Takahiro Yamamoto, MFA '13, is the recipient of a high-profile scholarship to ImPulsTanz. Without exaggerating, it's a life changing opportunity.
Takahiro Yamamoto, MFA VS ’13 wastes no time.
The same day that classes began for his first year of PNCA’s MFA in Visual Studies, when he had just arrived in Portland from Los Angeles, Yamamoto performed Tighty Righty at the @937 space on NW Glisan. Now, several performances later, including a recent one at FalseFront, Yamamoto has a new and significant triumph under his belt: he is the recipient of a high profile danceWEB Scholarship to ImPulsTanz, the Vienna International Dance Festival. He is also the first recipient of PNCA’s Laura Russo Scholarship.
Yamamoto is an interdisciplinary artist from Shizouka, Japan whose works include both performance and sculpture. He has studied theater and dance with mentors in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and now here, in Portland. In fact, it was his relationship with his mentor Linda K. Johnson, dancer, choreographer and instructor at PNCA, and with visiting artist Yvonne Rainer that inspired him to apply for this year’s danceWEB Scholarship. Yamamoto is one of three US citizens to receive the award, from among thousands of applicants in an international pool.
“Linda K. is just incredible,” Yamamoto said. “She taught me how to dance without tension. Just incredible.”
When Johnson mentioned Yamamoto’s award to Steve Paxton, the dancer and choreographer who developed Contact Improvisation, and alongside whose work Yamamoto has been improvising for the past year, he said, simply, “Well, that’s a life changer.”
“And it’s true,” said Johnson, “the types of collaborators and colleagues he’ll encounter there, the kinds of conversations… this is where things happen. These are Taka’s future colleagues. It’s so awesome, so appropriate.”
“Taka needs to go to ImPulsTanz,” said Johnson, “especially with his background as an artist and in theater. He needs to move with these people. Taka is a great embodiment of the intersection of practice and theory in that he can speak multiple languages, in multiple disciplines.”
“I’m quite new to dance,” explains Yamamoto, “Acting is easier. I have more training in it, so thus I’m more confident. Improvisation is difficult. Every time feels like pushing. I’m accumulating movement, learning performance composition. It’s incredible.”
According to Johnson, ImPulsTanz has really become the crossroads for physical and intellectual practice in dance. The festival combines an intense physical practice with a deep discourse and exchange around theory and the conceptual nature of the contemporary body.
“What’s happening in contemporary dance today – and it’s happening in all the art forms – there’s a pervasiveness of theory,” explains Johnson. “And though it’s certainly happening in the US, it’s being fueled much more in Europe.”
Yamamoto explains further: “Europe and the U.S. are very different places, and I really admire European choreographers. They’re cutting edge and very innovative. This is my chance to finally get to study with them. Especially since my collaborator [Ben Evans, of madhause] lives in France.”
The danceWEB Scholarship Programme is a five-week intensive summer training program organized alongside and within the frame of ImPulsTanz, the Vienna International Dance Festival. During those five weeks, scholarship recipients are invited to take part in any of the more than two hundred workshops, gain free admission to all ImPulsTanz performances and spend the time in dialog and in collaboration with prominent European choreographers and rising performers from around the world.
While there, Yamamoto will be involved daily in demanding physical work, dance and improvisation. danceWEB scholarship recipients are slotted into activities that are personally meaningful to them, and have opportunities to converse with contemporary dance’s best and brightest about process, about how things get made, and why dancers make them.
“It’s remarkable from a student in a visual studies program, which has nothing to do with dance at all.” Johnson elaborates. “It’s a real testament to the mentorship program and the plurality of what PNCA and the Visual Studies program is trying to develop.”
Much of Yamamoto’s current work, as evidenced in his recent performance of (un)change at FalseFront, explores the “pluralities and intricacies of human communication.”
