Japanese Nakajima Mugi paints blue on blue

Japanese artist Nakajima Mugi’s works open into a world of intense color and detail, and are filled with nuances and interactive play around the hues of the natural world. The artist often thinks and displays his works in pairs, as a group of three, or even in large groups on the wall. Putting the art pieces together changes the atmosphere of the space. What attracts me in his style is probably the technique of letting the color drop on canvas while in the process, which results in a possibility of chance, or accident. Yet the control of the colors and their order in the palette is made by the artist who masters the materiality of his vision. A series of paintings ‘blue on blue’ represents chaosmos paintings which are abstract (chaosmos: chaos and cosmos). The vivid colors of acrylics show off the surfaces of plastered paint. The ‘cosmos’ means order where accumulation of drawings create an entire landscape. The outcome comes close to patterned design textiles that expose bold attitude. Japanese and Finnish design and art worlds have something very similar in their approach, whether they meet in minimalism paying attention to detail and form, or stand for an oasis of calm. The interpretation of nature is present.

Nakajima Mugi1
Nakajima Mugi

The artist uses different techniques to enhance his vision. ‘Blue on blue’ series includes two types of paintings of different techniques and textures. In one the fluid colors run on canvas as mentioned above. The other is a quiet one-color painting.  Nakajima Mugi’s color-drop style recalls art informel and abstract expressionism. Solid color, then, reminds of Hard-edge paintings (Ellsworth Kelly) or Color field paintings (Barnett Newman). When Mugi’s works are arranged side by side the combinations do not follow strict rules but form an installation. The cosmos is ever-changing its rhythm, and the works show seasons and time. ‘Blue on blue’ changes according to exhibit space aiming to demonstrate the polyphonic of the paintings.

Nakajima Mugi2
Nakajima Mugi2

Nakajima Mugi was represented at the New City Art Fair in Chelsea, New York City in March of 2014 with the Gallery OUT of PLACE which is located in Nara and Tokyo. The gallery presented variations from his ‘blue on blue’ series. It also showed his other works that communicate well with urban and architectural environments. The artist has created installations with spatial variation including traditional Japanese houses as well as urban window-displays which communicate both inside and outside.

 

Artist spotlight: Hiroaki Umeda discusses his recent works

Japanese contemporary choreographer Hiroaki Umeda recently presented his new choreography Peripheral Stream with L.A. Dance Project at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. in 2013, he worked with an ensemble of 11 dancers from GöteborgsOperans Danskompani in Sweden. In the piece, Interfacial Scale, Umeda created the choreography, set, costume, light and sound design. As well as being a choreographer and dancer, Umeda is a visual artist, photographer and video artist. He established his own company S20 in 2000. Umeda has entered the international scene with his multimedia performance works that employ his own body and self-created video images, music and lighting designs. These are recorded on a single notebook computer.

(On the video Hiroaki Umeda talks about the Interfacial Scale which he created for the GöteborgsOperans Danskompani in Sweden in 2013)

Since he first drew attention at the 2002 Yokohama Dance Collection R, Umeda has gone on to win praise of dance professionals around the world for the way he wraps his improvisational body movement in intricately woven spaces defined by light (video) and music with the beauty of an art installation. (Tatsuro Ishii for 国際交流基金 / The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network)

FIRSTINDIGO&LIFESTYLE: You are known for your own choreographic language that has influences from different styles, and, from the movement point of view is highly flowing and gestural. Is there a way to trace the evolution of it, how did the movement develop?

Hiroaki Umeda: I started to dance at the age of 20, which is very late in general. At the beginning, I took some dance classes, such as Ballet, Hip Hop and etc. After a year of taking some dance lessons, I realized that there is no specific “dance style” that I want to learn: the dance I wanted to pursue had in fact not existed yet. Plus, I found that what is interesting for me in dance was, not the style, but what lays beneath those styles which is the “principal of movement.” So I started figuring out and understanding the principal of movement by myself, then I applied that principal to my body movement. I would say that my dance should be addressed not as dance but rather as a movement, since I focus on, again, what lays beneath the system of dance, which is the system of movement.

HIROAKI UMEDA: "Haptic." Photo: Shin Yamagata.
HIROAKI UMEDA: “Haptic.” Photo: Shin Yamagata.

