The Origins of Body Weather in Japanx

 

Body Weather emerged in the late 1970s in Japan out of a series of workshops led by the Japanese dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka. Born in Tokyo in 1945, Tanaka was trained in classical ballet and modern dance, but decided to break with these forms to embark on a solo career in the early 1970s. Though deeply influenced by butoh pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata (“I would like to declare that Min Tanaka is a legitimate son of Hijikata”x), instead of becoming his student, Tanaka chose to search for his own way of dancing and dance-making. He specialized in performing with the environment (“We do not dance in a place, we dance the place”x) and became well-known in Japan as an avant-garde solo dancer (“I am an avant-garde who crawls the earth”x).

 

In Drive On, a bi-monthly and bi-lingual (English/French) newsletter published by Body Weather Laboratory from 1978 to 1980, Tanaka explains that the term Body Weatherx originally emerged from his discussions with the writer, editor and publisher Seigo Matsuoka, and that it first came up in 1977.x In the following year, Tanaka led the first Body Weather workshop:

 

The first Body Weather Training was initiated by Min Tanaka in June, 1978, in a small studio in Tokyo. It was based on the pursuit and discoveries of Min Tanaka over many years through his self-education and various experiences. This open training workshop called ‘Body Weather training’ marked the first step of the present Body Weather Laboratory, which was founded by the leadership of the workshop participants. The concept of Body Weather has been gradually expanding and consolidated since then. Among our daily activities is the training workshop.x


This training workshop mentioned here focused on practices that would later come to be known as the Manipulations.x Yoga, acupuncture and the meridian system of shiatsu are generally recognized as the main sources of the Manipulations, complemented by physical therapy and sports medicine. After the two-week workshop was over, some of the workshop participants continued to work with Tanaka, and together they founded ‘Body Weather Laboratory’. The members of the group, approximately fifteen to twenty, equally male and female, came from various backgrounds: they included primary school teachers, musicians, calligraphers, intellectuals, a Buddhist monk and an acupuncturist. Only a minority of participants were dancers and performers.

 

In the book ‘Conscious Body, Contagious Mind’, Matsuoka and Tanaka have the following dialogue:

 

Seigo Matsuoka: You had already done a lot of things to become able to foresee the results while playing alone as a child, haven’t you?


Min Tanaka: Yes. I'd been already doing it by myself alone. So, also the pair work of Manipulation is something that I arranged things I had already been doing alone. But I was executing it by feeling the pressure or tension of hands of the imaginary partner(s) while doing it alone. I suppose I became able to do such things because as a child I used to play alone a lot of time and didn't even think that was lonely.x

 

Tanaka had obviously been experimenting on his own with practices similar to the Manipulations long before the collaborative research at Body Weather Laboratory. The formation of Body Weather Laboratory, then, provided the space for further experimentation and development. Due to the absence of any further records, documentation or testimonies, it remains somewhat unclear exactly how the pieces came together in the process of creating the Manipulations. For the moment, it is worth noting that the evolution of Body Weather and the foundation of Body Weather Laboratory were closely linked with the inception of the Manipulations, a practice that would become the “backbone”x of Body Weather.

 

Body Weather Laboratory


In April 1979, the group moved to a former textile factory in Hachioji (Tokyo), where they further developed the training workshop.x Rather than claiming the leadership, Tanaka considered himself as one ‘medium’ amongst many others. In Drive On, the aims and organizational principles of the group are described as follows:

 

We do not have any specific leader or mediator. Various fluxes rush in, flow together here, by the medium of each member. Various fluxes also rush out. […] We are going to maintain a positive attitude to take in various kinds of knowledge (especially scientific knowledge) concerning bodies and perception, so as not to make our activities dogmatic and unbalanced in developing the issues. We will use this knowledge as a mirror, to reflect objectively our approach to the bodies and perception. […] Our activities such as workshop, research and study are based on four teams. They are ‘Body’, ‘Sound’, ‘Visual Perception’, and ‘Language’.x 


In 1980, Body Weather Laboratory announced that it had grown into a platform for transdisciplinary artistic research, and that it would welcome anyone who was willing to engage in body-based research, regardless of their previous training and experience.


The Body Weather Laboratory aims at posing questions to and re-editing the disciplines of science, art, politics, etc., that have been consolidated on the basis of hitherto history. Our basis is the BODY. We must admit that even the word ‘discipline’ is becoming inappropriate for us. We welcome any problems that would be presented here from various people and various things. Our daily activities are devoted more to such works as to closely examine the body in fundamental terms. […] We do not have any fixed rules, but we have some thoughts about what an organization should be like. We have no particular leader, and everybody has rights and responsibilities. […] If one wants to gain from this place, one must contribute something to it. Such interchange is called ‘participation’. The program of our activities is not dictated by somebody arbitrarily, but it is decided upon the discussion of members. […] Study sessions are held for us to actively absorb scientific knowledge and academic achievements in the periphery of Body and Perceptions. By learning existing knowledge, we can objectively examine our approach to the body as well as expand the scope of our perspectives. Each member is expected to study his or her interested field for a period, and to make a presentation to the rest of us. Through workshops, we can expand our scope from the body to recognize ourselves as a perceptive body involving vision, language, etc. It does not require any prior technical training or experience. Anybody can have his or her own discovery and gain on one level or another. But the important aspects of each other’s experience must be collectively shared.x

 

While this statement emphasizes participation and shared responsibility over rules and leadership, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that Tanaka was one of the main driving forces behind the emergence of Body Weather Laboratory, as well as its most prominent figurehead. No other member of Body Weather Laboratory has ever received similar international attention and prestige.

