ArtPower Talks Dance and Kota Yamazaki

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Photo Courtesy of the Artist

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I like dance; I do. I just wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “dance person.” I can hold my own in conversations about literature and film and music, but dance particular has always been a bit outside my scope.

For me, dance exemplifies a form of abstract expressionism that I struggle to fully grasp, constantly finding myself caught up in the complex interplay between explicit artistic direction and the implicit meanings perceived by the audience. While the dancers may have an image in their heads about what they’re trying to portray, it’s often difficult for me to find the meanings of their movements and what exactly I should take away from the experience.

In order to enhance my understanding of this art form, I sought out ArtPower’s Executive Director Jordan Peimer and Associate Director of Artistic Planning and Education Molly Clark to hear their thoughts on dance and the upcoming production of Kota Yamaki/Fluid Hug-Hug’s OQ.



CURTIS: It’s really interesting for me, coming from the perspective of not understanding dance a whole lot. How do you choose the different performers that come through ArtPower? I know there’s a lot of films and dances and musicians. How is that done?

JORDAN: I think we try to break down what we’re doing into different series and then look at individual ideas within the series. So, sometimes we’re looking for something very, very specific. Sometimes there’s an actual idea that hasn’t happened this season. We’re looking at contemporary use of say string instruments. With this series in particular I wanted to look at contemporary international choreographers who hadn’t been seen in the San Diego area. I think none of them have been seen in the California area.

CURTIS: So the goal, this particular project this particular year?

JORDAN: Within this particular season, the fifteen-sixteen season, looking at dance companies to choose dance companies that would introduce important international voices.

I think we also look at the needs of the campus communities.

– Molly Clark

CURTIS: How do you choose the theme for each project?

JORDAN: We look at contemporary issues, what different artists are doing. In this case it was just looking at the San Diego area and the dance that was happening around the San Diego area last year and trying to find what would actually enrich the cultural community.

MOLLY: I think we also look at the needs of the campus communities. So there may be a series where we’ve chosen to present artists that reflect a certain demographic on campus that might be underrepresented or that they are doing projects that are perhaps advocating on behalf of or at least sharing the experience of students on campus, like whether that would be LGBT or again like representing a certain demographic of students that may not have a voice in sort of day to day life here.

And I think sort of the case of Haung Yi and Kuka, we were sort of interested in bringing them because they would do work with the engineering students. So that was the first dance company that we had on campus.

CURTIS: So how did you find Kota Yamazaki?

JORDAN: So I do a lot of work with the Japan Foundation.

CURTIS: What is that?

JORDAN: So that is an interesting question – interesting to define. They are not a governmental, organization, but they are funded by the Japanese government to promote Japanese culture around the world. And every year they have a grant, which is called Performing Arts Japan, which is meant to disperse Japanese art throughout the United States and Canada.

Two years ago I was on a panel and Kota had applied for this collaborative project with this surreal architecture firm. I was really captivated by the video that I saw and the drawings from the architecture company. So that’s how I first heard about it and then last Winter, maybe late last Autumn, the national dance project announced their projects for the year. They were going to be supporting the touring of this project and it just seemed like with the National Dance Project backing behind it, it would be a really good opportunity for us to bring the work.

He never repeats the same style of work twice.

– Jordan Peimer

The thing about the Fluid Hug-Hug company is that it incorporates so many styles and it’s not as though it’s monolithic classical dance of just one form. You know they bring little tastes of classical dance, but it’ll be mixed in very heavily with contemporary dance and with hip hop and reggae dance hall. I think that it was a great opportunity to have this sort of multi-pronged dance experience.

CURTIS: I like that! Multi-pronged. I was looking online and I was surprised by the diversity I saw under the same company name. 

JORDAN: He never repeats the same style of work twice. So a performance one year or one time, one performance from him will look very different from another performance. Part of it are the dancers that he brings to the project. He comes up with a specific mix in his mind that he wants to present.

CURTIS: Do either of you have a dance background? Or anything to that extent?

JORDAN: Not really. I don’t think anyone of us do. You do Zumba [indicating to Molly].

MOLLY: I mean, I have been in a dance show before. Hip hop dance. But not anything that would… Jordan is really the dance expert on staff and I think has had the most experience seeing dance and you were involved with a dance company on the board level, correct?

CURTIS: Do you know anything about this particular piece, “OQ,” which the phonetic japanese for pallace, correct? What is there to be said about this particular piece?

JORDAN: I know Kota, his impetus for making the work, were these poetry rituals that happen in Japanese palaces. And like most classical art forms in Japan, they’re highly, highly ritualized. And so this I think was an opportunity for him to look at both the rituals from the past in the society he grew up in and contemporary rituals in the United States. I couldn’t tell you what those rituals are, but I think what he wanted to look at was to be in to compare and contrast the different cultures that he lives in and with the group of dancers he’s assembled.

Photo Courtesy of the Artist

Photo Courtesy of the Artist

The different kind of skills that represent the different demographics of New York City where he’s been working for I dunno how many years… a dozen years? Twenty years?

CURTIS: So all of the dancers are different ethnic groups? Different upbringing?

JORDAN: Yah. I believe. I don’t know that they all are, but many of them are.

CURTIS: And different styles?

JORDAN: Yes, many different styles. From high modern to hip hop. You know people who are really deeply grounded in different stylistic schools. There are different techniques within modern dance from klein technique to contraction and release. It’s the way people move and the way they think about their bodies. I think what he really wants to do with the piece is create this meeting around this almost marketplace of ideas even more than a palace. I think the idea of a palace is… he’s elevating ritual, he’s elevating culture.

Someone once said to me, you don’t look at a flower and ask what does the flower mean. You just look the flower and appreciate that it’s a pretty flower. And that’s to me the best way to look at dance. 

CURTIS: Because everyone has a different background and everyone comes from different styles and histories, does that make it chaotic when you put it onto a stage?

JORDAN: That’s the choreographer’s job — it’s to make it not chaotic. To find a way through the chaos. 

The choreographer’s job is to create a path and unify it into a whole. I think one thing, for those of us who don’t have backgrounds in dance, when we go to see movement we never quite know what we’re looking at. Dance people look with very different eyes. For those of us who aren’t schooled in it, it often feels really tough to break down the barriers, to know how to look, to feel like our opinions matter. What does this gesture mean? 

Someone once said to me, “you don’t look at a flower and ask what does the flower mean. You just look the flower and appreciate that it’s a pretty flower.” And that’s to me the best way to look at dance. 


Kota Yamazaki’s production of OQ will be tomorrow night, 8PM, in Mandeville Auditorium.

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