Dancing in my mind – Suzushi Hanayagi

I know, I should have been writing more with all the dancing on my mind from the stimulating Tanz im August event, and I hope I will get to it the next days. Though first I want to focus on the quite moving event with Robert Wilson’s hommage (german audio on demand link) to the remarkable work and person of Suzushi Hanayagi which took place at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

Hanayagi, educated from early on in traditional japanese dance, managed to live in and between both worlds: the one of a very refined asian dance tradition and the one of the early 60s New York dance avantgarde scene and onwards.
She is a fascinating personality, who worked and contributed in both worlds on a very high level. She not only had 15 collaborations with Wilson, but also worked together with David Byrne on The Knee Plays, Carla Blank, John Cage and in many other productions, aside her performances in Japan.

In this handout photo released by the office of Robert Wilson, dancer Meg Harper performs during “KOOL _ Dancing in My Mind,” a tribute to Japanese dancer Suzushi Hanayagi, whose picture is projected in the back screen at left, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in April, 2009. (AP photo)
Hanayagi began to collaborate with Wilson in 1984, contributing choreography to his the CIVIL warS, which premiered at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, and went on to work with him on over 15 productions.
The austerely beautiful and poetic KOOL— Dancing in My Mind acknowledges not only her contributions to the field and to him, but the mysterious power of dance itself.

The story behind KOOL (Suzushi means cool in Japanese) is both sad and inspiring. Wilson has trouble telling it to the audience at the Guggenheim, and when I recount it to a friend, I start to cry. Several years ago, Wilson lost contact with Hanayagi, and no one could tell him how to find her. He finally discovered her living in a special-care facility in Osaka, and lost in a graver sense. The images of Hanayagi—thin, weathered face, hooded eyes—that we see projected on the background screen of the Guggenheim’s Peter B. Lewis Theater show a woman in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. She never speaks, she barely moves. She sits in a chair.

The first day that Wilson visited Hanayagi, she stuck out her hand; he took it. She stuck it out again; he copied her gesture. After what may have been quite a few repetitions, he added a small turn of the wrist. She mirrored him. (He tells us this without emphasis, but exclamation points hang in the air.) When he had to leave Japan and paid his last visit, she said softly in Japanese, “I am dancing in my mind.”

Wilson, as is usual with him, devised and oversaw the concept, the movement, and the visual design for KOOL—Dancing in My Mind, but he had help from many people. Blank—also noted also as an author and dramaturge—helped assemble archival material and reinterpret excerpts from her early collaborations with Hanyagi. Jonah Bokaer choreographed his own solos (as did Illenk Gentille) and mined the array of sources (productions by Wilson, Hanayagi, Blank) to shape and create material for Wilson’s overall collage structure. Richard Rutkowski coordinated the photographs, film clips, and videos shot in Osaka. David Byrne gave permission for his music for the knee plays—the CIVIL wars to be used. We hear Hanayagi’s thoughts about art-making (but not in her voice) from interviews and written material dating from the 1970s until 2003 ….

excerpted from village voice

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