 

According to Katerina Bakatsaki, member of Maijuku Dance Company from 1985 to 1991, Tanaka embodied a philosophical discourse and social dynamics that already existed in that era, connecting different trainings and practice technologies that were either already existing in Japan or coming from Europe. Comparing him to Steve Paxton, she considers Tanaka as a charismatic and visionary artist who had the capacity to not only channel multiple forces already underway, but also to articulate a proposal that others—dancers, performers, visual artists, philosophers, yoga and shiatsu practitionersx—were eager to engage with. Zack Fuller, similarly, sees Tanaka as the “catalyst”x of Body Weather Laboratory.

 

Body Weather’s More-Than-Human Body


It is impossible to seal off everything merely with one piece of skin. […] We had better regarded our body not as independent entity, but as a medium resonating with the world with a rather complex and multi-level frequency.x

 

We absolutely deny the practice of looking at the body as a stationary entity and to establish its standards and hierarchy.x

 

We have been taught that our bodies can be counted as one, two, … and that this individuality is the proof of our existence. But is this really true? I can hardly believe that this body of mine, covered with skin, is an independent entity.x

 

I would like to emphasize the relations between entities rather than entities themselves.x

 

Bakatsaki points out that the encounter with Western philosophy, in particular Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,x had a significant impact on Tanaka’s thinking and his conception of Body Weather. According to her, it is one of the core ideas of Body Weather to dismiss the notion of the body as a separate entity in favour of the conception of an unbounded and multiple body that always exists in excess of itself; and not only in relation to other human bodies, but also to non-human bodies, weather, objects, places, diverse temporalities, etc. Body in Body Weather is always more than human, and more than itself.

 

Body Weather Moving Abroad


During the founding years of Body Weather, the practice of the Manipulations took a central place in the training workshop. According to Viviane Duvergé, who was the first European to join Body Weather Laboratory in Japan in 1982, a Body Weather workshop led by Min Tanaka in Nantes in March 1980 consisted mainly of the Manipulations, followed by some exploration work outdoors.x When she organized another workshop by Tanaka in France in May 1980, she initially hesitated to announce it as a ‘dance’ workshop because she was afraid that people would complain that it was not close enough to dance. “But nobody complained. People were just mad and so happy with the experience”, she recalled. At first, Duvergé herself had the impression that the Manipulations were designed to specifically prepare the dancer’s body. However, over the course of time, she came to realize that the practice was not only useful for dancers, but that it could benefit anyone interested in training body awareness, regardless of their background and pre-experience.x


We always hope that our workshop be one where anybody can start with his or her present situation.x

 

According to Duvergé, there is a crucial difference between Body Weather’s notion of dance and Western practices: whereas Western dance, at that time, was about mastering space and moving from the inside out, in Body Weather the stimulus for movement comes from the outside, entering bodies through the skin that is rendered more permeable by the training.x

 

Skin, Touch, Transposition


Duvergé recalls Tanaka stating that dance happens on both sides of the skin.x It is indeed from the earliest inception of Body Weather that Tanaka attributes a key role to the body’s skin.x In the Manipulations, for example, it is by means of entering the body of the other through touching the skin that the notion of the body as a separate and fixed entity is called into question. The transposition and projection of one’s own body into the body of the other is understood as a means to learn more about one’s own body by getting to know the bodies of others. This enhanced knowledge in, through and about bodies, and the ability to take on the perspective of another body, increases the practitioner’s capacity to embody new relations, which is a core aspect of all Body Weather training, but in particular of the Manipulations.


We do not, in our daily life, observe other persons’ breathing with this much seriousness. Nor do we touch their skin with this much attention. Neither do we have ‘other person’ who would let us touch his/her skin in such a manner. To become somebody means to become and identify with what is inside that body. It means to slip into the body beyond the surface (skin). As the workshop proceeds, you must come to realize how easy it is to ‘be in other persons’ position’. You will also come to question why you have been so much concerned with your own body alone, giving it special care. Be the other person’s body, your own body – compare and learn. This provides you with a rich reference for ‘being in other person’s position’. It is one of the most important points of this workshop (to make it rewarding) to establish a relationship of infinite influences.x

 

The capacity to transpose oneself into the body of the other is understood as a way of learning more about your own body. Another way to learn more about its anatomical reality is to physically articulate a body, and to differentiate it into different parts, thus creating relations between them.


Right now we are trying to feel different parts of our body separate from each other at our laboratory’s workshop – [to] feel and concentrate on a certain part of the body independent from others, and not [to] feel the entire body as one ­– such as the palm, the head etc. Needless to say, the body is made of different parts united in one, and the parts will not actually become separate from one another. It is important to feel the entire flow of the body (and many methods have been developed to do so from older times), but will our body wake up only through such methods? At most you might get only an arbitrary physical sensation. We must be more specific about each part of the body, and we should not only depend on the flowing system (anatomical as well as physiological) of the body. Face the field in front of you only with one fragment of your body – face the cosmos only with your right bun, or face the water horizon only with your spine. That every part chosen will be inspired, and you will be able to look at that part in the context of your entire body. There is no need any more to be over-concerned as to where lies the boundary of your body.x

 

The isolation of body parts in the Manipulations, for example the movement of the receiver’s head at the end of sequence Number Two,x is not only a way to study the relations between body parts (head, neck, shoulders, etc.), but it is likewise a means to re-negotiate the boundaries between the body of the giver and the body of the receiver, raising the question of ownership. Surrendering to be moved by the giver, the question arises: Whose head is it?