You are a Japanese contemporary choreographer, can you describe the dance scene in Japan?

HU: I have been accepted more abroad than in Japan from the beginning of my career, so I cannot say much on behalf of the Japanese choreographers about what you are asking. However, I personally feel that contemporary dance scene in Japan has not been developed enough yet. The scene is very closed. But on the other hand, it is also true that because of the close-knit circumstances, it has developed very idiosyncratic styles. I cannot say if this close-knit condition is good or not good for the Japanese contemporary dance scene. Anyway, in Japan now, there are so many people who have been struggling and working hard to develop and open-up the scene more; that is a really big hope for me and I thank them a lot.

You started your artistic career with photography, and then moved towards dance, how did this transition happen?

HU: I was looking for an art style, which can accept real-time expression, thus, more than photography, I found that dance could be suitable for what I want to express. Dance is an art form in which I can physically put myself into in real time. In photography, on the contrary, it was really hard for me to materialize a piece in real. That is why I shifted to dance from photography. However, I have not totally detached myself from the photographic art form since I have been taking a standpoint throughout that dance can be a form of visual art. Lighting design, which I learned in photography, is now an essential factor for a dance piece.

The way you construct your choreography seems multidisciplinary. The sound and lighting design, and the visual dimension is crucial in your composition? Can you even differentiate which comes first?

HU: In practice, I start from abstract drawings, in fact, just lines. This drawing expresses my image of the tension of space, and it functions like the score of the piece to become. According to the drawings, which envision the whole image of the piece, I put together all materials, such as sound, light, dance and etc.

The visual addition or sometimes ’distortion’ makes your compositions also appear aesthetically ’charged’, could you say something about it?

HU: In my work, I focus a lot on how the bodily sensation could emerge from the space, and how, in turn, the bodily sensation could change the tension of space. That is, first and foremost, what I am interested in. The basic composition of my piece is always based on choreographing the tension of the space. By acutely tuning into the space, it is possible to attain a lot of stimuli that can provide you with physical sensations.

What does it culturally mean to be a Japanese choreographer now, from the point of view of globalization?

HU: have not been working consciously as a “Japanese” choreographer. I have been working as just an artist, focusing on how to bring my pieces to more people all over the world. I think that it is more important to be one of the many artists of the world, than just a Japanese artist.

Does Butoh as art movement mean anything to you? How about Kabuki, Gutai, and action art? They have also called you ’’avant-garde’’?

HU: I really appreciate their art works. But actually I am not so close to those Japanese avant-garde cultures. And I cannot tell if they have called me as “avant-garde.”

What role a nature and technology play in your mind-set?

HU: Nature and technology are not oppositional concepts for me. As a matter of fact, technology is a tool to understand and approximate nature. By the same token, I think that human beings and art, which human beings create, are a part of nature.

Where did you grow up? Where do you work these days?

HU: For the last several years I have been traveling almost all year round. I grew up in Tokyo, and I consider Tokyo as my hometown. But I have been working everywhere in the world. I think that what I do in my art is not connected to any specific country, city or place, so actually I don’t mind working any place in the world.

You did a work for Gothenburg Dance Company (GöteborgsOperans Danskompani). How was it to work in Sweden, also in terms of cultural exchange? Did dancers like the movement?

HU: Dancers of the company were from all over the world. They were really skillful and had great intelligence, and were very professional. To start off with, I gave them a system of movement which becomes the under layer of my choreography, and the dancers tried to find their own movements from tapping into that system. I am sure that I enjoyed seeing their movements develop from my system, even more than they enjoyed learning my system. At the moment, I have limited experience as a choreographer for big companies so the dancers helped me a lot and I learned so much from them. I would say that the process was more of collaboration, rather than providing choreography to the dancers.

In terms of the cultural exchange you are asking, the company was too international to feel any specific cultural differences. I would say that working with them was rather like a kind of universal project, working in various mixed cultures.

How was it to collaborate in Benjamin Millepied’s LA Dance Project 2? How was the audience response in Paris?

