- Globality's ChildrenThe "Child's" Body As a Strategy of Flatness in Performance
"Flatness" is deployed by many performance artists as an intuitive rather than commercially ridden response to the state of globality. The notion of the "child's" body is discussed in terms of emerging tendencies of body-in-performance, particularly in terms of the junk body. Instead of "Japanese cool," the super-flat choreographic architecture of the body appears as two-dimensional masquerade.
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This article is a part of my ongoing project to theorize and historicize the body-in-performance in contemporary Japanese performance. I call this project "'Super Flat' Japan—Thinking about 'Flat' Bodies in Contemporary 'J' Performance." I read a version at the performance studies conference at Dokkyo University in Japan in 2002. This version was subsequently published in the Dokkyo International Review (Uchino 2003). In the published essay, I examined the theoretical status of the [End Page 57] body-in-performance through some "edgy" performance practices in contemporary Japan. Referring to Ishimitsu Yasuo's theoretical and historical analysis of "the body as text" and "the body as metaphor" in the context of modernity's "morbid negation of the body" (Ishimitsu 2000, translation mine), I gave a historically informed overview of the ontological status of the body in Japan's theatre culture. But something else, in my observation, is happening in contemporary Japan. My article attempted to address some of the most pressing issues regarding "flat" bodies and "run-away" bodies (see Uchino 2003, especially 122-23). I did so because a sense of "flatness" and/or violent "running-away-ness," rather than "depth" and/or formal containment of the body, mark the performance practices of some of the younger generation of artists. In the concluding part of the article, I argued that to grasp what was happening with these younger artists, one has to understand the sociopolitical actualities of a Japanese society dominated by neoliberalism. Or to put it another way, much of today's Japanese performing arts need to be analyzed in terms of the social, economic, and political actualities of globalization. This article is a continuation of that line of research and thinking. I will look at three performances that comprise part of my theoretical mapping of the ontological status of the body-in-performance in contemporary Japan.1
Since the publication of my 2003 article, a certain critical discourse has become available to explain "flat bodies" onstage, most notably, Sakurai Keisuke's theory of kodomo shintai, the child's body—in other words, the immature and/or asexual body. Sakurai discusses the reason why some of us find kinesthetic pleasure in watching those bodies, or more precisely, watching those bodies-in-performance. Drawing upon Homi K. Bhabha's notion of "mimicry" (1994), Sakurai discusses Japanese dancing bodies (which he associates with children's bodies as opposed to Western dancers' adult bodies) perfectly mastering Western dance techniques in their training. As kodomo shintai/children's bodies they are intentionally "misusing" these techniques, deconstructing them and thereby subverting the intended impression. Sakurai is referring to such dance companies as Mezurashii Kinoko Buyo-dan (Strange Mushroom Dance Company) and Niboll, groups that many in the Japanese contemporary dance world consider "edgy," "avantgarde," "more advanced," and "more contemporary." Sakurai tries to locate Strange Mushroom's and Nibroll's "unique" movement displays within a pseudo-postcolonial discourse in which an imagined geopolitically isolated Japanese performance culture developed its own aesthetics, conceptions of dance, and critical standards. In doing this, Sakurai tries to isolate Japan's contemporary dance culture and vocabulary within a globalized standard of dance and discourse. His goal is to protect Japan's dance culture from the continuing pressure coming from romantic ballet, modern dance, and diverse contemporary dance practices. Though Sakurai's specific observations are relatively accurate in terms of verbally describing the particular contemporary dance performances that he treats, his discourse itself is formulated within a parochial contemporary dance community, constituted of dance and movement "freaks" (somewhat fanatical fans...