It is really an admirable experience to feel our head, though connected to our trunk, rapidly losing its identity – eventually we will not be sure to whom it belongs.x

 

The experience of a body ‘losing’ its head, allowing it to be moved in unprecedented directions, releasing the muscles of the neck and becoming ‘isolated’—to a certain extent—from the torso is a unique experience. Such a ‘decapitation’ would be impossible without the sensitive and diligent handling of the receiver by the body of the giver.

 

Co-Embodiment and Ownership


The ethical implications of the relationship between the giver and the receiver of the Manipulations are complex. Practitioners learn to enable their partners to safely experience their bodies in ways that they would never be able to accomplish by themselves, working alone. This ethical stance of being there for the other, up to the point of becoming the other, is key for Body Weather, particularly in the partner work of the Manipulations.x


In this workshop […] it is important to place oneself in the other person’s position – become the other person’s body.x

 

The kind of co-embodiment that is enacted through becoming the other touches not only on the question of boundaries between bodies, but particularly, as already observed above, on issues of ownership. Who owns a body that is created through co-embodiment in the practice of the Manipulations?


We do not start from 1, but from 2. We are constantly reminded of the fact that two is the ultimate minimal unit. Through this workshop in which we work in the units of two people together, we embody the body that belongs to nobody.x

 

The goal of being able to articulate, isolate and differentiate body parts is to increase the capacity to decide at any given moment which parts of a body are at work, and which are at rest. Increasing the number of body parts that are at rest is seen to increase the freedom of the performer to move (by being moved).


In many parts of this workshop we are expected to concentrate on a specific part of our body. We call this process of concentration ‘installing many switches on the whole body’. At any given moment, some parts (maybe certain muscles) of the body are at work, while others are not (but at rest). And if there are more parts at rest, the scope of freedom in the next moment is greater than the other way around. That is, if there are more parts at work, then the freedom in the next moment will be less.x

 

Becoming Weather


One effect of the Manipulations is an altered perception of the receiver’s body in relation to itself and to other human and non-human bodies. Similar to how the physical intra-corporeal relations between parts of a body change as an effect of the specific manipulation by the giver, so do the inter-corporeal relations between bodies. What is set into motion through the practice is an ongoing process of change and alteration on the level of (micro-)perceptions. The intra-corporeal changes that are effected by the changing inter-corporeal relations loop back into the relations between bodies, altering the perception that a body has in relation to itself and to other bodies. This kind of looping between inter and intra is potentially infinite, and the process of alteration, of becoming Weather, is by its very nature open-ended.


The body becomes awake through the correspondence of the outside weather and the inside weather. The outside weather could be somebody else’s body. So true and so interesting to witness this. And what sort of a history do our bod[ies] have to undergo to weaken this very credible technology of exchange?x

 

From a Body Weather perspective, the issue is that our bodies have been historically conditioned to act and behave as bounded entities that are separate from each other. One of the main concerns of the training is to question and undo the separation between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, Body and Weatherx, and to foster the capacity of bodies to become receptive to multiple influences. Consequently, one of the key questions in the partner work of the Manipulations is how to undo a body’s historical conditioning; how to render bodies open, again, and how to activate their potential to become Weather for others.

 

‘Dancing the Place’ - Becoming ‘Medium’


According to Tanaka, the undoing of the separation between bodies, and between Body and Weather, requires a different notion of our body as a ‘medium’:


We had better regarded our body not as independent entity, but as a medium resonating with the world with a rather complex and multi-level frequency.x

 

Tanaka’s idea of a body as a ‘medium’ stands in sharp contrast with the notion of dance as a form of personal self-expression. He rejects an existentialist approach to dance which draws on the personal ideas and emotions of an independent subject as the source of an individual artistic creativity. Claiming to go beyond such an individualist approach, Tanaka’s proposition is to explore how bodily sensations become alive in relation to ‘place’, and to the history of humanity. For him, dance emerges from a temporal and spatial ecology and must not be separated from its field of emergence. Consequently, he states that he does not dance in a place, but that he dances the place, affected by its spirit.


The kind of dance that I studied after I grew up was ‘existentialism’. They had a slogan ‘engaging one’s body to express personal emotions and ideas’. What I want to know, however, is the source from which my internal sensations come from. I want to dance the dance that the body remembers. Our body expresses the two million years of humanity. It is intolerable for me to think that the dance of a single person is commented upon and evaluated as an absolute entity. Dance is truly established only if it incorporates the state of the soul of the place. The complex vacillation that happens in any person’s spirit is dance. So, dance cannot become a piece of art. It is by no means a personal expression. We don’t dance in a place, but dance the place, affected by the spirit of the very place.x

 

One might be left wondering about who or what is moving (in) Tanaka’s dance. What is the driving force behind his dance? Tanaka has no simple answer. For him, to dance is not about being driven, but about he himself becoming the dance’s driving force.


Drive is not the desire to go somewhere, but one’s very determination to become the driving force itself.x

 

Nevertheless, for Tanaka the quest to become the driving force of his dance has very little to do with the idea of an independent subject that is expressing his personal creative agency. Instead, his concern is how to meet the challenge of becoming the body that Body Weather wants him to be.


My eyes are gazing at Body Weather. My ethical response to my body that happened to dance is to enjoy this endless process of learning. Min Tanaka is a dancer created by Body Weather, and he is feeling responsible to develop Min Tanaka into a Min Tanaka that can be admired more and more.x

 

Dissolution

 

In 1981, still based in Tokyo, Tanaka founded Maijuku Dance Company, which was made up of an international group of dancers. Many of them followed Tanaka to Japan after seeing his performances and participating in his workshops. In 1985, the group moved from Tokyo to Hakushu, a small village in the Japanese countryside, and founded the Body Weather Farm, where they combined organic farming with intense training and performing, both locally as well as abroad. Each summer, a festival was organized in Hakushu that attracted many international artists and visitors.