HU: Compared to LA Dance Project, the Gothenburg Dance Company was strict in terms of working procedures and time schedule precisely because they are a huge public company; I needed to follow their administrative schedule in terms of creative process, which I totally understood. On the contrary, Benjamin’s LA Dance Project is, although they have diverse range or repertoire, still small in scale as a company. For this reason, I could work more closely with the dancers and staff that enabled me to go further and experiment more in the piece. To be very honest, I didn’t expect a good response from audience in the Châtlet. Surprisingly, however, the Paris audience quite openly accepted and appreciated my piece. I was impressed by their open-mindedness.

Can you name some of your influence or mentors, colleagues?

HU: There are too many names to list up here.

What are your plans for the future, and dreams?

HU: From last year, I have started making choreography devoid of human body. For me, human bodies are not the only elements for choreographic consideration. In fact, I want to really challenge choreographing anything with “movement,” and develop a dance piece with various elements. One of my dreams now is to choreograph water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Kim: on choreography, residencies and intuition

What kinds of projects have you been working on recently?
 
I began a new work during a residency at The MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, New Hampshire) last fall.  I just started creating content loosely, on my own body, without any set parameters.  I found that I was still thinking a lot about a piece I made in 2007, “Cult,” a duet for myself and another woman, that still had a lot to offer.  I never want to name the “aboutness” of a dance because I don’t believe that’s what the form has to offer, but there is something about a fucked-up relationship between two women who have a relationship that’s too intimate, in that work.  I wanted to return to that land because I knew there was more to mine. 

I knew I didn’t want to make a solo, so I held an audition to find performers.  This was a strange move for me, if only evident to myself.  I think it’s not the downtown dance way of doing things, but I was really interested in seeing how the field had changed, in finding some gems without established reputations.  I was interested in being very dry and pragmatic with that part of the process.

Next came a residency in the spring at Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC), which was a compact and intense work period with the three women I hired.  So, whatever I had started conceptually at MacDowell had snapped to in the form of a trio.  I’ve taken note that the way I work with myself is utterly divorced from the way I work with other performers, so in that sense, there’s still this other battery of ‘stuff’ that I’m only comfortable putting on myself for now.  I’m not sure where that material goes just yet.
 
Two weeks after the BAC residency I flew out to the Bay Area to be in residence at Djerassi Djerassi is situated on a mountain on a former cattle ranch in the Bay Area, though incredibly secluded and remote.  It seduces you into thinking you have the world to yourself.  That was conducive to making my art.
 
I was alone again so I continued to make material intuitively, working with a discrete set of objects as content instigators:  bed, mirrors, wine glasses and nylons (on legs and to cover the face) to build the choreography.  I responded to these objects as talismans as I moved through an improvisational score based on incanting.
 
What do you say about the themes you have been working on during the past year? 
 
I’m finally acknowledging to myself that I am fundamentally interested in women: women’s bodies in the form of dance.  Women are mysterious to me, maybe at their most compelling in relationship to each other.  I’m just drawn to strange and powerful and frightening relationships between women.  There are a slew of films that come to mind as touchstones in their treatments of strange relationships between women: “3 Women,” “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” Breillat’s “Bluebeard,” “Mulholland Drive.”
 
I’m also drawn to the nature of ritual–what it means to enact certain rites, to supplicate, to reveal something intimate that’s not intended for anyone else’s eyes. 
 
You are a conceptual choreographer, how did your thinking shift, in relation to your artistic development, how about your identity?
 
I’ve always understood, fundamentally, for me, that dances hang on form.  But as I grow older and my eye gets sharper, I actually put that more and more into practice as opposed to getting hung up on any specific content, or getting really militant about execution.  It’s all about proportion with the fundamental elements of choreography:  time, space and bodies.  And how I organize these things with and against one another, undermine the content, etc.  I value ideas first and foremost, and then rigor in the execution of those ideas.  I am not engaged with issues about idealized and beautiful bodies in dance.
 
Name your most important influences in the dance field?  How about other influences, and mentors?
 
When I was 19 or 20 I saw Pina Bausch’s work for the first time at BAM.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but it changed my life.  My sense of what was possible in dance and art just exploded in magnitude.  Merce CunninghamRoseAnne SpradlinTere O’Connor.  Visual art, fashion, music, literature.  Always film.
 
