- Kiyoko Kashiwagi embraces anime in her kooky X Kills Y, and Vice Versa"
by Gia Kourlas
September 1-7, 2005
Japanese choreographer Kiyoko Kashiwagi has long been obsessed with comic dances that tell stories, but her efforts haven't always been met with admiration - especially when she was training to be a serious classical ballet dancer. "I was so frustrated," Kashiwagi recalls after a recent rehearsal. "Stories about queens and princesses seemed so outdated, so I kind of started to create my own stupid stories through ballet technique. Ballet people are interested in line or technique, which is great- I am too - but I'm also interested in working with a different kind of vocabulary that isn't just about moving from position to position. I'm kind of an outside, I think."
Kashiwagi's current fascination lies with anime dance, a style she created by combining classical ballet, modern dance and Japanese animation. In X Kills Y, and Vice Versa, which will be presented by her Anime Dance Theater at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City, she conjures an especially weird tale about a mad scientist, Dr. X, and his ominous invention: a female robot(dubbed "a weapon of mass destruction" by the choreographer) destined to conquer the world.
Brian Rogers, the director of the Chocolate Factory, was introduced to Kashiwagi's offbeat vision through her work with Ex.Pgirl, a physical-theater group that participated in HERE's Artist Residency Program. "I like the crazy humor of her work," he says. "It's very Japanese and surreal - it's very funny, but also really sick. There's something about anime that is gross and violent, and it's just really funny to see her juggle those sensibilities."
Kashiwagi envisions her new work as a cartoonlike meeting of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Romeo and Juliet: A strapping young hero (Vincent McCloskey) falls in live with Y, a pretty young girl (Kashiwagi performs double duty as Y and Dr.X). The dramatic, voluptuous Suzi Takahashi an actor and founding member of Ex.Pgirl, portrays the menacing robot, who, in the end, outlives everyone. "The weapon of mass destruction can conquer the world and destroy it - good-bye nature, good-bye art, good-bye planet," Kashiwagi says, adding with a sly giggle, "and it's not political at all. I like America so much, but politically I always wonder why I live here."
X Kills Y, set to a score by composer Shuichiro Nakamura, Features video by Kazuhiro Soda, a filmmaker who is also Kashiwagi's husband (they met on an airplane). The images, which include both a nuclear explosion and a gentle pastoral landscape, will be projected onto the theater's floor as the performers move upon it. But Kashiwagi isn't interested in having the two elements blend seamlessly; like Japanese animation that so deeply inspires her, she wants the situation onstage to appear fantastical. "Anime is so simple and clear but powerful," she says. "My movement, too, is like a painting or a drawing - it's very flat. I'm trying to use my choreography in a two-dimensional way. It's like an outline. A performer in my work doesn't have to show emotion, because shape is the most important thing I learned that from Merce Cunningham, and it always works."
It took Kashiwagi, who moved to New York from Japan in 1993, some time to discover Cunningham's work and technique; at first she was a scholarship student at the Ailey School. " I liked the company, but the classes were like a factory," she recalls. " I hated it. My image of New York was this" - she swirls imaginary water down a drain with her finger. " I had a five-year visa, but I thought I was going to have to move back to Japan."
She used the excuse of an old injury - a torn tendon from her ballet days - to escape the daily grind of classes and check out other dance schools, " I found the Merce Cunningham studio, and it was like heaven, she says. " I was surprised that Merce was still alive, but he was there, rolling the dice! It may not seem like I learned a lot from him, but I realized how to use my body and how to use space. That's always in my mind, and it's still a part of me."