Contemporary Dance Festival Returns to Japan Society

Contemporary Dance Festival: Japan + East Asia

Friday, January 14 at 7:30 p.m. (followed by a MetLife Meet-the-Artists Reception)
Saturday, January 15 at 7:30 p.m. (followed by an Artist Q&A)

Japan Society – 333 East 47th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)

Admission: $30 / $25 Japan Society members

Japan Society relaunches a proud tradition with the 2022 Contemporary Dance Festival: Japan + East Asia. The non-profit scheduled its biennial event for January 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced postponement. The upcoming festival marks the much-anticipated return of contemporary dance from a vibrant slate of international choreographers and performers. This festival, which over the course of two decades enjoyed 18 action-packed installments, celebrates defining artists of the present moment.

Presented as part of Japan Society’s 2021-2022 Performing Arts Season, the Contemporary Dance Festival shares the work of groundbreaking artists from the other side of the globe with New York audiences.

This year’s festival showcases the work of butoh artists Kentaro Kujirai and Barabbas Okuyama from Japan, Korean duo Choi x Kang Project with the North American Premiere of their comical and technically daring piece Complement, and mathematician-turned-choreographer Hao Cheng of Taiwan.

Performances take place Friday, January 14 and Saturday, January 15 at 7:30 p.m. From 6:45 pm. Until 7:15 pm. on both nights, ticket holders as well as the general public have the opportunity to watch a special solo performance in the Society’s lobby titled FreeSteps – NiNi, choreographed by Wei-Chia Su, the founder of HORSE, one of Taiwan’s most-celebrated dance companies. Attendance is limited to a maximum of 100 observers at this time. No admission is required.

Schedule

Lobby performance from 6:45 p.m. until 7:15 p.m.
FreeSteps – NiNi

Main program in auditorium at 7:30 p.m.
A HUM SAN SUI (from Japan)—Pre-recorded video of the performance
Complement (from Korea)—LIVE in-person performance
Touchdown (from Taiwan)—LIVE in-person performance

To purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website or call the Box Office at 212-715-1258 (Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.).

COVID-19 Protocols

In compliance with CDC, New York State, and New York City guidelines, all visitors must show proof of vaccination and wear a proper, secure-fitting mask at each performance. For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit Japan Society’s website.

Barabbas Okuyama (left) and Kentaro Kujirai from the Japan Foundation video “A HUM SA SUI, Mountains and Rivers from Alpha to Omega”

2022 Contemporary Dance Festival Featured Works and Artists

A HUM SAN SUI

Choreographers/Performers: Kentaro Kujirai, Barabbas Okuyama
Music: FUJIIIIIIIIIIITA
Set Design: T O J U
Costume Designer: Mika Tominaga

In a necessary change resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, in lieu of a live in-person performance, this piece will be presented within the program as pre-recorded video.

Embodying the dialectic struggle of yin and yang, Kujirai and Okuyama emerge and recede in and out of the stage lights in their haunting duet A HUM SAN SUI. With an eerie sound design by FUJIIIIIIIIIIITA, the two butoh performers twist and writhe at times like a singular being and at other times as two transient entities traversing the stage. Their duet is punctuated by shifts in tone and costuming inspired by their respective butoh styles as their frenetic movements in near darkness transform into those of airy, ethereal creatures in the second half.

Initially conceived as a solo piece, Okuyama performed in and Kujirai choreographed A HUM SAN SUI for their first production together in 2018. Hailed as a breath of fresh air on the butoh scene, in April 2019, the pair launched KENTARO KUJIRAI & BARABBAS OKUYAMA—a project seeking new possibilities in butoh for the next generation of practitioners. This led to showcasing a co-choreographed duet, HI NO SHI DU KU, at the J-K (Japan-Korea) Duo Dance Festival in Saitama, Japan, in May 2019 and at a festival in Seoul, South Korea, in November of that same year. In between those events, the artists staged A HUM SAN SUI in August 2019 at the prestigious ChangMu Performing Arts Festival in Seoul, where their stylish and energetic contemporary butoh was enthusiastically received.

About Kentaro Kujirai

Born in 1980, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Kentaro Kujirai began studying butoh under Akira Kasai, one of the progenitors of butoh dance. Four years later, he was selected as the main dancer and eurythmist in Kasai’s famous Tenshikan (Sant’Angelo) company, which led to many subsequent performances in local and international festivals.

To further his career in butoh, he founded the dance unit CORBUS with Makoto Sadakata, his colleague at Tenshikan, and later, founded his own company, KENTARO KUJIRAI Konpeito, in 2015.

His works have received several awards such as the Newcomer Prize in the annual Dance Critics Awards in 2018, for A HUM SAN SUI, and the Miyagi Prefecture Art Encouragement Award Dance Section Newcomer Award in 2019.

About Barabbas Okuyama

In 2001 Barabbas Okuyama joined Dairakudakan (“Great Camel Battleship”), the internationally known and legendary large-scale butoh company founded and led by Akaji Maro. Aside from taking roles in all of Dairakudakan’s main productions, he has choreographed and performed his own original works including Sagram-Boy (2009), Crucifixion (2013), and the solo piece U TSU SHI MI (2016).

Barabbas has performed in butoh and contemporary dance programs, and at several international dance festivals in South Korea, Hungary, and other countries.

