Photo by Sophie Stanford
We recently caught up with Takeshi Matsumoto over zoom, who we’ve been working with for a few years now on projects such as Little Big Dance, he also teaches on our BA (Hons) Dance degree. Takeshi creates imaginative performances for children, and we wanted to find out more about his background and inspirations in dance.
Thank you so much for joining me today, firstly, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
So, my name is Takeshi Matsumoto and I’m a Dance Artist and also a Dance Movement Psychotherapist. I started off training as an actor in Japan and then I watched this contemporary dance piece that really struck me, I was so fascinated by, you know, how powerful it is to tell story without any words, just the body and movement and I really wanted to study more about contemporary dance. So, that’s what made me come here and then study at Laban. Then after that I’ve been working as a dance performer within the UK, but now I’m focusing on performance for young audiences especially under five years old. For me, it’s like coming full circle because I started off as an actor and alongside that training, I was fortunate to be part of this group, we created sort of theatre pieces for children and then we toured all over Japan every summer, then I trained in dance, now I’m back to performing for young audiences!
Earlier you mentioned dance psychotherapy, could you tell us what that is?
Yeah, so in traditional psychotherapy, client and therapist use words or narratives, or people talking about their own experience, and then the psychotherapy brings about psychological change and improves mental health and wellbeing. With Dance Movement Psychotherapy, we use dance and movement as a therapeutic tool, so often we work with people who might find it difficult to express with words, because the body is a medium that is more direct and immediate. So, for some clients it really works and I do feel like my practice is also strongly influenced by psychotherapy.
Dance is powerful! What was the performance that made you want to pursue dance?
So, the first thing that I watched when I was at uni in Japan was, have you heard of butoh? So, butoh started back in Japan in 1960, just after the war, Japan was going through a major transformation in terms of culturally, financially, you know socially, people wanted modernization and people wanted something new, but there were artists who were inspired by the farmers and the people who work with the earth. Then they took this inspiration and created butoh, and it’s almost opposite to the western style of dance, say ballet is about you know, lengthening and really connecting with heaven. Whereas with butoh, they are going really down, close to the earth, so bent knees and elbows and also it’s quite expressive, they paint all in white, and they use really quite strong, almost like extreme facial expression. One of the butoh masters says that the butoh is about a dead body standing, and um… it’s quite ugly in a way that it’s not, it’s not like western beauty, it’s more close to death in a way. So, the performance I saw was butoh but kind of integrated with a contemporary dance element and I was really struck by the presence of the body on the stage. Yeah, and I thought ‘wow, this is incredible, I want to do something like that’ and that’s how I started my dance training.
So, I was going to ask what you biggest inspiration is, would you say that it’s butoh?
I was really fascinated and inspired by this style but my inspiration comes from nature you know, I’m a big fan of nature and Japan is really rich in it. We’ve got volcanic mountains and high mountains, as well as this island so we are surrounded by water, so I love scuba diving as well. I also love films and books and fine art, I love contemporary arts too, I visit galleries for inspiration but also I get inspired by people’s stories. I love the connection, you know, as a human not as a performer or dancer.
I also want to talk about my dance inspiration, which comes from choreographers like Pina Bausch and William Forsythe and the founder of Gaga technique, Batsheva Dance Company. So, I watched a lot of performances by Pina Bausch and William Forsythe and Ohad Naharin because in 2000 when I was studying back in Japan there was a big sort of, heat wave of contemporary dance, it was very popular, so they came every year and I was fortunate to watch them on a regular basis.
Photo courtesy of Rainbow School
Lots of inspirations throughout your career then! Do you have a favourite piece of work or an artist that you think our readers should check out?
I’m sure every reader knows Rosas – for me her work is like a wind, you know, it blows a really positive air around and I really feel refreshed afterwards and I get so inspired.
Another one is Ivo Dimchev, he’s a dancer, musician and he does like a dark cabaret show, it’s almost opposite to Rosas, but yeah it’s really quirky, it’s really dark but funny. When you go to his website it’s quite clear what kind of work he does, so check him out.
The other two artists I’m thinking of are for young audiences, one is Jeste Batelaan, he is Dutch and his company is called Theatre Artemis. His work is not dance, but of course there is an element of movement and he came to Unicorn Theatre in London, I’ve never seen such an energetic and quite powerful engagement from the audience! There were children standing up and shouting, yeah, I was really inspired by that audience participation. They didn’t invite that engagement; it was really spontaneous from the children.
Another company is called Kabinet K, they make dance performances with children and professional dancers and what is really special about them is their physicality is incredible, sometimes really risky, quite cutting edge.
Some great suggestions, thank you, you’ve seen a great variety throughout your career. What has been a highlight of your career so far?
So, back in in the winter of 2016 I was fortunate to visit a Rainbow School in Thailand, the school is for stateless children, so the children were born without official ID, and I was really inspired by the way they live together and study together. So, since then I’ve been committed to this work, working with children and introducing them to dance and performance. We created a short film called We Belong and it has been screened in festivals and also platforms in the US, Canada and then UK over the last two years. So, I’ve been really delighted how this project really exploded you know, and the importance of advocating through dance and I’m hoping that this film really raises the awareness of statelessness. Yeah, and one of my students, I’m also a dance lecturer for the Uni of Suffolk course, and one of my students is teaching dance to them online! So, it’s great how it’s expanding to other people.
It is great, and that’s how more awareness can be shared. Speaking of, what is something you wish more people understood about the arts industry?
As a freelance artist as well as a choreographer I think that the workload is endless and I think maybe people don’t see how much work needs to be done behind the scenes to create one performance, or even like, you know when I say our industry it could be designing things or maybe a drawing, but it’s not just about the product but also the process. It really takes time and understanding that would help people see how valuable these works are. I also mean the effort to sustain myself mentally, physically, and financially. I really have to work a lot, I also have to work a lot outside of the arts and dance industry like I’m engaged with education at the moment, I’m creating an online platform for Japanese families to engage with creative activities using dance and drawing, you know any art form. It’s great because now with the pandemic we can connect wherever we are but then at the same time I have to consider the time difference, so my work starts at 7am and sometimes I finish at 10pm. So, for me self-care and sustainability is really key for a long life as a Dance Artist.
That is a really long day, and eye opening. Finally, what are you working on at the moment, or what’s next?
So, at the moment I’m a Little Big Dance commissioned touring artist and my partner organisation is DanceEast, I’m developing a piece called Club Origami. So, using origami and some aspect of animism have you heard of animism? It’s where everything has it’s own soul, or spirit. In Japan traditionally our belief system is really influenced by animism so when you go to a shrine, you’ll see a mirror worshiped for example, or it could be a piece of dry grass. Yeah, and I think that’s completely different from the western way of believing things. So, I’m fascinated by origami as a product, it’s a craft work starting from a piece of square paper, this two-dimensional piece of paper and then creating a three-dimensional paper, so I love that transformation element. At the same time, the process of making it is really mindful, you have to pay attention to the act of folding and opening. The performance is for children under five years old and it’s going to be, hopefully, participatory and immersive once the social distancing rule is lifted. So, we are planning to resume the rehearsal in summer 2021.
It’s very exciting to work with DanceEast because we’ve been working with nurseries and early year settings around East England and I would like to come back to working with the children there and explore further. I’m quite passionate about bringing something inspirational, or something that they wouldn’t experience on a daily basis.
I’m excited to see it, you did a work in progress at the Jerwood DanceHouse, I think it must have been 2019, and it was pretty magical as an adult! Thank you so much for talking with me today, I hope to see you back in the studios soon!
Little Big Dance, Club Origami. Photo courtesy of South East Dance.