through it. Hopefully seeing the movement rediscovered in the bodies of others will also give a good sense of how we might further develop the work. Now the challenge of finding some keen dancers with only five days to go.


Photo: ShaLeigh Comerford


Yet another mild, golden morning – is it really December? – in Aoyama, on our last day in the lovely Tokyo Wonder Site residents’ housing following the show at TWS Shibuya last night. Three weeks’ preparations all came together for a crammed-in audience of about forty, in one of those tight, focussed atmospheres with everybody looking and listening hard – a real pleasure.

Despite the terrifying failure of my soundcard during the technical rehearsal, the performance itself couldn’t have gone much better. A botched-together setup of two laptops, four amps and a tangle of RCA cables saved the music (surprisingly well!), and Rosa’s columns floated and swung perfectly in the space. Shaleigh’s opening moment - mixing and pouring a plaster of Paris concoction into a hanging vessel for it to set over the course of the piece – went off without a hitch, and had happily turned to stone by the end of the hour. There was an incredibly tense moment as she moved to flip the vessel upside-down in the final moments, which made the fact that its contents didn’t make a terrible mess of the gallery floor all the sweeter. While there’s always stuff to revise and refine, I think we can be pleased with the outcome, not least in terms of how the gig felt. I had the impression that we were really beginning to play as an ensemble, aware of where in the piece we all were at any given moment, and, accordingly, able to respond fluidly: making a few extra seconds of sound for a movement to come to rest here, skipping half a dance sequence to arrive at a silence in unison there, all for the good of the flow of the work writ large. Of everything, I think this is probably the most exciting development, something big to take away from this one. Finally, before this paragraph is out, a huge heap of thanks to Atsushi for all his work and insight in lighting the performance.

Now onto the last ten days, with a final gig in the Noguchi Room at Keio University in Tamachi. The ensemble of dancers for this one will be a little larger, and the space is so hugely different – not at all clearly face-the-front-audience-vs-performers, for starters – that everything will require a bit of tweaking to work in that space. First stop: Akihabara Electric City. Looking for speaker cones has never been so exciting.


Photo: Joe Snape


This week we began the second phase of Input Place. Once again, it has been both my good fortune and greatest challenge to have a room full of fixed artistry at the start. Most of our time thus far has been spent on the technical aspects of designing the space. Joe’s atmospheric and delicate sound for instance was so detailed that one slight turn of head would distinguish a different experience and location. With the assistance of Atsushi Kakumoto, who has joined us as our lighting designer, the crew experimented with the placement of speakers throughout the space discovering the rooms greatest resonant tones and sonic capabilities. Our next efforts were to bring Rosas’ ambitious and enchanting installation of plaster, paper and concrete to life. With such a wide spectrum of visual design that literally divides the space from the ceiling to the floor and wall to wall, it finally occurred to me that it was time to interview Rosa. I needed to understand how the choreography could be integrated as a part of this intricately designed sonic and visual world. It was clear that the richness of the environment was making demands. The difference between what I had imagined and what was actual was becoming increasingly visible now that the elements were set. Our time was limited, so I needed to be more calculated in my approach. After a few evening interviews and chats, one the most intriguing of Rosas’ remarks was about how she wanted to literally deconstruct a book as if stretching time and to insert air so to speak into the structure. This created new layers for my choreographic thought: suspension, breath, and somehow inserting air into our structure, into our bodies, and specifically our joints. A visible correlation needed to occur as did some kind of relational difference. As our initial methodologies and inquires before we arrived in Tokyo matched so keenly, I was searching for a way to design new relationships that offered more contrast. For in the instant it all came together, it was as if suddenly we were all playing the same note within this symphony of elements. My initial structure was quite dense as well … and it was clear this would need to change. To my delight, upon the instant that we focused more upon the tasks inside the movement language, we were quickly able to script out a new series of actions framed around simply interacting with the installation and using the design as a kind of set of conditions in which we inhabited. It was as if we were drifting through different rooms in this tiny little space, and at times, simply by slight shifts of focus and level changes. Our brilliant lighting designer, Atsushi also introduced new layers to the set this week. His intricate design was a wonderful compositional addition to the space. He tossed shadows and highlighted the most fragile of actions in such a way that light itself felt like a third member of the dancing cast. We are now quite eager and looking forward to the show. Did I mention we have also added fish?


© Tokyo Wonder Site Photo: Toshiya Suda


I spent a lazy Sunday yesterday wandering quiet streets and falling into the dreamy world of Tokujin Yoshioka’s exhibition Crystallize at the Museum of Contemporary Art: a series of wintry rooms glistening with glass benches, crystal chairs, and an excessively tall window of prisms. It was certainly beautiful, but the fairy-tale glitter, Swan Lake theme-tune, and Cartier product placement left me feeling a little nauseous by the end. All that white; all the white in our piece; there is a distinctly winter feel in the air despite the still quite temperate weather.

Today is the last day of rest before we enter Space A. It will feel like a relief to get in a shared room after hopping around from spot to spot. A lot happened in respective rooms – gazing at screens, dreaming up sounds, playing with paper – and that was inevitable across three continents, but as ShaLeigh keeps saying “it’s gotta happen in the studio! It’s all about bodies in space!” A couple of days ago we performed our first version of Input Place at Las Chicas, followed by solo performances by Ren Flannery and Dominique BB. You can see a photo from it below. When we entered the space, movement shifted pretty fast. ShaLeigh began to allow for lower frequency gestures at slower tempo, restructuring the strict geometries of repetition into something that allowed for human disruption – a moment of forgetting or confusion. The movement itself felt like a game with memory: fall into it for a moment, lose your place, fall out again. The performance was useful for remembering it, all the same, and fixing it more concretely in memory will help make it possible to break the structure all over again. I am looking forward to playing with that side of things for Tokyo Wonder Site!


