KIKIKIKIKIKI and Pao — a live collaboration at Urban Guild


Since the experimental dance group KIKIKIKIKIKI recently held a collaborative performance with Golden Finance, I’ll use that connection to revisit an amazing performance I saw at Kyoto’s Urban Guild about a year ago when KIKIKIKIKIKI teamed up with Pao.  Pao is a group that specializes in modal improvisation based around simple melodic riffs and drifting tonal landscapes.  While conventional instruments are deployed (mostly in unconventional ways), the band members like to incorporate found objects and toy instruments into the mix as well.  I was introduced to Pao through Kameda Shinji (亀田 真司) who plays saxophone with Pao and, in addition, is an incredibly wonderful guy who just happens to look fantastic in a panda hat.  Enjoy the video at the bottom of this entry of Pao playing (with special youth accompaniment!) at Café Zampano in Kyoto.

I don’t actually know much about KIKIKIKIKIKI except that they’re a contemporary dance company based in Kyoto that has some affiliation (including sharing some members) with another Kyoto-based contemporary dance group called Kitamari, which was granted a Toyota Choreography Award in 2008.  KIKIKIKIKIKI uses formal elements drawn from several dance styles, including techniques borrowed from butoh and contact dance, and they incorporate these formal techniques into routines that touch on narrative just enough that glimmers of thematic textures and storylines drift through their performances like the edges of dreams.  Not all the members of KIKIKIKIKIKI shared the stage at the same time, but instead they combined and recombined throughout the evening depending on the needs of a particular piece.  Some of my favorite moments included a dance that was so introspectively intense and otherworldly — an almost total rejection of the range of normative emotional space — that it almost verged on possession, and a solo dance that centered around the making of a bowl of udon noodles.

What is so remarkable about good contemporary dance — aside from the surprise, beauty, and physical intelligence that’s almost inherently a part of it — is the way that it can reveal alternate modalities of human being.  The degree to which our everyday set of motions is governed by a network of social and cultural conventions is overlooked to a large degree, but if you think about it at any length it’s pretty easy to see that how we move in the world is as important a part of our identity as the language we speak, the food we eat, and even our political and spiritual beliefs.  Our everyday bodily motions reveal a host of unconscious social and cultural assumptions that generally escape us because our body movements feel so absolutely natural to us.  A rather obvious example of what I’m talking about can be seen in the way same-sex handholding is experienced in different parts of the world.  In the U.S., same-sex handholding, especially between males, is generally highly taboo in public places while in many Middle-Eastern countries its a common practice among friends.  In Japan you don’t see men holding hands very often (although some younger boys do), but its not uncommon at all to see young women walking around hand in hand.  What lies behind the differences in these practices are a host of social and cultural assumptions about who it’s appropriate to touch and under what circumstances, assumptions that can have brutal consequences if transgressed.  The example that I’ve just given is fairly self-evident, but even the way we walk and the facial expressions that we carry on our faces are culturally encoded to at least some extent.

Both Foucault and Althusser address this issue, but from seemingly alternate angles.  In Discipline and Punish, Foucault discusses the way that social pressures turn us into disciplined subjects, essentially forming a ‘soul’ within our bodies that controls us from within and limits the possibility of our physical expression in the world (culturally, sexually, socially, and politically):

The man described for us, who we are invited to free, is already himself the effect of a subjection more profound than himself.  A ‘soul’ inhabits him and brings him to existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body.  The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.

While Foucault revises and reverses the received notion that the body is what imprisons the soul, Althusser famously makes the claim in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” that ideology is produced and reproduced within a set of material practices that are “governed by the rituals in which these practices are inscribed, within the material existence of an ideological apparatus, be it only a small part of that apparatus: a small mass in a small church, a funeral, a minor match at a sports’ club, a school day, a political party meeting, etc.”  In one of the most famous moments of this essay Althusser uses Pascal to demonstrate that it is not belief that precedes physical ritual, but rather the other way around:

Besides, we are indebted to Pascal’s defensive ‘dialectic’ for the wonderful formula which will enable us to invert the order of the notional schema of ideology. Pascal says more or less: ‘Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you will believe.’

In either case, the main point here is that our bodily practices and physical movements serve to define and limit the possible forms that our subjectivity can take in everyday life.  If you think I’m overstating the case, turn around and silently remain facing everyone behind you in a crowded elevator and see how deeply uncomfortable everything very quickly becomes.

Dance is an artform that allows us to explore types of bodily movement that lie outside of the confines of everyday existence.  Even dance forms that are part of a an officially sanctioned cultural heritage — ballet in Europe and Kagura in Japan — are still expressions of human potentialities that lie outside of the scope of daily practices and subjective states.  What contemporary dance allows for is this same kind of extraterritoriality, but with the difference that there is no historically grounded social and cultural apparatus that authorizes its forms and activities.  Because of this, contemporary dance is able to express potential motions and states of identity that don’t fit within any fixed social and institutional structure — motions and states of identity that can still be inhabited as spaces of pure freedom and potential, even if only within the limited time of a performance or an all-night festival.  However, our bodies do have memories and if we allow ourselves to inhabit physical space in alternate ways our bodies will retain the traces of those happenings.  As one of the shape shifters in Deep Space Nine points out,

To become a thing is to know a thing.  To assume its form is to begin to understand its existence.

This is exactly the protean potential that is embodied in contemporary dance, and other artforms as well — the ability to experiment with alternate modes of thought and existence, other forms of being, besides the close-fisted subjectivities that we’re shoehorned into from birth.

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