I don’t know if I rely so heavily on what I see in dance.  What seems to be more instructive and inspiring for me is to see how artists in other forms solve problems relative to their forms.

 

What visions do you have for the future, how do you see other activities (your board work and writing) in relation to your choreographic practice?
 
I am continuing to work on this new trio within the framework of two additional residencies in NYC (I’m not at liberty to say what they are at this time) that will take place over the next two years.  They are completely process-oriented, however, there will be showings.
 
As much as I resist it, writing about what I’m doing can help clarify to myself what I’m doing.  I can actually learn something.  Writing about making dances tortures me, but I secretly enjoy the torture, too, because it is a concomitant, compositional act to choreographing.  You organize information and you try to make the best choices to express what you want.  It makes me a better thinker, and hence, a better artist.
 
I’m no longer on the board of DTW since it’s now NYLA and a completely different organization altogether.  I’ve never had a feel for any kind of activity that can become the least bit bureaucratic.  I can be an insanely stubborn purist, so what feeds my choreography is entirely separate from any organizational activity.
 
Do you want to say something about the NYC dance scene?

It’s getting interesting.
 

Talk with Isira Makuloluwe (molecular biologist – come- choreographer)

Isira Makuloluwe is a choreographer living and working in London. He has  just finished a work called 1951 to the music of Czek ’60’s Avant-Garde composer Miloslav Istvan’s 1951 String Quartet for ProART Dance Company. It premiered on 27th July 2012. His first work to pre-existing ‘classical’ music and not made by his long-term composer Jennifer McConachie, it was a new page in the choreographer’s career, entering a phase where the interpretation of music through its theoretical construction and making movement from it has become of great importance to him. The fine line between choreographing to music and re-writing the music (without changing it) via the dancing body has become his focus.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Isira, please, do not laugh; I’m wearing my glasses when I type. Tell me, how can a Molecular Biologist be a choreographer? It taught you awareness. What else? You have been choreographing since 2000, and before that you studied dance with various great dance masters in Europe and United States. Manola Asensio, William Louther, then you finished your studies at Alvin Ailey American Dance Center?

Isira: Don’t worry about the glasses, they suit you and I’m astigmatic!
I actually loved dance since I was a child, listening to music and making up complex (at least I thought so at the time!) group choreographies. I was mainly mad about hip-hop. Movement originality also became one of my obsessions. My ballet teacher is married to my physics teacher and he was the one who roped me into dance. I was told that I was always talking about dance at school and therefore should pursue it – to the disdain of my Sri Lankan immigrant parents. There are many metaphors between molecular biology and dance – spirals, DNA, life and all of those wonderful things that have little to do with my choreographic work. I got a good sense of numeracy from laboratory work; an understanding of the scientific method and writing and the rest of the time was quite bored. I should have studied Asian languages, anthropology or the fine arts – where I belong. But at that time in England, it was all about ‘following your father’s footsteps’ so I pretended I wanted to be a doctor like him until one day I woke up dancing! Manola Asensio gave me a lot of information that was transmitted to her by Rudolph Nureyev (in particular the essence of the Bournonville Classical Technique that he got from Eric Brun). William Louther got me a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey School. He secretly believed in me over his majority black students (in front of whom he was all black power) since I worked harder than everybody in class (mainly because I had to catch up so much) and stayed behind to question him endlessly. He was a genius, sad, dejected and lonely. First black soloist of Martha Graham, and co-founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – though many in the organisation would deny it now. (If ever they do – ask them who made ‘Hermit Songs’ for Alvin Ailey and co-created Blues Suite with Dudley Williams as a favour to fill an evening for the emerging Mr Ailey – it was Bill Louther).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We dance artists are quite serious people. It is all about the human content, I guess. The body is so social, cultural, affectionate, natural and unnatural at the same time. Your company name Dancetheatremedia describes it to me in a way that dance, theatre and performance are mediating something with real potential between human behaviour and movement. The body is a mediating device, as far as I think of it.  How would you explain it?