 

The farm existed for more than 20 years and served as a base for Tanaka and the members of Maijuku, as well as for artists who were temporarily visiting and working at the place. Maijuku was disbanded in 1997. Some of the former members returned to their home countries and continued to develop their approach to Body Weather in laboratories. These include Katerina Bakatsaki and Frank van de Ven (The Netherlands), Andres Corchero (Spain), Stuart Lynch (Denmark), Tess De Quincey (Australia), and Christine Quoiraud (France); Oguri established his base in Los Angeles (US); founding member Hisako Horikawa returned to her home town of Niigata in Japan while frequently travelling to Europe to perform and to teach; and Yasunari Tamai stayed at the farm until recently, regularly travelling to Europe and the US to realize his own independent productions.x

 

In 2011, Tanaka dissolved the Body Weather Farm and stopped all activities related to Body Weather.x He continues to work as an actor and performer.

 

Body Weather Amsterdam


In 1993, Katerina Bakatsaki and Frank van de Ven returned to Europe and founded Body Weather Laboratory Amsterdamx in 1996 as a platform for training and performance research. In autumn 2002, after graduating from the School for New Dance Development (SNDO) in Amsterdam, I began to join the weekly trainings organized by Body Weather Laboratory Amsterdam, the so-called ‘Thursday training’. No longer taking dance classes at dance school, I wanted to follow some kind of regular physical practice in order to continue my training. I had had my first encounter with Body Weather at a workshop that was jointly facilitated by Frank van de Ven and Peter Snow at SNDO around 2001. The experience of the workshop had left a deep impression in me, and I was keen to learn more about the work. I found that Body Weather offered a highly sophisticated and interesting approach to investigating connections between mind and body, movement and perception, physicality and consciousness.

 

In principle, the Thursday training was open to anyone who was interested in the work and who had ‘passed’ an introductory workshop. It did not matter whether they were professional or amateur. The main pre-requisite for being admitted to the training was an open attitude, and the capacity to engage with the training in a manner that made it workable, not only for the individual participant, but also for the group. Katarina Bakatsaki and Frank van de Ven took turns in leading the training.x

 

The training at Body Weather Laboratory Amsterdam consisted of three parts, which basically followed the structure of Maijuku Dance Company’s daily training routine at the Body Weather Farm in Japan:

 

- The first part is called the ‘M/B’ (short for ‘mind/body’ or ‘muscles/bones’). The M/B is a physically highly demanding and vigorous workout that focuses on developing strength, endurance and coordination. While moving in parallel lines back and forth across the studio and repeating given patterns of movement, practitioners are asked to closely observe any bodily changes, particularly in relation to the kinaesthetic awareness of the body, its alignment, placement and muscular tension, while at the same time paying attention to the overall movement of the group.x

 

- The ‘Manipulations’ is the second part and is concerned with stretching, breathing and relaxation. It is a hands-on practice that draws on diverse Eastern and Western somatic practices, such as yoga, shiatsu and acupuncture, and is conducted through partner work, with one practitioner giving and the other receiving a series of specific touch-manipulations, with alternating roles. The entire practice consists of approximately 90 touch-based operations that are structured into a numbered sequence of one to seven, and typically takes between one-and-a-half and two hours to complete.

 

- The third part of the training is called ‘Laboratory’ and consists of a wide range of practices aimed at exploring movement and the perception of the body in relation to itself, to the bodies of others, to time/speed, space, images, touch and so forth.

 

Typically, we would spend around one-and-a-half hours on each section with a short break between the M/B and the Manipulations and a longer break before the Laboratory. One of the effects of the M/B is to heat up and exhaust bodies by taking them to their physical limits, which makes them ‘ready’ for the more quiet and calm work of the Manipulations, which in turn prepares bodies for the explorative and improvisational work in the Laboratory.

 

During the years that I joined the Thursday training, I considered it to be a form of research in the medium of the body, and as a practice deeply entrenched in a different kind of knowledge than what would usually be taught in most other classes and workshops in the context of contemporary dance. The training was not about learning certain movement skills, or about becoming more proficient in controlling the body. It was a methodology to test, to probe, to inquire, to experiment, to get to know your own body as well as the bodies of others, to try and to fail the impossible, to negotiate, to question and to doubt what you thought you knew – collectively, collaboratively, and in the spirit of furthering each other’s knowledge and capacities. Tasks were tools for experimenting and studying together, and a means to open up to new experiences and perceptions, to learn more about the body’s potential to generate and create the new and the different. The training was comprehensive and demanding; it addressed me in my fullest capacity as a human being, not just as a dancer, and it greatly inspired my thinking and my imagination of how things, the world, might be otherwise. The training was a great source of inspiration and food for thought.

 

Body Weather: Ideology or Training Method?


Whereas Peter Snow considers Body Weather to be a training and performance practice, Zack Fuller argues that for Tanaka, Body Weather is “an ideology or personal philosophy”x, and he emphasizes the distinction between these two conceptions:

 

While practitioners outside of Japan may well consider Body Weather to be a way of life or philosophy, their promotion of Body Weather as a type of performer training has influenced the broad perception of Body Weather as a specific training method. Because of this I wish to distinguish Body Weather as an ideology from the idea of Body Weather as a training method.x

 

According to Fuller, it was never Tanaka’s intention to establish Body Weather as a training method: “For Tanaka to call his first workshop a Body Weather workshop was not to establish Body Weather as a training method, but to denominate a collaborative investigation informed by the ideology of Body Weather”.x Fuller holds that the fixation and commodification of Body Weather into a formalized methodology for training and performance was against the nature of Body Weather, which “envisions the body as a force of nature: ever changing, omni-centered, and completely open to external stimuli”.x He continues:

 

Tanaka often complains about people formalizing Hijikata’s approach to dance, or his own training exercises, in order to make money. While Tanaka is not opposed to making money from dance, he is opposed to establishing or fixing it as a form in order to do so, because this would limit the capacity for change and experimentation that he sees vital to his practice, to practice butô as ‘spiritual existence’. He clearly sees the establishment of a form as a type of commodification, and his own practice embodies the idea that one cannot invest oneself in a commodified art and maintain personal agency, just as one cannot have a conventional life and create experimental dance.x

 

In my view, Tanaka’s rejection of the formalization of Body Weather as a training method, and his opposition to the fixation of butohand Body Weather—as a form of dance and movement practice, indicates an interesting tension in the conception of Body Weather. If bodies are indeed “ever-changing, omni-centered, and completely open to external stimuli”, i.e. invariably changing under the influence of Weather, then what would be the point of resisting—undesired—changes to Body Weather, and of attempting to fix it as an ‘ideology’ centred around the authority of Min Tanaka? This resistance to fixation, formalization and commodification can be interpreted as an expression of the desire to construct an essentialist idea of Body Weather, and as an attempt to (re-)claim the interpretative sovereignty over its ‘true’ meaning.

 

Nevertheless, if Body Weather is truly committed to constant change, omni-centredness and complete openness to the world, as it proclaims, then any attempt to essentialize Body Weather, and to claim the control over Body Weather's—past and future—movements and stoppages, its stretches, turns, twists, leaps and possible aberrations, appears to be a contradiction in itself. The paradox, it seems to me, is that if Body Weather aims to be true to itself, it needs to embrace the potential risk of becoming other than it was, and it needs to forfeit any attempt to control what it might become. To put it differently: the paradox is that the only way of affirming Body Weather’s identity is by actually letting go of it.

 

But maybe things are not altogether this black-and-white. Bakatsaki and Van de Ven, for their part, always highlighted that they conceived of Body Weather as an approach to training and performance, and as an ongoing and open-ended investigation into the body, not as a fixed and formalized method. At the Body Weather Farm in Hakushu, a relatively like-minded group of highly motivated and skilled international performers combined the harsh daily work on an organic farm in the Japanese countryside with intense training and international touring. This was one situation in which Body Weather took shape. The artistic, socio-economic, geographic and cultural landscape of Amsterdam in the 1990s looked quite different, and in this sense the Weather conditions in Western Europe of the 1990s and 2000s there were not the same as those in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

The way in which Van de Ven and Bakatsaki further developed the training can be seen as an ongoing negotiation of the heritage of Body Weather in relation to their own goals and preferences, as well as to the prevalent Weather conditions and the local particularities they encountered after their return to Europe, which were different from those in Japan. Theirs was no longer a life on a farm in the Japanese countryside, but in the urban landscape of Amsterdam, a city that Deleuze and Guattari consider as being “entirely without roots, a rhizome-city with its stem-canals, where utility connects with the greatest folly in relation to a commercial war machine”.x In light of this, it seems to be only a logical consequence of the altered conditions of the prevalent Weather that the way in which Bakatsaki and Van de Ven further developed Body Weather as a training and performance practice responded to the changing context—without being determined by it—and that their way of developing Body Weather differed in certain ways from how Body Weather was continued by other Laboratories in Australia, Denmark, France, Spain and the US – or even in Japan by Tanaka himself.x

 

Body Weather and butoh


Another contested issue is the recurring denotation of Body Weather as (a form of) butoh. According to Fuller, the identification of Tanaka as a butoh dancer is a misconception of Tanaka’s artistic position and of his innovative approach to dance-making. One of the reasons for conflating Tanaka and Body Weather with butoh, Fuller explains, was the commodification of butoh as a traditional form of Japanese dance: “Originally an avant-garde practice engaged in by radically experimental individuals, in order for butô to be commodified it had to be constructed as a dance form related to traditional Japanese culture”.x The labelling of butoh as a traditional Japanese dance form promoted its successful import to the West, Fuller writes. When Tanaka came for the first time to Europe to perform at the Festival d’Automne in Paris in 1978, he was announced as a butoh dancer,x although in Japan he was perceived as an outsider of butoh.x

 

In part, Body Weather’s conflation with butoh may have been fuelled by Tanaka’s own statement that he was the ‘legitimate son’ of butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, but Tanaka himself has always rejected being categorized under this term. According to Fuller, the link with butoh is likely to have promoted Tanaka’s international career, but the differences between Hijikata’s butoh and Tanaka’s Body Weather are undeniable, and labelling him as a butoh dancer “has obscured Tanaka’s significant innovations in the interrelated fields of improvised collaboration, performer training, and choreographic process”.x

 

The superficial rooting of Tanaka’s art in traditional Japanese culture would fail to see that he “was strongly influenced by the work of the American post-modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin”,x Fuller writes. Rather than being “tied to ancient Japanese traditions”,x as RoseLee Goldberg states, Fuller points out that Tanaka “has utilized experimental tactics originally employed by U.S. based choreographers such as Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton and Trisha Brown, and extended, combined, and developed them in unprecedented ways”.x According to Fuller, “the ultimate goal of his training was an ideal non-hierarchic body”,x and the underlying principles of the Body Weather training methodology, such as omni-centrality and the omni-centred body, were “fundamentally opposed to what is often taught as butô”.x In addition, rather than working with visual imagery as a tool for creation, which is characteristic of butoh, Tanaka’s workshops emphasized physical stimulation as a movement resource.x

 

