Takao Kawaguchi : An Interview with renowned Contemporary Dance Artist from Tokyo

Interview by Nganthoi Lourembam *

Takao Kawaguguchi
Takao Kawaguguchi

Renowned contemporary dance artist from Tokyo, Takao Kawaguchi who had recently visited Manipur to perform in a dance rendezvous organised by Nachom Arts of Contemporary Movement (NACM) spoke about his dancing experience in contemporary style with The contemporary dancer is delighted to see the hand movement of Manipuri Jagoi. Born on September 16, 1962 at Saga, Japan, Takao also spoke about the Japanese traditional dance and his various dance performances.

E-pao: Did you always have interest in contemporary dance since your childhood?
Takao: When I was a child I didn't have any particular interests but I liked theatre. I used to perform plays in kindergarten and school. I was also a choir conductor. When I was twelve years old I started playing volleyball game.

E-pao: Since when did you start dancing?
Takao: I had spent one year in United State as an exchange student in high school during 1980-1981. There, I was doing sports at the same time I was involved in choir and high school musical wherein I learnt tap dancing. I moved to Tokyo and studied Spanish literature in Tokyo University in 1982. Since then I have been involved in theatre. I started dancing in 1990.

E-pao: Did you attend any dance class?
Takao: I didn't really join a class. I started working with dancers who have been dancing since their childhood. I became friends with them and joined them in contemporary dancing.

E-pao: Which style of contemporary dance you do?
Takao: It's western style of contemporary dance.

E-pao: How has been the journey of your dancing? Did you get to perform in the western countries?
Takao: I joined a multimedia performance company called 'Dumb Type' based in Kyoto in 1996. The last performance I did was in 2008. The dance was more of multimedia effect using videos, computer's music, and special effects, putting them together with performance on stage. That was an important part of my career. Through Dumb Type I got the chance to perform internationally.

E-pao: Please tell us about your solo performance in Manipur, 'Good Luck'.
Takao: 'Good Luck' is a pure performance. I have been performing 'Good Luck' at various places across the world since 25 years. It is based on a three minute long imaginary film which is filled with emotions which focuses on feelings and emotions rather than dance techniques.

E-pao: How would you describe your contemporary dance?
Takao: It's very difficult to describe it. I don't follow any techniques to describe. In the beginning as I have been playing volleyball which requires movements such as jumping, running and rolling around. This movement helped me a lot in controlling my body and relaxing my mind. Since dancing requires movements like those in volleyball and thus the two forms are related to each other.

E-pao: Would you like to share any other dance projects with us?
Takao: In the recent years, I have performed a dance related to 'Butoh'. It started in 1960 in Japan. They dance with painting their whole body in white colour and most often they shave heads. They wear exotic costumes and they defy the existing dance techniques, especially the western dance technique. When we think about 'dance' we think the dancers are healthy and strong but Butoh went the opposite side. They represent death, sickness, weakness, ageing, very peculiar and hypothetic.

Japan was having economic growth that time, everything was modernised and industrialised. Defying them in the background Butoh explored the other glossy modern life which is not bright and colourful, beauty, healthy, etc. For the last three years I have been doing performances related to them. But I don't have any experience of Butoh and I cannot call myself a Butoh dancer. I did a piece call, 'About Kazuo ohno.'

There are two founders of 'About Kazuo ohno,' one of them is the founder of Butoh. He died in 2010 at the age of 103. He danced till his last very year. He was sitting in a wheelchair. He was regarded as the great master of Butoh. And I am doing a performance about him.

Takao Kawaguguchi performing at MFDC, Imphal on 5 June 2015
Takao Kawaguguchi performing at MFDC, Imphal on 5 June 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

E-pao: And how can you relate your dance with Butoh?
Takao: Contemporary dance, for me, is an alternative way to look at questioning the existing values and put something in other contexts. What I do is I copy the dance form of 'Kazuo ohno' from the old archived videos of the 70s. I bought video recording of his dance and imitate the movements. What does copy mean in modern art or contemporary art? It means a replica. I question those things in my dance. I dance to propose those questions. There are lot of questions that the audience are invited to think about.