Isira: I agree. Nowadays I feel that conventional dance doesn’t have a singular place as before and we have to mix media and develop a new form of dance or theatre art in order to survive culturally. No credible state funding body has any decent money for the arts and even less for dance, so why waste time making small dance pieces when the arts community has so much more to share with us and we with them? Risky maybe, but we need to take risks to make a better and more stable world. With this reasoning, the performing arts are a fatal frontier for the closed-minded still working within the field. There is also so much to do in the area of humanitarian work, education, and corporate entrepreneurship. In Dance or moreover in choreography there are good and bad models for leadership and management. Take the good ones (not necessarily the ones making the most money) and apply them in business. This is one form of mediation. The body has been a form of mediation since prostitution was part of political negotiation! Mediation through movement is an interesting concept. Are also we talking about dance and movement’s use in therapy?

THEORIES

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I also know that you have investigated concepts of reality, alterity and transformation, as well as memory in your works. Then, you have this interest in the language, communication and in games. Tell me about the games in your works? Games are abstractions. It feels that in some sense it is possible to manipulate your viewers, or to convey your perception of the world with your works?

Isira: I love sports like Track and Field, Rugby, Tennis, Soccer, Cricket, among others. Transforming or using games’ rules as a set of choreographic codes was something I worked on in the last decade. TOUCH was born from these ideas in 2007. Language (including dance) is ultimately our only weapon against ignorance and lack of understanding. The more languages we know the better. I speak a number of languages and it still freaks me out when I can’t understand a language in a far off land like China or India. Nonetheless, if you listen closely and long enough, intonations and body gestures can give away a language’s secrets and you can avoid a lot of trouble that way! Spoken words don’t exist without tones or a musical and physical expression of them.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much do you think choreography also means theoretical designs, or a link to concepts? What is your favourite shape, or colour, or puzzle that organizes your choreographies? Games have space and bodies?

Isira: I’m not sure what you mean about theoretical designs. I have MY OWN THEORIES for making MY OWN DANCES but I would never teach them to anyone else as an absolute truth. I’m one of those people who fail to understand the purpose of MA’s or BA’s in choreography since the term in itself dares to convince students (falsely) that what they learn in some universities is HOW to choreograph. Such a personal, beautifully secret, intimate thing cannot be theorized or taught. But if someone needs to make money from that lie, so be it! I’m not against PhD’s in the analysis of practice as a reason to summarize one’s methods and ideas. But nothing more than that. Answering this question reminds me of the numerous books circulating about famous choreographers with photocopied scribbles and sketches that only they can understand. I do find it a bit ridiculous how we deify choreographers when only their works hold some degree of insight into who they are. And in any case isn’t it more interesting to know the dancers who dance their works? I usually admired them more than choreographers – all those apart from William Forsythe who also is an amazing dancer. My favourite colours (at the moment) are aubergine or pink (but it changes with the year). My favourite shape is spiral, and my favourite puzzle is the unlocking of my childhood memories in my native Sri Lanka.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your idea of where your choreographic practice is at the moment?

Isira: It has shifted a lot since I started making dance. My choreographies are completely influenced by my work as a teacher. Since beginning teaching five years ago I think more about composition and musicality than specific ‘ideas’ that may attract an audience. Like a composer of music, I try to find melodies and asymmetries that character the general harmonics and colour of a new piece. A dancer (usually my wife who is also a vocalist and pianist) helps me a great deal in this research in the studio. I like musical terms since they define dance and how to dance my choreographies. Afterwards, I start by filming a short maquette, which becomes a bigger body of work. The editing process of the dance-video clip becomes important in making choices for the actual work- camera angles, cuts and musical choices as made here.

My practice is also shaped by the global economy and my refusal to deliver a recognizable brand with commercial interest. I can further answer this question by the following observations since describing my work past and present is for the critics and less interesting that showing it to you live!

In recent years I have seen a lot of branding occurring to please promoters and producers (who are the ultimate gate-keepers) and this has led to mediocrity infiltrating the elite ranks of choreography. It has increasingly become a mundane and superficial art form whereas not only a few years ago it was a diverse and engaging one. I feel that nowadays one repeats a ‘winning formula’ that ‘sells tickets’ instead of pushing boundaries. We prefer to tour companies of dead choreographers like Pina Bausch or Merce Cunningham (which fills theatres for nostalgia sake) than to invest in young and talented choreographers. Dance therefore seems to have moved to the graveyard lately. Are we so afraid to look into the unknown and search for the talented unknown as opposed to the tried and tested (which usually means deceased). In that case we must question what is art all over again.