Peter Snow draws an even more complex picture of Body Weather’s place in the landscape of dance and performance training. He claims that Body Weather's lineage is rooted in more than one tradition:

 

There are many ways to position Body Weather practice: as an inter-cultural practice with bases in Japan, Europe, America and Australia; as an avant-garde Japanese performing practice with links to traditional Japanese performing arts (cf. Suzuki); as a counter-cultural move away from city to country with the purpose of reinvigorating a performance aesthetic (in the spirit of Copeau or Grotowski); as a post-modern performance form decentring bodies and relativising ‘knowledges’ and subjectivities; and so on.x

 

While Fuller notes that Body Weather envisions the body as “a force of nature: ever-changing, omni-centered, and completely open to external stimuli”, as well as “opposed to hierarchization or formalization”,x Snow elaborates on the notions of ‘body’ and ‘weather’ as follows:

 

It is my contention that bodies in Body Weather practice can be envisaged as not only multiple, receptive and changing, but also as relatively permeable and unbounded, and thus open to the multiple influences of weather. Weather can be understood as a multivalent, capricious, cyclic and unpredictable system of influences occurring ‘inside and outside’ bodies, and in fact throughout the world. On this view, bodies and the world as weather would be interpenetrable, capable of infinite difference and endless change.x

 

What Snow highlights here is that ‘bodies’ and ‘weather’ are unpredictable and uncontrollable in their becoming. Hence, it appears that any attempt to define and to fix Body Weather as an ideology or as the other of butoh would undermine its own beliefs. Neither the movement of ever-changing bodies, nor the impact of Weather’s movements, can be subject to control. One of the flipsides of endless change and infinite difference is inevitably also a potential for commodification and fixation. If bodies are indeed unbounded, omni-centred, multiple, non-hierarchical and open to infinite influences, then the marking and fixing of boundaries, and the essentializing of Body Weather as an ideology—as opposed to a method of training, to a form of dance, to a commodity, to butoh, etc.—, is problematic, to say the least.

 

Performance Project ‘Something Here That Is Not There’


In 2005, together with the dancers Ailed Izurieta, Ema Nik Thomas and Milou Veiling, I initiated the performance project ‘Something Here That Is Not There’ (SHTINT). For this specific project, under the umbrella of Body Weather Amsterdam, we organized an additional day of training and rehearsing in a studio at OT301,x a legalized former squat turned into a socio-cultural centre with self-organized low-cost workspaces for artists. We dancers took care of the space, shared the modest rent amongst ourselves, and invited Katerina Bakatsaki to collaborate with us. Typically, we would spend the mornings training by ourselves in the group; Bakatsaki would then join later in the afternoon to lead the work for the rest of the day. By establishing ourselves at OT301, we were largely able to work without the pressure to deliver output. Outside of the conventional dance circuit and without any funding, we were able to determine our own way of working, to develop the artistic process in its own time, and to choose for ourselves the venues where we wanted to perform.

 

In this way, between 2005 and 2009, SHTINT realized dozens of mainly self-organized group performances directed by Bakatsaki at predominantly non-theatrical locations, both indoors as well as outdoors: private apartments, market places, streets, homes for the elderly, shelters for the homeless or for people with drug addictions or in rehab, care settings for people with cognitive disabilities, but also at dance festivals and at our home base OT301.­­ The artistic leadership was in the hands of Bakatsaki, while the tasks related to the production of the performances were equally divided amongst all of us.

 

‘Research-Oriented’ Dance Production


At that time, there were two main production houses for independent choreographers in the Netherlands: Danswerkplaats Amsterdam and Dansateliers Rotterdam. As part of their tasks as production houses, these institutions provided space, time and a modest budget for dance productions that were oriented towards research and experimentation. Typically, such research projects were offered four weeks of production time and a moderate budget to realize a research proposal, concluding in a public presentation.

 

In my perception, and based on my conversations with other dancers and choreographers, these research-oriented dance productions frequently suffered from a recurring pattern. Though they would initially start out as a keen exploration of new and unfamiliar territories, halfway through the process the date for presenting the results would draw nearer, and this created anxiety amongst the participants, in particular the project leader, about the anticipated result of the project: the performance. To this end, the publicity machine had to be activated: a programme flyer had to be written; the announcement of the presentation had to be sent out; the curator of festival X had to be invited, the director of theatre Y, the representative of foundation Z, a hip dramaturge to possibly work with in the future, a favourable dance critic to get a (positive) review. The whole network had to be informed. Decisions had to be made: Where do you want the audience to be seated? What dance floor do you need? What is your lighting design? What costumes will you be using? What music have you chosen? When can we have the photographer come in to the rehearsal to take pictures? When will you be ready for a run-through? On Monday we scheduled a technical rehearsal! On Thursday we have the general! Guys, we have to be ready for the premiere on Friday evening!

 

As the end of the working period drew nearer, the atmosphere in the studio would tend to get more and more tense, shifting in mode from experimenting to quickly composing and setting some material, in order to give it a structure that resembled a dance piece. When coming to watch these ‘pieces’, I would often wonder: “What have they actually been researching?”

 

Too often, giving in to the pressure and habits of performance-making suffocated the research process, long before it had actually been given any chance to get off the ground. At other times, it appeared that some choreographers were simply taking the opportunity of a ‘research’ production to put together a piece that they had more or less already conceived of beforehand. Thus, they were using the time and resources that they had been given for conducting ‘research’ in order to put together a finished dance performance that would hopefully come out well enough to be sold and taken on tour. Again, I would ask myself: "What does this have to do with 'research'?”