Choi x Kang Project. Photo by Korea National Contemporary Dance Company from koreanculture.org

Complement

Choreographers/Performers: Choi x Kang Project (Choi Min-sun and Kang Jin-an)
Stage Manager: Eujin Jo
Producer: Sin Ae Park
North American Premiere

Described as “a whimsical fantasy which kept the brain fully engaged” by Philip Gowman (London Korean Links), Complement is a technically daring piece that layers the two dancers’ live performance with handheld footage captured by a third person. As subsequent video recordings of the live performance play back on monitors behind the dancers, the subtle differences between each successive recording depict the intricacies of the dancers’ gestures unravelling into chaos. Choi x Kang Project’s piece won the Jury Prize at the Yokohama Dance Collection Competition in 2018, and they performed it at The Place in London and Flora Theater Festival in Olomouc, Czech Republic. In 2019, they premiered Complement as a developed piece, titled A Complement Set—Disappearing with an Impact, at STEP UP, a repertoire-development project by Korea National Contemporary Dance Company.

About Choi x Kang Project

Choi x Kang Project is a project group based in Seoul, South Korea, and was founded by Choi Min-sun and Kang Jin-an in 2015. The group’s mission is to look for intuitive ways to create motion and focus on the process of connecting external devices to the body through diverse experiments.

After dancing with the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company from 2010 to 2016, Choi and Kang started working together as their own group. Quickly acknowledged for their potential, they received various awards and opportunities for projects supporting young promising choreographers, such as the Best Choreography Award from Seoul Dance Collection for their piece Basic Dance in 2015. These opportunities further solidified the unique style and direction of the Choi x Kang Project both in and outside of Korea.

Hao Cheng. Photo from japansociety.org

Touchdown

Choreographer/Performer: Hao Cheng
Dramaturge: Yu-Chun Chen
Lighting Designer: Ke-Chu Lai
Sound Designer: Chao-En Cheng
Stage Manager: Chih-Wei Tseng
North American Premiere

Touchdown is a solo performance combining monologues and dance performed by mathematician-turned-choreographer Hao Cheng. The work, first performed in 2019, uses quantum physics as an analogy for life in its portrayal of the choreographer’s personal struggles and breakthroughs. In Touchdown, Cheng’s unique background in mathematics gives him perspective on both the abstract concepts and flesh-and-blood performative elements of this dynamic solo, a quietly thrilling meeting of popular science and the poetry of motion.

Featuring a blackboard-like surface and chalk, Cheng ceaselessly charts his nimble, emotive movements, his dance gradually transforming the space into a visual art installation. A highly personal and intentionally low-tech examination of the seemingly unresolvable contradictions of being alive, this elegantly conceived show gives quantum physics and the uncertainty principle fresh meaning and a human face.

About Hao Cheng

Hao Cheng established Incandescence Dance in Taiwan in 2019. His company creates contemporary dance works that explore the poetry of motion with scientific and mathematical thinking. Science and art are often seen as two separate cultures, yet Cheng’s pursuit of science and art both stem from his curiosity of the world. That curiosity is the drive behind all human activities. Beyond the complicated language of physics and mathematics, the poetry of science can be as accessible and enjoyable as the art, and the company Incandescence Dance strives to reveal that through dance.

Yui-Ting Fang in Wei-Chia Su’s Freesteps Nini. Photo from horse.org

FreeSteps – NiNi

Choreographer: Wei-Chia Su
Performer: Yu-Ting Fang
Lighting & Stage Designer: Chia-Ming Liu
Sound Designer: Yannick Dauby
Producer: Wen Huang

Wei-Chia Su created FreeSteps – NiNi in the sixth year of his ten-year-long choreography project to create dance outside of the confines of a theater. In this project, audiences encounter dancers under streetlights in the city, where all of the elements, including the temperature, lighting, and landscape at that time as well as passersby, become materials for the dancers’ creation. The dancers’ physical bodies stretch and curl in merriment or pain depending on the surrounding stimuli. Stark shadows on their bodies highlight the dancers’ differing physiques and movements like a living sculpture garden.

About Wei-Chia Su

Born in Kaohsiung, Wei-Chia Su co-founded HORSE in 2004. His numerous choreographies and collaborations include the group-created work Velocity, a winner of the 6th Taishin Arts Awards, and the autobiographical piece 2 Men, a collaboration with Wu-kang Chen and the First Prize winner and Audiences’ Choice winner of the 2013 Kurt-Jooss-Preis. His ongoing FreeSteps project, launched in 2013, explores the relationship between contours, movements, characters, rhythm, music, and light. A performance at Les Hivernales – CDCN d’Avignon was described as “a succession of shocks that drive the imagination into obscure and delicious depths.”

Photo from japansociety.org

About Japan Society’s Contemporary Dance Festival

From 1997 through 2019, Japan Society’s Contemporary Dance Showcase acted as a vital incubator for Japanese and East Asian choreographers, introducing them to the U.S. during the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) Conference and serving to launch and support their international careers. A leading platform for the introduction of Japanese choreographers and companies, the Dance Showcase expanded in 2008 to include artists and works from the broader East Asian region, including Taiwan and South Korea.

Many Dance Showcase alumni have gone on to perform in major venues such as Jacobs Pillow Dance, Walker Art Center, The Kennedy Center, The Joyce Theater, and others. Through dozens of debuts and premieres, the Dance Showcase has introduced Kota Yamazaki, Jo Kanamori’s Noism, the late Ko Murobushi and his Ko & Edge Co., and chelfitsch Theater Company, among many artists who rose to international acclaim. Twenty years later, this popular event in Japan Society’s Performing Arts Program appropriately has changed its name in 2019 to Contemporary Dance Festival. The festival continues to further its mission to present artists and works that push the envelope of contemporary dance throughout Japan and East Asia.