For me, the last great choreographer who irreversibly changed our perception is William Forsythe, who radically changed ballet and contemporary dance while leaving an indelible influence on the art world in general- fortunately he’s still alive! But why no one aspires to reach those heights cannot simply be blamed on the economy- there are few examples of pioneering leadership in our field as most dive for safety in career positions instead of living out their obligations as ARTISTS – and that means taking risks to advance the art of dance.

Also, the ‘conceptual dance’ or ‘non-dance’ movement of the French from 2000-today, while bringing about a radical ‘new way’ of thinking about dance (all stolen blatantly from 1960’s Judson Church and performance art from the US and UK) has made a joke of the art form and made quality dance education almost redundant in Europe. It has become more important to create dancers without technique but cultivate interesting ‘personalities’ in the most important schools. The basics are no longer a priority; hence the dancer therefore graduates neither as an actor nor as a dancer. Who would want to hire a 20-year-old dancer with no technique or experience but possessing an interesting ‘personality’ is beyond me. My company mainly hires dancers over 30 as a rule with strong technique and human baggage. There are exceptions to this rule but they are exceptional human beings at a young age.

I continue to make work in the hope that its singularity will not diminish its market value under the present aesthetic and political conditions imposed by the gatekeepers.  Hence, I try my best to keep making work that interests me, listen to my instincts, not satisfy trends unless I like them, and compose dance with discipline and love for dance and the dancer. I can’t do more than that.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You teach youngsters, and are concerned about what is going on in today’s society, how would you describe this connection?

Isira: The young are the future and yet most countries put them in programmed boxes that limit their creative potential and thus their ability to CHOOSE their direction in life. This added to physical frustrations coming from lack of sports in education or moreover dance in education has (in my opinion) been a factor in the increase of delinquency and religious indoctrination of kids via fundamentalist groups and child crime organisations. In Sri Lanka we have all this nature yet the kids are educated to be big money-makers (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc) without any harmony or understanding of the blessing that our natural environment provides. The system teaches them, like in India to copy Western models, proven failures, for growth, position in society via clichéd careers, and acquisition of wealth without consideration for the poor. I’m slowly working towards a dance-based program to mobilise children to achieve this harmony via dance and the practice of ecological study and maintenance. Hopefully this will make better and more conscientious students and graduates in Sri Lanka.

LABILE

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I remember the solo Labile that you created for Finnish ballet principal dancer Minna Tervamäki. The solo for Minna premiered at the Finnish National Opera’s Alminsali on 9 December 2005. It was based on Minna’s own experiences from surviving the Tsunami in Thailand’s Khao Lak, in December 2004. You really wanted to translate her experiences of this trauma and event into an intimate choreographic work. The work was reviewed well in Finland, and it was also performed in 2006 at Monaco Dance Forum. You met at the Kuopio International Dance Festival. This is the same festival, where you won the prize for choreography with your French company, VIVID.danse in 2003.

I remember this huge pink plastic bag of bubble wrap that was on stage and Minna just was inside of it, coming out in an astonishing way. It was almost as if an alien was being born, the audience was not sure what was going to happen. And, after that the movements were so different, such virtuosity, with mathematical exactitude. The image was of total vulnerability despite the technicity of the dancing.

 

Isira: The title of the piece was ‘Labile’. Here are the definitions of the word: In chemical and physical terms: labile (adjective) readily undergoing change or breakdown; and in human terms: liable to change; unbalanced or adaptable; ‘an emotionally labile person’-being or thrown out of equilibrium (or balance).

The bubble-wrapped package delivered onstage was a fragile object: the pre-packaged ballerina who then explodes into action despite the pain, fatigue or emotional challenger. Her bursting open from it was a sort of escape from the false sense of protection and perfect image that the Opera House often propagates. My collaboration with Minna was in order to question the falsehood of the Opera Ballet Company per se, where one cannot question or show feelings, as if nothing happens in one’s life.A slave to the dance, slave to the politics of a big house like National Opera Ballet and slave to the choreographic system (evoked recently as a caricature in ’Black Swan’). I was interested in Minna the ’pretty ballerina’ and all the expectations that surrounded her. Her technique was perfect and I simply wanted to challenge it through my movement style like any choreographer would when faced with such a perfect athletic and dancing specimen as she.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: And, on the soundtrack Minna was repeating ’I’m almost there, but not quite yet’. The struggle of ballet-dancer with her mathematical precision and ideal for perfection of movements and the perfect image of the body.