Photo: Tomo Ogata


It’s Thursday night, and we’re waiting for our slot at the tech rehearsal at Las Chicas in Aoyoma, not far from where we’ll be in residence next week at Tokyo Wonder Site’s apartments. After Gustavo Ciricao’s brilliant exhibition A Room of Wonder last weekend, evening performances at TWS are starting up again; the next couple of weeks are set to be packed with things, many of which look very promising. Plenty of music to hear and people to meet; we’re looking forward to it.

Today is the also the first day back in Tokyo after a trip some 500km north to Ishinomaki, infamously victim to the Tsunami in 2011. That said, it appears to have recovered amazingly well in just the two years since. We gave a workshop for twenty or so kids, all between the ages of six and twelve. We took a soundwalk and made graphic notations of the things we could hear, practiced remaking those sounds with our voices back at the studio, and rehearsed a musical performance. ShaLeigh led a complementary movement session, and everything came together beautifully in a massed performance at the end. Twenty beaming kids, everybody happy. Many thanks to Atelier Copain for having us, and a gigantic shoutout to Shuta Shimmyo for his extraordinary stamina behind the wheel.

So one of the pleasures of this week’s show has been tweaking the performance to fit the space we’re performing in and the format of the night. The space has certain physical limitations, and we’ve also had to relight the show. Sadly, ShaLeigh’s electric dress, above, didn’t make the cut. Playing alongside two other artists, we have a loose time limit of 30 minutes, which means a good bit of tailoring: the Wonder Site piece is just shy of an hour. So trawling back through my files and figuring out a new, satisfactory form for the work, as well as composing new transitional material and adjusting the live setup slightly has been the order of the week. Here’s a slice from the final minutes of tomorrow’s version. It fizzles and hums quite pleasingly, I think. In any case, the sub next to my table is gurgling away contentedly.


Photo: Shuta Shimmyo


Week one. My ipod shuffle is making good company. Adjusting to the dauntingly crowded trains here is not easy, but wandering through station after station offers unexpected visual delights or perhaps just simple respite. I often find myself noticing upside down reflections of the masses on ceilings, my thoughts drifting out of windows towards horizontal lines soaring past, or my gaze glazing over details to settle simply on a landscape of constantly shifting forms. In rehearsals, paper already hangs like stories mid air and sound seems to resonate histories from the walls themselves. Within this richness, I settle on a rhythm of simple circular movements. Its structure creates cascading forms and some strange sense of time. It’s fairly hypnotic – like the entrancement of a certain kind of nostalgia, like the wandering of a traveler. One could live happily inside the fullness of Joe’s score and Rosa’s paper landscape. Rosa and I move inside trajectories of spirals and roundabouts often retrograding, repeating, modulating. It feels easy to settle in, but important to remain on the edge of comfort, always maintaining the edge of form; it sometimes seems a matter of losing and finding, the vanishing of form in rounds, the loss in shifting that I also find through travel.


Photo: Joe Snape


We are in a room for meetings. Full of bold wooden tables, computer cables, and chairs. Before each rehearsal legs get wheeled, and squares offset; the sun streams in around 5pm; and not long after we line things up in familiar order, and head. It’s not just these things in this room, but things in rooms more generally. Things and the materials they are made of feel important: pages, vessels, plaster, Perspex, concrete. The weight of certain things and lightness of others; the way this shifts when plaster or water is added. Things designed to contain other things – boxes, glasses, jugs – both empty and full of air.

The rooms we will perform in are inevitably sparse, because they are designed to accommodate the fast-shifting furnitures of performance and art. Part of the task feels like finding ways to fill the rooms – building an environment of sounds, movements, objects – and part of it feels like finding ways to build spaces within the rooms – spaces to breathe or think in. Tokyo’s urban throng is less stressful than it was 12 months ago, but I still wouldn’t mind finding that kind of space.

Joe's sounds and ShaLeigh's movement are finally bringing some light to the city's weight.


Photo: Tomo Ogata


So Tokyo is big and busy. Six days in, and at least this much is clear. Among the awesome high-rises, fully skewered intestines, and beautifully clothed everyone, we've been lugging loudspeakers through the city and stitching together Rosa's paper from Mino. ShaLeigh arrived on Saturday night, so we've been working on the full thing since. The space at Tokyo Wonder Site is tricky in a number of aspects, but tricky in good ways: ways that cut down the dizzying number of possibilities for staging that white cube gallery spaces often suggest.

Musically, things are shaping up well. The basic structure of the piece was sorted quite a while ago; it's in the detail of cues for Rosa and Shaleigh that most of the work is happening now, as well as figuring out the simplest, most-reliable-but-still-interesting performance strategy. The last couple of days I've been working out something fairly linear: letting my patches do their own thing with the composed material within clearly set bounds, and focusing on pushing room resonances and contributing live input to the mix; amplified objects and tape transfers of recordings made in Rotterdam and Berlin; and now here in Tokyo, too. You can hear a mock up of a section of the piece below.

Now outside Tamachi station on the way back to Keio University for our second day there. I dropped into one of the DJ hardware shops in Shibuya on the trip over to pick up that controller that my local had run out of back home in England, but the place was shut. So I ate a steaming bowl of curry instead, and watched a giant mechanical panda entice shoppers into a very noisy retail space. Happy days.


Photo: Joe Snape