 

In my view, the problem of ‘research-oriented’ dance at that time was that the production houses were adhering to an idea of giving individual dance-makers the opportunity to realize ‘their’ personal proposal in order to develop ‘their’ personal artistic ‘signature’. This format of doing ‘research’ more or less followed the conventional scheme of producing a dance performance. It was aimed at strengthening the artistic identity and the profile of the individual dance-maker, much more than promoting continued exchange between artists or developing a sustainable research culture.

 

Nevertheless, on the part of dance artists, one could perceive a growing desire for new and different formats of self-determined collaborative research and exchange at the conjunction of artistic practice and academic research.

 

My Path into Artistic Research


After some years of training with Body Weather Amsterdam and performing with SHTINT, there came a point of stagnation. While the training provided a solid and fruitful basis for the continuous investigation into and through the body, our attempts to put SHTINT on an economically more sustainable track were hitting a wall. We were working in the studio a minimum of two days a week, spending additional time with production work and rehearsals in the run-up to performances. Our attempts to obtain at least some basic funding were unsuccessful. Except for an occasional (small) compensation of our expenses by the hosts of our performances, none of us received any salary for the work we did, and there was no indication that things were going to change fundamentally in the future.

 

At the same time, after years of focusing on dance, my interest in theory and philosophy was growing stronger—once again—and I was searching for opportunities to combine movement research based on Body Weather with theoretical research and discursive modes of reflecting on dance. The main motivation for me for originally exiting academiax and entering the dance field had been my conviction that dance was the most adequate medium to practically study the connections between body, perception and consciousness. I was looking for an institution that could offer a proper framework for pursuing my interests in combining dance and theory/philosophy.

 

When the University of Amsterdam announced the launch of a multidisciplinary Artistic Research Master program that brought together artistic practice and academic research in 2007, it was clear to me right away that this was exactly what I had been looking for. I applied to enter the program and was admitted as one of five artists in the first cohort of students.x At that time, the duration of the course was one-and-a-half years. In the first year, the curriculum focused entirely on theory classes. In the following six months, we were supposed to realize an artistic project.

 

In the practical research for my final project, I was experimenting with a solo version of the Manipulations, a sort of predecessor of what would later evolve into the so-called ‘research score’. In the written part, which actually had to be submitted before even beginning to work on the practical part, I tried to come to terms with the epistemological foundations of artistic research in dance. At that time, the debate in the emergent field of artistic research was focused by and large on questions about the nature of the knowledge that was created in and through the arts, about the boundaries between art as such and art as research, and about the demarcation between academic and artistic 'research'.

 

When I graduated from the program in early 2009, there remained a large gap between the theoretical and the practical part of my research. Partly, this gap was an effect of the program structure, which made a clear division between theory and practice. The work in the first year consisted exclusively of theory courses. During the phase of the practical project, there was no teaching at all except for a few meetings for supervision and for preparing the exhibition of our graduation works (“The Best of Both Worlds”) at W139, a presentation and production space for contemporary art on the edge of Amsterdam’s red light district. At the time of working on the written part, I still had only a vague idea of what I would actually be doing during the practical part, my final work.

 

The gap between practice and theory was, in a sense, also the result of a certain reluctance and hesitation on my part to write about Body Weather. In the wake of my participation in the Artistic Research Master’s program, my relationship to Body Weather changed: I began to rethink and apply the work from the extended perspective of a practitioner-researcher. In my perception, this created a certain tension between me and in particular Bakatsaki, with whom I was working very closely at that time. It seemed that an issue of power and control had emerged between master and apprentice, teacher and student: I felt that I was not officially entitled to write about Body Weather, and that the permission was being withheld. In this situation, I decided to rather write about the discursive theoretical context of my artistic research in my Master's thesis, instead of about Body Weather as the practice from where I came.

 

My graduation work consisted of a mixed-media research-installation that ran for one month in the entrance room of the exhibition space. In this room, which was about 15m2 in size and was visible both from the inside (the main exhibition space) as well as the outside (the street), I displayed various materials and documents (video, sound, image, text, diagrams) gathered during the course of my research. During the period of the exhibition, I used the installation space not only as a place for (re-)presenting my research, but also as a rehearsal studio and performance venue. I continued to practice in my little space during the opening hours while visitors were passing through, and performed both indoors and outdoors. The presented material was continuously updated, and I was available to answer visitors’ questions. In addition, I gave two lecture performances.

 

With the concept of a ‘research installation’, the performative research process was not interrupted or stopped by the move into the space of representation; rather, it continued to develop under the altered and somewhat unconventional conditions of an art space that was located on the edge of the city’s red light district. Despite the unresolved problem of the gap between theory and practice in my research, this way of presenting the products of my research process was very different from what otherwise could typically be produced in four weeks under the roof of a dance production house, and in my perception it was much more appropriate to the specific needs and requirements of artistic research.

 

 


[1] If not cited otherwise, my account of the formation of Body Weather is based on Snow 2002 and Fuller 2016, as well as on personal communication with Bakatsaki 2018, Duvergé 2015, Van de Ven 2018 and 2019, and Quoiraud 2015.

[2] Tanaka 1986b, 155.

[3] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 80.

[4] Tanaka 1986b, 153.

[5] In Japanese: Shintai (Body) Kisho (Weather). According to Frank van de Ven (2018), who was a member of the Maijuku Dance Company from 1983 to 1991, the adjunct term Kenkyujo (Laboratory) was inspired by Grotowski’s ‘Laboratory Theatre’. According to Christine Quoiraud (2015), Maijuku Dance Company member from 1985 to 1990, Tanaka was influenced by Grotowski, but he never made this explicit.

[6] See Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 24. According to Fuller (2016, 13), it was Matsuoka who came up with the term.

[7] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 60.