Isira: I noticed she was often saying ’eiku’ in the studio (among other things). In Finnish this means ’no’. It was as if someone was telling her that whatever she was doing was never good enough. I found it amusing and used it as a backdrop for highly technical variations. How would it affect her psychologically? How does the ’negative’ push a dancer to excel? And why the hell do we need such negative thinking in ballet to achieve results? This was what I wanted to question. I felt the title embodied the female dancer’s inner strength and adaptability to manifest other realities than her own at that time – which in Minna’s case was having survived the 2004 Tsunami and returning to work as if all was OK.

{Photos:Dancetheatremedia Limited}

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Jan-Peter Kaiku, a critic from Helsinki-based Hufvudstadsbladet wrote in 11/12/2005 about LABILE. The review speaks about how we received the work. What I find so intriguing is that he compares you to William Forsythe. This does not happen so often. Kaiku wrote:

The solo handled a theme of performance in an improvisational and jagged way. Phrases are repeated only to be quickly turned on their heads. The piece’s minimalism, changing dynamics and powerful pointe work are reminiscent of William Forsythe’s reforms in classical ballet. The plastic packaging, the choice of music and the text provide humorous perspectives to the portrait of a dancer considering her many self-images and the scene situation. These questions create movement and change.

Isira: Any comparison to Forsythe is a great complement though my movement style is very different. I think the critic was comparing the sense of risk and deconstruction of theoretical ideas that perhaps the great man also deals with.

COLLABORATIONS AND IDENTITY

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your collaboration with other designers, which is of course so close to my own approach. Media?

Isira: I’m interested in all forms of multi-media though the goal is to purify and often throw everything out. More recently I’ve been more interested on set and lighting design for dance. The key for me is in the music and lighting. Often media and sets can upstage the dance and one loses a sense of meaning. If someone applauds the set and says nothing about the piece or its message, I have failed. Both have to work in harmony and the choreography should still remain the principal object of desire. Often setdesigners forget this.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I love Jennifer McConachie’s music; she is a female composer working on diverse forms. You have collaborated since 2003.

Isira:  Jennifer is a genius. What I like about Jennifer’s work isthat she can easily cross from digital composition to acoustic-classical. It’s rare these days. She is Scottish but lives in Norway. I always insist on ‘open Nordic skies and changing light’ in her music. It opposes the energy and detail of my choreography,leaving breathing space for the dancers to make the piece their own and colour the dance. Recently I also collaborated with François Caffenne for Locked in Vertical, made for Phoenix Dance Theatre (Leeds. UK). This was also the beginning of a new and fruitful relationship between choreographer and composer.  Both know each other. My team is close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Harrys Picot is your lighting designer. Tell me more how you work together?

Isira: Harrys is also a long-time collaborator. His ability to get under the skin of any choreographer and tailor the lights, transitions and effects to their needs is a unique skill. When we met, he was chief lighting designer of the CNDC d’Angers in the 90’s and 2000’s, he adapted to many guest choreographers. I was astonished with his flexibility. After No Place Like Home for the Geneva Ballet in 2008, he was kept on by the Ballet to continue to make the lights for some future works, all due to his talent and flexibility.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are Sri Lankan, and lived in Europe most of your life, in London, and also few years in Paris, recently moved back to London? Are you a World-citizen or something else? How would you describeyour identity?

Isira: Interesting question and one that I ask myself almost daily. I guess you can call me a world citizen. But moreover I am a world dance citizen. Dance made me learn languages and engage in differentcommunities. Through dance I met my wife. If I had stopped dancing at any time my life would have been very, very different. I was born in Sri Lanka and each day a part of me yearns for the sounds and smells of my country. The smiles of the people are what I miss the most. Europe and the UK occupy a large part of me.  Europe is so diverse and yet so small. It’s a maze and still has the imprint of the World War II and Communism. I’m not astonished all these events happened; I see the need for nations to have borders and identities. Everything in European history has been moving toward union (or occupation in other words) but it always seems to fail. Let’s see what happens next!

