• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Choreography that moves Japanese mountains

To a casual passer-by, the images that Damien Jalet is calling up on his laptop probably look like exotic holiday snaps - mist-wreathed mountains in Japan followed by glimpses of stone pilgrimage paths winding into forested foothills and journeying towards remote devotional shrines.

tasK MASTER: Jorge Crecis picks up on the need for honesty in movement for his new piece, Kingdom.
tasK MASTER: Jorge Crecis picks up on the need for honesty in movement for his new piece, Kingdom.

A couple of quick clicks and the screen fills with a group of bare-chested village men in Bali with tumbling haystack wigs masking their faces as they prepare for a ritual dance.

For the Belgian choreographer, however, these images have all fed into the new work, Yama, that he has just made for Dundee-based Scottish Dance Theatre - it will be premiered, as part of a double bill at The Rep on Thursday before going on tour nationwide.

His previous career has ranged from frequent collaborations with dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to making a new version of Bolero for Paris Opera Ballet with performance artist Marina Abramovic. Now, as he prepares to fine-tune Yama in Dundee, he enthuses about how this globe-trotting influences and refreshes his work.

"I am lucky, yes, that I am invited to interesting places to do workshops or make new works, but it is also an opportunity to do research, discover more about other cultures and bring those ideas into other projects. So when I came to Scotland, and I looked around at the scenery - at the mountains, especially - I felt connections with what I'd seen in Japan."

Not only what he'd seen, but what he'd learned about how nature - mountains, forests, streams and even the destructive powers of earthquakes and tsunami - encourages myth-making and strands of religious observation. When he encountered the yamabushis - hermits who live in the mountains and are traditionally credited with having supernatural powers - Jalet's magpie mind began gathering together ideas about how we endow certain places with mystical 'personalities', and what our technological age might be able to take from the centuries-old beliefs and practices of, for instance, the yamabushis.

"I think we have distanced ourselves from the landscapes that still hold us," he says. "We are so absorbed by..." and he gestures towards his laptop "that we lose sight of what nature can do to our modern civilisation. I saw both sides of this when I was in Japan during the time of the earthquakes and tsunami. You quickly come to understand how the myths of spirits angered by mankind's neglect are made, but then - and this was also true in Bali - you see how ritual and a belief system can bring a kind of spirituality and transcendance. This was what I wanted to explore with SDT's dancers in the studio."

Another click, and this time the image is of Yama. A whole mountain on-stage wasn't possible, but the design looks like a stylised slice off the top of a volcano, with dancers sporting those shaggy Balinese head-dresses. "That was one of the challenges for them," laughs Jalet. "There is such emphasis on facial expression - audiences look for it, dancers can rely on it. But when you can't see the face, the body has to speak honestly and clearly."

In a separate conversation, Spanish choreographer Jorge Crecis picks up on this need for honesty in the movement as he describes the tasks he set the SDT dancers with his new commission, Kingdom. "They were a little nervous, I think, when they saw the sticks," he says mischievously. He's referring to the 80 bamboo sticks which, using some 120 piece of rope, the dancers build into a shelter on stage.

"This is about trust, about team-work but also being alive and totally present in the moment. It's about the audience sharing that experience also. It needs to be real."

The real-life echoes that inform Kingdom's structure hark back to May 2011, and an anti-government protest in Madrid's Puerto del Sol square that saw thousands of people - including Crecis - set up an encampment.

"It came down, of course," says Crecis. "But even when it disappears, it still leaves an impression on you. You change inside, because of what you experienced.

"That's what I want the dancers - and the audience - to feel with Kingdom. The shelter is just the symbol of the effort that brings everyone together. And yes, working with these objects has an element of risk. The dancers can't lose concentration for a moment - because maybe somebody else will get hurt. That concept of responsibility, I think, is an interesting political idea as well as a choreographic one."

Scottish Dance Theatre premiere Kingdom and Yama at Dundee Rep from Thursday to Saturday before a Scottish tour, which begins at Edinburgh's Traverse on February 28. Visit www.scottishdancetheatre.com

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

213519