The following autumn, after the second examined artistic part, #CHARP, I spent three months in Tokyo at Tokyo Arts and Space (TOKAS) residency to process the research questions with a new site-responsive work, Pompom. The scale of this choreographic installation work complements the other works done in the research, namely in examining the choreographic embodiment of the relations between movement, place, and material surroundings in the framework of hyper-mobile megalopolis Tokyo.


Pompom is a collaborative work by three artists: myself, French director and artist-researcher Vincent Roumagnac, and Japanese manga artist Nao Yazawa. The work brings together my choreographic reading practice, Roumagnac’s visual staging, and Yazawa’s practice as manga artist. In short, the project filters experiential movements of Tokyo by compounding my Western, site-specific, and context responsive choreographic practice with contemporary science fiction and Japanese manga. The starting points for the working plan of the project lay in questions such as: How, as a guest, does one embody contemporary Tokyo through the lens of movement? How does Tokyo and its moving spaces, mobility systems, and transforming materiality shapeshift the choreographer’s body? How do these movements produce Tokyo? What kind of choreographic art emerges by inhabiting and translating these massive movements with Japanese manga? What kind of critical and material encounters, parallel interests, translations, transpositions, paradoxes, and tensions are emerging when intimate Western practice meets the megalopolis of Tokyo through a dialogue with Japanese manga?


I arrived in Tokyo for the first time in my life on 4.9.2017 and settled into the TOKAS residency. On my way from the airport to the residency, I was deeply impressed by the massive bridges and highways and the skyline of Tokyo. Tokyo seemed a huge ever-moving organism or machine into which I’d entered. During the first two weeks, I just calmly wandered around Tokyo, getting to know the different parts of it. I strived to be aware of what happened along the walks during that first contact with Tokyo. Obviously, the cultural movement and shift was impressive and overwhelming. After having discussed via email with my residency collaborator Vincent Roumagnac, I also came to the conclusion that my initial working plan had the wrong viewpoint, namely a plan to discover Tokyo through the character of the astronaut who had been present in earlier works, for example in the Seasons as Choreographers project. I decided to change this viewpoint and started to look for a Japanese manga artist to work with. After searching the internet for local manga artists, I contacted Nao Yazawa, and she became interested in the project and the working plan. Roumagnac arrived at the residency two weeks after me, and after a meeting with Yazawa, the actual working process began on 21.9.2017.


In the beginning, we created a queer manga character called Pompom and shot five videos in five different Tokyo locations in which I experiment with the choreography as reading practice. This time, due to the nature of the videos and the plan of the whole installation work, I decided to stay in one spot and not to move around, so in this sense the practice was scaled down from the previous work, #CHARP, in which the performers could move around the space. In the videos of Pompom, I work with the sensitivity to the movements that constitute the chosen place from the everyday perceived movements to the planetary ones. In other words, these movements form kinesthetic fields in which my body takes place in the videos. The temporality of the movements with which I work in each video is multiple, as is the scale. It is important to note that in the videos, I do not try to become a manga character, but the decision to wear a blue wig is a visual component and prop, which points to the negotiation with the meeting point with the Japanese manga culture. It is impossible to embody a cultural environment when you do not have socio-historical or linguistic experience and understanding. This ‘mission impossible’ was one of the motivating factors of the project, and it also functioned as a catalyst for learning about the cultural tectonic movements and different artistic practices that were at stake.

(images: Vincent Roumagnac)

(image: Nao Yazawa)


Why choose to work with manga then? Why not work with some other aspect of Japanese culture and work with and learn through some other medium? Through my research project, I have been interested in contemporary science fiction as a critical backdrop to the research questions of embodiment, movement, and corporeality. Japanese manga has had a big impact on Western science fiction. I am interested in the visualization of the movement dynamics in Japanese manga and the way manga is viewed. In manga the materialization of the movement dynamics is based on the composition of the panels and the inner dynamics of one image. While working with Yazawa, I also learned that working with the movement of the eye while looking at manga is important. And, finally, manga is one of the Japanese cultural fields in which all kind of imaginary embodiments take place. These reasons made sense to my research questions, and to move in this direction in this project felt like the right artistic choice.