From his artist statement:
“In performance, I am interested in finding a physical approach to pose an observation regarding the limits and possibilities of verbal, non-verbal, textual and performative language. The place where things happen could be on a wall, in a gallery, on a stage, on a street corner, in an empty retail store or a private space. In each work or project, I use body as a vessel to contain imagery, as a source to manifest verbal and written texts, as an amplifier to deliver energetic force, or as a physical being to emphasize the time of ‘Now.’”
FalseFront is easy to miss the first time you drive down the street, hidden as it is between single-family homes in a residential Northeast Portland neighborhood. But if you look more closely, you can see it clearly: a renovated storefront from a bygone era, illuminated and open. On this particular Friday, visitors can see Yamamoto in the center of the room and collaborator Geoff Soule of Supermegacorporation with drum set and electric guitar against one wall. Inscribed in a large square around Yamamoto is a long line of tiny, piled white and pale grey rectangular hole punches, which calls to mind lines of salt and ritualized, spiritual protection.
Because it was sputtering rain outside, audience members were seated inside on the floor, along three walls of the space. Usually, Yamamoto puts the audience outside the physical space, so that they’re looking in, often through glass, as silent and separated witnesses. The piece is an example of structured improvisation: Yamamoto knows where to go and how to connect the dots. There are some choreographed segments, but otherwise, Yamamoto is riffing and responding to the beats laid down by his musical collaborator.
Yamamoto is all fluid grace, loose knees and hips, moving like an athlete warming up to perform. Soule plays, records and loops percussive beats with an electric guitar and then embellishes and softens them with brushes on the high-hats.
As he moves around the space, Yamamoto crosses and disrupts the carefully swept pieces of paper, sometimes gently, sometimes abruptly.
“Each of the pieces [of paper] is a letter,” Yamamoto explained after the performance, “representing both ABC’s and epistles. They represent fragments of thought and can be scatterbrained or whole. The white pieces represent pure thought, out of myself, not influenced by anyone. The gray pieces represent someone else’s idea, even if it pretends to be my own. Learned thoughts can be almost indistinguishable from my own.”
There’s a strong scent of permanent marker, whose origin is revealed when Yamamoto removes his coat, dress shirt and tie midway through the performance. Written across his chest, back and arms are words from artist Félix González-Torres.
“I did not expect the audience to read the text. My intention was for the audience to collectively tilt their head and make an attempt to read the text from a moving body,” said Yamamoto.
After about thirty minutes, the music stops and Yamamoto disappears through a revolving door at the back of the space. A few minutes later, he returns to greet his audience and to sweep the scattered pieces of paper back into order. Though the performance has officially ended, the sweeping and re-limning of the paper pieces seem an essential piece of the whole.
This is the third time Yamamoto has performed un(change), the first time in 2009 and then again in 2011 (both in Los Angeles). This is the first performance at FalseFront.
“It’s not a work in progress, but a revised project,” Yamamoto explained. “I keep coming back to it.”
Since arriving in Portland and starting graduate school, Yamamoto hasn’t stopped asserting himself. He has applied for multiple presenting forums and has shown at least three new works outside of the traditional PNCA graduate exhibitions. Case in point, in November 2011, he presented Male-Identified at the Ray Warren Multicultural Symposium at Lewis and Clark College.
Arnold Kemp, chair of PNCA’s MFA in Visual Studies program, remarked, “Upon my first meeting with Taka, I was aware of his potential and I am glad to be one of his supporters. Taka was chosen for the [Laura Russo] scholarship from a pool of very talented incoming MFA students because of his professionalism and potential to advance in the program.”
“Taka is one of the most graceful, diligent, focused, humble students I’ve known, and I’ve taught for over twenty-five years,” said Johnson. “He really has some extraordinary qualities as a learner in the world. He’s very open, very discerning. He’s so willing to look at anything, but makes great choices about what he keeps. He edits in a really excellent way.”
You can see a video of the first performance of (un)change on Yamamoto’s website at http://www.takahiroyamamoto.com/performance/unchange_video.html.