(Isira Makuloluwe’s website: Dance Theatre Media)

(Isira Makuloluwe talks about his choreography Locked in Vertical)

Fashioning ‘eco’ concepts

If fashion is now promoted with both ecological values and celebrity cultures, a question of who is wearing what and whose designs, includes a new kind of conceptual thinking.  Historically, fashion is the clothes that we are wearing. Then, a questions of social class plays an important role, since we are making the clothes our own by wearing them. Traditionally, women have been thought to be the ideal consumers of fashion, so fashion magazines have also created platforms where to discuss and make fashion as part of the women’s lives. In the circulation of fashion, clothes become fashionable again when the trends come back as new combination, and also next to new concepts and ideas. The historical, futuristic, and the near-past fashion are re-produced together with popular cultural icons. The cultural references of fashion keep also changing so that they are able to maintain the ‘hype’ status attached to classical designs. New technologies used in the fabrics, as well as green values are  important factors, which also reflect the moment. More importantly, ecological aspects that promote global awareness and respect the local traditions are now a necessity.

When in previous decades, the fashion products (and other products) did not take into consideration the ecological dimension of production, today’s processes are very different. The economics behind the change is pricing, as the prices in materials have been rising. Then, today’s consumers cannot be entirely responsible for paying the high cost, so the companies and designers have to be able to reduce the amount in production, and reconsider the materials, which they use.

When we are making our choices as consumers of fashion, more important to us than who is showing up in the shows is to be a conscious consumer. We should be asking, what is the ecological dimension behind the clothes that we buy. In addition, a cultural and geographical referent can become a conscious factor in our decision making; when in the making of the products this means emphasizing the local craftsmanship. One example of this type of local fashioning is a collective Contept Korea that has utilized an idea of Korean fashion culture in their global marketing. Designers who are participating in the collective aim at making Korean cultural image and national competitiveness as their goal. The Korean fashion, which has been promoted overseas has been sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture. With that governmental aspect, Concept Korea has been looking for new forums to promote Korean fashion and culture together, and to interact with new technologies. I participated in their showing in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York in February 2011.

One of the designers Lie Sang Bong (based in Paris), has been drawing inspiration from Korean folk painting, from the black and white graphic designs which have drops of bright color like red in them. He has also created fashion sculpture and a bauhaus-architecture inspired collection, which both show sculptural dimensionality in clothing. Then, a Korean woman designer Doho impresses with work that has a feminine and flowy touch (see picture from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February 2011). Concept Korea perhaps comes as a continuation of the collective creativity that started with Seoul being the World Design Capital in 2010.

In today’s economical climate, the design world is thinking alternative solutions. When European countries struggle with economical difficulties, a good news could be that the countries are re-thinking the carbon limits in the production processes.  Only a few decades ago, environmental problems were thought to be part of the policy making of the governments. Now the industrial processes are considering the environmental questions as part of their designing of products.

Designer Lie Sang Bong with his crew at NY fashion week.

Asian art markets

Does copycatting rule the Asian markets, where much of the world’s small technological innovation is located? Mobile-phone industries, small pieces in massive volume are centrally part of the future of the east.  What I find problematic in America is that the ‘westerner’ thinks we have invented it all. Today’s Asia is very creative, the arts are sensationally inventive, international, and not hostile at all in terms of who gets to participate. But, is there still a question of freedom of speech (what one is allowed to say and where) stirring in the air? Perhaps societal problems can build a frame for creation, meaning that when one comes from the ‘margins’ the experiences enhance new creativity? Artists and designers have to make it work and gain new presence in the world? All good signs. This reminds me of Finland too. A small nation started striving to get visibility with its original designs approximately hundred years ago. Design and fashion have become visible in almost every corner of the bigger cities in Asia, then the performing arts are moving forward. The traditions are remarkably present in design, and there seems to be value towards local traditions also in the new works of art. Yet, impacts of globalism are present; slums in the city corners and prostitution. The discussion about the trafficking of people has become loud.