Takao Kawaguchi’s Body Sculpture workshop


This is a very particular workshop, based in the way Takao Kawaguchi worked his last conceptual dance, “About Kazuo Ohno”. Takao compiled a series of original videos of Kazuo Ohno’s famous performances and made the commitment to copy -or imitate- every one of the movements in those performances, putting aside the idea that many of these works were mostly improvised precisely in what he was going to imitate, the physical movement. “In one moment I can perhaps get the soul of his work, because this is a work of the soul”, said Kawaguchi.

I cannot say much about “About Kazuo Ohno” because I’ve only seen some parts of it in videos online; many have said that didn’t like it though, others that he is actually moving like and resembling Kazuo Ohno but without being moved by the work like Kazuo used to touch the public. Now, about the concept of possibly getting the soul of Ohno’s work through copying his movement -as expected as a follower of Kazuo Ohno’s path I am- I was not convinced at all. Well, I was partially wrong: it is actually a very interesting approach to be, in some way, directly influenced by Ohno’s work. 

The structure of the workshop (only 4 hours, one day) was very basic from my point of view; after some warming up exercises and words of introduction Takao made us physically explore some of the activities he did to approach the copy of the work of Kazuo Ohno:

-watch 5 short original recording videos of his performances (from Admiring La Argentina, My Mother, and The Death Sea);

-make a 10 seconds Imitation/inspiration/mockery of Kazuo’s style;

-taking only one video from My Mother (the moment with the flower), try to imitate his movements;

-with that same video, chosing only three still moments, imitate perfectly Ohno’s body (for this Takao showed us some of his drawings of every movement he did during the process of About Kazuo Ohno), like sculpting with our body the pose of Kazuo’s during his performance;

-Finally link those body sculptures with movement like if we were moving frame by frame in a recorded video giving them fluidity. Showing the result (in groups) to the others.

Since my time as student of the Grotowski training and the principles of Theatre Anthropology I’ve been very familiar with this kind of approach to the work, not actually imitating directly from videos of the masters, but working in sculpting the body and getting the movement in physical actions with a minutious detail from words, paintings, sculptures or memories. So, the work immediately made some sense to me, and also because in one moment I started to feel obviously not that Kazuo was feeling, but something unique that provoked this imitation: “the water running by the pipes of the fountain”, like Eugenio Barba said. 

If the initial goal of getting the soul of Kazuo’s work is putting aside and you take this approach as a training to follow the possible path of the movement of the master I think it could work much better for anyone, like the traditional way to teach performing arts in Asia, through direct imitation from the master; here the master is dead, but we have recordings regarded now not as documents but as an intrinsic part of the creative live work of the master. But obviously that’s my point of view. 

Takao Kawaguchi is kind and serious, not complicated in getting us to do exactly what he wanted, in reality guiding our exploration. Of course he was not trying to convince anyone that this is the only way to get the soul of Kazuo Ohno’s work, this is only his way of sharing his own exploration to do it. I liked his honesty.

To be true I probably would never have taken this workshop (in fact Kawaguchi gave it when I was in staying in Mexico some years ago and I was not interested in taking it), but destiny brought it to me during this training stay in Japan at Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio, and I let my curiosity go this time. I must say that it has been a quite interesting experience. 

At the end of the workshop we saw a whole 1977 original recording of Admiring La Argentina. 

(Yokohama, Japan. Monday February 11th, 2019)

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