E-pao: What brought you here in Manipur?
Takao: I got an invitation from local dance artist, Surjit Nongmeikapam and Japan foundation. I also had been interested in coming to India. I was in India for just few days in 2003 in Delhi to attend a dance festival. I was inspired to come back and explore India more. Japan foundation and Surjit called me so I am here.

E-pao: What did you perform in that dance festival?
Takao: I performed a fifteen minute solo piece called 'Night Colour'.

E-pao: How do you find Manipur?
Takao: I liked it very much here. It's a very beautiful place. I liked the weather I think it is similar to my hometown. But the culture or the atmosphere is very different. Every day I am amazed to see the people here. Wonderful food, food is great. Our chef has been cooking with mild spices.

E-pao: Do you not like spicy food?
Takao: I like it. I can take it to a certain extend. I am alright with spices. But I can't have really spicy food because in Japan we do not have chilly culture.

E-pao: Do you see any connection between Manipuri and Japanese?
E-pao: I know that Japan army had attacked Imphal and there was a fierce battle between British army and Japanese army. Lots of people died. We visited the memorial and unfortunately I don't know much. I am not very much informed what these people did or how there was a connection with the local people. And I feel very sorry about the attack in which many lives have been lost.

E-pao: Can you compare Manipuri dance with Japanese traditional dance?
Takao: Manipuri dance movement are very soft and mild and quite wavy. Generalisation is difficult but I find Japanese traditional dance is different and not so wavy. Japanese dance is also of hand dance but it is more of pantomime and mimicking. I don't know if the hand movement of Manipuri Jagoi represent any meaning.

E-pao: They do?
Takao: In Japanese dance as well, the hand movement depicts meaning. So we can say they (Manipuri Jagoi and Japanese traditional dance) resemble each other in that sense.

E-pao: Like you relate your dance with Butoh, can you relate Manipuri dance in your dance form?
Takao: Not in one day (he laughs). Because I haven't really studied any of these dance. If I do anything influenced by Manipuri dance without knowing about the dance and that's kind of mimicking. I don't intend to copy others dance but I do like the music Pena, the sound is very nice. There is Pena music in the collaborative dance performance.

E-pao: According to you where does Manipur stand in the field of contemporary dance?
Takao: I am really impressed with what Surjit is doing, trying to promote contemporary art in contemporary culture. He is surrounded by a very talented staffs and collaborators. The participants of the workshop are most in their twenties and they are really willing to learn. So I am sure that they will keep learning and under direction of Surjit they can create some very interesting piece. They already are touring this summer in Europe. That's great isn't it? I am sure Surjit's work will have great impact in future. They already are booking more and more performances in Europe. NACM is already working on it.

That's a fantastic thing for a city of many people. And this organisation really is starting to work in motion. This will have good development, good progress in whatever they are doing. I hope more artists would come from wherever end to work with the team and I am sure they will have a good reach and could present India in contemporary dance in the world. Right now the presence of Asia is getting stronger and stronger.

E-pao: While your stay in Imphal did you find any difficulty or pressure from the people of Manipur?
Takao: No. I haven't faced any conflicts. I haven't got time to go out much.

E-pao: Which are the places you have visited in Manipur?
Takao: I have been to Moirang. I have seen the Loktak Lake. I also went to Kangla, Ima Market and then back to studio. We are working a lot. So I haven't had too much time for sightseeing apart from the mentioned places.

E-pao: How are the people of Manipur?
Takao: They are very friendly and very nice although the only thing which scares me is the traffic on the street. It's just amazing crisscross cars and people which we don't have in Japan. Japan is a country that we really like to set rule and follow so that if there is any derailment from the road we get nervous.

E-pao: What will you take from Manipur when you leave?
Takao: A memory most from the workshop working with young people. I have had lot of fun with them. I am learning from them. That memory is very precious for me.

See a Photo Gallery on 'Dance rendezvous with Takao Kawaguchi' :: Part 1 and 'Dance rendezvous with Takao Kawaguchi' :: Part 2

* Nganthoi Lourembam contributes regularly for
This article was posted on June 13, 2015.

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