“There’s a quality to the dance that can be very much in the moment. You try not to hide the feeling inside you when you dance.”
– Shintaro Oue
Last seen at the Festival in 2014, Japanese choreographer Shintaro Oue will be performing 談ス (Dan-su) at the Festival this year. Shintaro has called Dan-su both a dance and a ‘talk’, and his work explores the unknown and unique human dynamics between people. We chat with him to find out more about his take on the creative process, conversation, and contact improvisation.
Photo by Matron
Hi Shintaro, as a dancer, you don’t like to dance solo; you enjoy dancing with people. Why is that so?
For me, dance is communication. I admire people who can dance solo, but I need that contact with people. Whoever I work with, I have to share. I have to spend time with them outside of the studio, to chat or have a drink. Even if I’m in the role of a choreographer, I don’t call my collaborators “my dancers”, because we are friends. I am not a boss.
Photo by Matron
What have you learnt about yourself as a dancer and choreographer?
In many dance performances, the dancers’ movements are dictated by the music. For example, in ballet, you may have to lift and hold a person for three counts because the music says so. For me, I realised this way of dancing is not something I can identify with. I admire music but I’ve always had an issue dancing to music, because it seemed that people only remembered the music (laughs).
I started working with contact improvisation and it gave me a different possibility. Contact improvisation is a tool to communicate. It wasn’t created as a method specifically for creating a dance piece. For me, contact improvisation starts as a form of communication between people – a process of learning how to trust and relate to each other.
Photo by Matron
You came from the world of ballet and contemporary dance. How has working with contact improvisation changed the way you dance?
There’s a quality to dance that can be very much in the moment. I try not to hide the feelings inside me when I dance. If I “fall” onto the ground during the performance, and it hurts, I try to express that it’s painful. If I’m holding someone and he or she is too heavy for me to carry, I can choose to release or “let go” of him or her.
Therefore, the dance becomes like a conversation, just like two people talking and each feeling their way to decide which moments to listen to and respond. The dance is in the moment.
Why is conversation so important to you?
In conversation, you will always encounter a positive and negative side. I always accept that as the nature of relationships. If my dancers and I encounter a problem during the creative process, we share the problem and express our feelings to each other.
This is how I manage my relationship with the dancers. That relationship shows on stage because we trust each other. If something happens on stage, then we solve it on stage. We don’t keep the feelings inside us. That’s a part of our performance that’s very free.
Photo by Matron
How does the chemistry you have with your dancers show up in Dan-su, the full-length work you’re bringing to the Festival?
So far, audiences think we are fun to watch. They are surprised that they forget that there isn’t any music in the performance (laughs). I’m glad for the opportunity to bring this to the Festival.
We are also trying to express something about “exploring the unknown”. When we started to create Dan-su, we brainstormed and talked about various topics. For example, about how there are certain things within your own body – like your body waste, that was a part of you but which you need to “let go” or release from your body. In a different sense, a man and woman come together and create a third ‘unknown’ entity – a child. In Dan-su, we try to express something of this sense of the ‘unknown’ by seeing it as another issue and possibility.
Why should people come watch Dan-su?
Come and try to enjoy the unknown, and leave the theatre with the feeling: what was it that I just saw? Because the way we live today is very controlled. We always want to know why. We want to know the weather. I think that’s why people play sports, because you don’t know who’s going to win. There’s a part of the experience that is unknown.
The performing arts can also offer this experience of encountering something unexpected. Although one can call it dance, we also try to challenge the limitations of what dance is.
As an artist, where do you think you are on your personal journey?
I’m a dancer and I’m 44. I have been working for 25 years. This is the only way to think about it. Carl Jung, the philosopher and psychoanalyst, once said that life is like a circle. There is no best or happiest moment in our life and career, because life is like a circle from birth or death. Each moment can be a bad moment, or it can be our best moment.
Written by Adeline Loh
Adeline Loh is a content creator and freelance journalist who has covered design, the arts, business, and lifestyle.
She currently writes for the M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival and the Singapore International Festival of Arts.