This Saturday is New York City’s first Bring to Light Nuit Blanche Art Festival, a block party of artists, performers and musicians amidst Greenpoint’s urban industrial backdrop of metal workshops and textile factories. In an urban takeover, artists will “create works that inhabit street corners, galleries, shops, rooftops, vacant lots and buildings.” In preparation, Untapped New York caught up with multi-talented dancer Ryuji Yamaguchi, who will be featured at Bring to Light NYC in a video installation called Dancer, Jordan by Claire Scoville. She visited Ryuji in Jordan last May, where he’s been living for the last three years teaching dance at a school in Madaba. Claire filmed Ryuji improvising dances across the landscapes of Jordan, from canyons near the Dead Sea to the rooftops overlooking Amman.
How did architecture and landscape influence your dance in this piece?
Over three days, I drove Claire through some of my favorite locations in Jordan. How we related to our surroundings was a tag-team job between the two of us. She would ask me to stop the car when she found a location that was visually intriguing to her. I would then hop out and start reacting to the environment through dance and movement. My movement options would change depending on whether I was perched atop a high wall on a slope full of rocks, or I was moving along an expansive beach near the Dead Sea. Reacting to how I work with the environment and the lighting that was provided, she would then set a camera angle, which would not alter too much throughout the shooting. Some shots were 20 seconds long because we were stopping traffic (I danced in front of a graffiti wall and she shot across the street), and other shots were an hour and half long, where I started before sunset and continued until it was pitch dark. Improvising for long periods of time is a difficult task, and I would have to actively change my consciousness every two minutes or so to keep myself sharp and engaged. In particular, the off-white buildings that fill the hills of Amman and how the sunset and the shadows changed over time were a wonderful inspiration for me through the process, and the calls for prayer and the honking of cars that would echo through the valley. Since Claire will be using 10 video projectors on public walls for this project, it will be interesting to see how she chooses to incorporate the texture and the dimensions of the walls in her installation.
What have been some of the challenges of teaching dance in Jordan?
For the past three years, I have taught dance at a newly established boarding school in Jordan called King’s Academy. The student body is very diverse, and it has been wonderful interacting with these young Jordanians and non-Jordanians from various socioeconomic backgrounds in both classroom and residential settings. I also teach occasionally outside of the school bounds. I am Japanese in nationality and culture, an athlete and martial artist growing up, and I have been influenced by the downtown New York dance scene. The challenge is to have my students rigorously learn through what I have to offer, while simultaneously respecting their aesthetics and interests that vary greatly from person to person. Jordan is rapidly changing: TV show So You Think You Can Dance is widely popular amongst certain youth, while only the traditional Dabkeh is seen as appropriate in some other neighborhoods. In developing a dance student and contributing positively to contemporary Jordanian culture, does one follow the trend, the tradition, the student’s personal choice, or the expertise of a foreign teacher? This daily dilemma is always challenging but exciting for me.
What’s coming up next for you?
For the past three years, I have been collaborating with NY-based director and choreographer, Yoshiko Chuma, in a multi-media dance project in Jordan. In late November, we will conduct our fourth project in Jordan called “Living Room Project–Gathering Space.” 15 dancers, musicians, actors and designers from US, Japan, Jordan, and Palestine will participate. We will visit private homes, neighborhood theaters, and open-air gathering spaces where we will share a meal with Jordanian residents, and present a site-specific performance. The Jordanian people are extremely hospitable towards their guests, and this sense of hospitality called Diyafa presumably is passed down from the need for adequate lodging and food for ancient desert travelers. This format, called Living Room Project, is a wonderful way for artists to directly interact with the local people and the distinct residential architecture that they live in, and it is a unique presentation format that Yoshiko Chuma has been conducting in over 30 countries since 1995.
Untapped will be covering Bring to Light NYC and its sister event in Paris this weekend. In Paris, the Nuit Blanche actually goes all night. Thanks to New York’s limitation of public space usage, we will have to suffice with a midnight end time!
How to Get There:
Oak Street and Franklin St.
Subway: G Train to Greenpoint Avenue
7pm to midnight