In the videos, the decision to stay in one spot and experiment from there is probably the most important aspect of this work when it comes to choreography as reading practice. This choice was based on the working plan in which the videos are critically set parallel with the impressive movement dynamics of manga. One of the references for the video work, which I got to know during the process, is Japanese experimental filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto’s work Atman (1975).

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdcN8wDxT0Q, accessed 12.10.2017)


Thus, the work brings together the experimentation with the movement dynamics of five various locations, my choreographic thinking and experiential practice, and the movement dynamics of manga. This work is an example of how my artistic research project has changed my practice. The previous choreographic practice of mine, before the doctoral process, was based on producing spectacular dance movements on stage. In pompom the body is not a site for the spectacular, but instead it operates as a subtle, experiential, and dense organism in a constant transformative state on an intimate micro-scale. Choreography as reading practice is based on this subtle intimacy, in which the perception and experience of the surrounding movements and kinesthetic field is processed through rapid process of engagement and disengagement with the effects that the movements’ qualities generate. Scaling down the movement that is realized by my body can be seen as a developing direction from the first works of this research project to this work. During this research project, the works have been based on durational and brief walking practice, fast bodily engagement with the material condition, and physically demanding movement practice, and here I have ended up working in one standing spot, which is extremely dense, formed, and occupied with simultaneous, various, multidirectional movements. It somewhat amuses me to think how such a constantly moving immense megalopolis like Tokyo impacted my practice in this tuning-down way. I recognize the process of Pompom as becoming-through-motion in the sense that the performing body in the videos is open-ended and never finished, simultaneously operating in flux and in stasis.


The storyline of the manga panels is based on the experiments in five different locations. After shooting the videos, I wrote the storyline and discussed and processed it with the working group. We met regularly during those three months, and in every meeting Yazawa brought proposals for manga to be discussed. We agreed with Yazawa that my role was to work as the choreographer of the manga, in the sense that I set the framework, the basic dramaturgy, movements, and expressions of the character in a detailed manner, and Yazawa worked in dialogue with those artistic directions. The storyline reflects the experience of effects and forces at play in each site, plus the imaginary actions that these forces and effects generated. From this perspective, the work combines reading and writing; the first phase of the work, shooting the videos is based on my choreographic reading practice of the particular conditions in which the body takes place, and the detailed storyboard for the manga is written based on that experimentation. The actual work of the whole installationis thus more than the shot videos and reading practice on site. The installation is based on setting the videos and manga parallel to each other in a space where the viewer can experience the work by forming a dialogue between these two mediums. One important material component of the work is a light-blue synthetic curtain behind the video screens. If the video material and the practice exposed in them is understood to contribute to the ecological turn of the choreography, in which the emphasis is how the movements of the body cannot be separated from its environment, the curtain then brings a contemporary friction to this possibly nostalgic ‘back to nature’ thinking. My body is technologically conditioned, and the choice to use this kind of curtain exposes the conditions in which the algorithmic urban body takes place, is formed, and is shapeshifting parallel to the body-organism that couples with the organic environment. Thus, these two realms – ecological and technological – are not separate but together form the sphere in which my body takes place.   

On the right side, there are two examples of manga from the project. The first episode has 6 panels and the second one has 5. In order to view the manga, scroll to the first panel on the right and move to the left.


In each scene of manga, pompom connects with the location in a specific way – either by his own actions or by meeting an active agent or entity in the location. The connection causes the location’s transformation into nebula, so each scene combines the micro-scene with the galactic one by extending towards the cosmic scale of movements at hand.

(camera: Vincent Roumagnac)

(manga: Nao Yazawa, episode 1 & 2)