[8] According to Duvergé (2015), the practice was originally referred to as ‘Basic Work’. In an issue of Drive On from 1980 (72-78), there is an illustrated description of the complete series and the practice is referred to as ‘editorials’.

[9]Tanaka & Matsuoka 2013, 342. I am greatly indebted to Tashi Iwaoka for directing me towards this passage, and for its translation.

[10] Quoiraud 2015.

[11] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 40.

[12] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 40.

[13] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 58.

[14]The Body Weather Laboratory consists of members with equal rights and responsibilities. Presently, the Laboratory at Hachioji (Tokyo) has over 30 regular members and more than 50 associate members.(Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 59)

[15] Fuller 2016, 119.

[16] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 58.

[17] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 60.

[18] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 80.

[19] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 80.

[20] Fuller writes (2014, 197) that Michel Foucault and Félix Guattari admired Tanaka. The documentary “Tanaka Min à La Borde” by Joséphine Guattari and François Pain from 1986 shows Tanaka performing in 1985 at the psychiatric clinic where Guattari was working at the time.

[21] It was only later, in 1981, that the part of the training called ‘M/B’ was created.

[22] Duvergé 2015.

[23] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 60.

[24] Duvergé 2015.

[25] Duvergé 2015.

[26] “It was [in 1975] that I discussed with Mr. Seigo Matsuoka that ‘the key is the skin’.” (Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 24)

[27] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 61.

[28] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 39.

[29] See the manipulation of the head/neck in the video recording of the Manipulations Number One & Two starting at 7’02 minutes.

[30] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 61.

[31] In common everyday use, the word ‘manipulation’ is fraught with negative connotations: To ‘manipulate’ somebody has a strong touch of deceptive and unethical behaviour in order to influence someone to do something to their own disadvantage. However, if we look at its etymology, the semantic field of the word ‘manipulation’/‘manipulate’ is much broader, offering a number of meanings that do not have the smell of fraud or pretence, and that are morally less charged. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘manipulation’ can also refer to “the action of handling of an apparatus in experiments” (chemistry), or to the “manual examination or treatment of a part of the body, especially the production of specific passive joints in chiropractice, osteopathy, or physiotherapy” (medicine). ‘To manipulate’ can mean “to handle, especially with skill or dexterity; to turn, reposition, reshape, etc., manually or by means of a tool or machine”; “To process, organize, or operate on mentally or logically; to handle with mental or intellectual skill”; “To alter or transform into something by manipulation”. (Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed 5 February 2019. https://www.oed.com/.)

[32] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 61.

[33] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 60; original emphasis.

[34] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 61.

[35] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 24.

[36] See my remarks on the capitalization of the terms ‘body’ and ‘weather’ in the introduction.

[37] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 58.

[38] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 80.

[39] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980, 80.

[40] Body Weather Laboratory 1978-1980; original emphasis. The responsibility to be admired seems an odd conclusion to draw.

[41] Van de Ven 2019.

[42] See Fuller 2016, 7-9.

[43] The word ‘Laboratory’ was later dropped.

[44] The Thursday training did not pursue any commercial interest, but the wish to share and further develop the work. The fee for the 6-hour training was merely a contribution to cover the rent for the studio, and was about the same as the fee for a 1.5-hour dance class at a local non-profit organization in Amsterdam, which offered regular training for professional dancers.

[45] The M/B was developed in 1981. The opening sequence of the third part of the documentary “Tanaka Min et Mai-Juku” by Eric Sandrin (Sandrin 1987) shows excerpts from an M/B session at the Body Weather Farm. Taylor (2010, 75) writes that the M/B is a “dancers’ version of aerobics [that] comprises a series of exercises sourced from international folk dance and sport, travelling across space to rhythmic music”. The M/B certainly has the potential to be interpreted as some kind of aerobics. However, in my view, this depends not only on how the training is led, but also on how practitioners themselves activate the practice. I have experienced intense versions of the M/B that focused on detailed sensing, careful listening, exact placement and alignment, both in combination with, as well as without, taking dancers to their physical limits. As always, it is not just a matter of what but of how to do—and at the same time to questionthings.

[46] Fuller 2016, 2.

[47] Fuller 2016, 129.

[48] Fuller 2016, 129.

[49] Fuller 2016, 129.

[50] Fuller 2016, 62.

[51] Deleuze & Guattari 1987, 15. Making roots in sand and water can be quite difficult, as I experienced myself during more than ten years of living in Amsterdam.

[52] Frank van de Ven continues to teach Body Weather workshops worldwide; Katerina Bakatsaki has been active for many years as a teacher, mentor and artistic advisor at SNDO, as well as a lecturer and program advisor at the Utrecht School of Arts.

[53] Fuller 2016, 44.

[54] See Fuller 2016, 18.

[55] See Fuller 2016, 18 and Aslan 2002, 177-189.

[56] Fuller 2016, 59.

[57] Fuller 2016, 5.

[58] Goldberg 2011, 207.

[59] Fuller 2016, 5.

[60] Fuller 2016, 114.

[61] Fuller 2016, 114.

[62] Fuller 2016, 117.

[63] Snow 2002, 69.

[64] Fuller 2016, 129.

[65] Snow 2002, 67; added emphasis.

[66] See http://www.ot301.nl/page=site.home

[67] I studied history, sociology and political science at the University of Freiburg and the University of Eugene/Oregon from 1990 to 1997.

[68] The group of students consisted of a fine artist, a video maker, a playwright/theatre director, a pianist, and myself.

 

Chapter One

Preliminary Notes on My Artistic Research

with Body Weather

Body Weather Farm. Picture: Serge Tampalini. Copyright: Contemporary Arts Media, Melbourne, Australia, 2009.