50 over 50 interviewees – Yumino Seki – Japanese Dance artist and Butoh practitioner

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  1. Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long you’ve been working in this industry?

I’m a Japanese dance artist, Butoh practitioner and a qualified somatic movement teacher. I was born and raised in Japan but moved to the UK in my late 20s.

Chapter 1: At the age of 21 I was in Tokyo where I entered the world of ‘musical theatre’. This was the beginning of my dance career.

Chapter 2: 5 years later I left the company as well as the country and moved to the UK. There I tried several dance practices, which back in the ‘80s weren’t available in Japan.

During that time I came across the ‘somatic’ approach in dance and then Butoh, a Japanese avant-garde dance. It was a mind-blowing experience and it has totally changed the direction of my dance practice. Butoh has been my main focus for the last 20 years.

I predominantly worked with Tadashi Endo, Yumiko Yoshioka and Carlotta Ikeda. To deepen my Butoh practice and to better understand the connection between the mind and the body I studied somatic movement with Patricia Bardi in Amsterdam.

Chapter 3: 13 years ago I moved to Hastings and I started focusing more on my own work, both as a choreographer and as a performer. My aim is to cross the boundaries in dance by exploring new ways of artistic communication. In collaboration with multi-disciplinary artists, I’ve made several performances, some with non-conventional setups like the LED light.

I’m now in my late 50s and I’ve been in this industry for 36 years. However, there were times when I had other jobs to support myself.

  1. Who did you want to be when you were a kid?

I cannot remember what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I started going to ballet classes at the age of 8 and although I loved moving my body I never dreamt about becoming a ballerina.

In my early adolescence, I loved reading detective books, especially Agatha Christie. I wanted to become a private detective, collect clues and solve mysteries.

I also wanted to be a ‘Miko’, a Shinto shrine maiden. I think I just liked their costumes (kimonos and traditional hairstyles), their serene demeanour and their environment.

When I was 16 I saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, which was performed by a famous Japanese musical theatre company and sung in Japanese. I was totally blown away by it and thought that I really wanted to be a part of the company – so I did!

  1. What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?

When at the age of 18 I graduated from high school I felt liberated – no school uniform and no rules. I enjoyed the first two months of college, but then after that, I just felt EMPTY. I started thinking about my goals and my direction in life. I pondered a lot and the answer didn’t come that easily.

Then I got a call back from the company that created ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and I started taking dance even more seriously. I was very lucky to be accepted as it was a highly competitive role. I had a huge argument with my dad about my future because of this. He wanted me to take a conventional route – get an office job, get married and have a family. Though that was the beginning of my dance career.

My second punch was when I moved to Hastings. I found it difficult to be a freelance dancer in a predominantly white community. I didn’t find much of a way in. At the same time I started losing projects I was working on and Hastings didn’t have much of dance scene. However, I started showing my work whenever I could. From then onwards my career as a maker unfolded. I received funding, commissions and awards, both nationally and internationally.

  1. What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?

Overthinking. Sometimes I focus on details too much which delays me acting on something.

Being a freelancer I have to do almost everything on top of ‘making art’ – admin, marketing, fundraising… Lack of such skills and being a foreigner (my language skills) didn’t help that much.

I wish I would have the ability to connect with people quickly and easily. I do eventually but it takes time. I’m a slow burner.

  1. Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere – chatting to people, being in a traffic jam (when I’m not driving), reading books, looking at paintings, sleeping…

I get excited by local fruit and veggie markets. Looking at the produce, the variety of fish and meat, wow! Especially when bits of meat are on the counter – giblets, offal, stomach lining, intestines, feet, claws, wings, God knows what they are… (sorry, vegetarians.) My body draws energy from this, I feel connected to my body and it gives me vitality. I especially like dated and run down but cosy local markets that serve ethnic food.

I sometimes take silent walks or I stay still in nature as if I’m part of that environment.

  1. What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?

No doubt your body slows down, physically and mentally – the agility, the stamina, the muscle power, the memory, the wrinkles, the grey hair. You name it. It’s not the same as when I was young. Society tends to love seeing young and beautiful people perhaps because it reminds them of their own morality. But this is the reality we have to embrace. I’m proud to be old! I congratulate myself for staying in this world for over half a century.

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What I love about Butoh is its unique viewpoints of life, established by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Butoh is also influenced by the Japanese concept of Wabi & Sabi, finding beauty in humbleness and imperfection, in the process of lasting and decaying. As we grow older the uniqueness of each individual is highlighted. We become more assertive and selective. Isn’t it wonderful? We’re the living history of a single cell that transformed into the shape of a human and we continue to transform even after we die.

  1. What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?

Butoh master Kazuo Ohno presented his first solo performance in his 40s and he danced until he died at the age of 103. ‘Too late’ is just a comparison. Who are you comparing yourself to? There must be a good reason why the time hasn’t been right up until now, even if you don’t know why. And if you really want something the ‘right time’ will come.

I think we should celebrate the uniqueness of individuals from all generations. If you like doing what you do, keep on doing. But if you are in doubt just ask your HEART (not your head). We always have choices. We can either continue or stop, and both paths are equally valuable. Be courageous.

  1. Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?

I don’t have an idol but I admire Carlotta Ikeda – a Butoh artist and a leader of the all-female Butoh company ‘Ariadone.’ Carlotta died in 2014 at the age of 73 but she danced almost until her last breath.

She showed incredible transformations of her body and her mind. She transformed from human to a beast, from an innocent girl to a sorceress. Visceral, sensuous, spiritual, secular, grotesque, ethereal… as if she was transcending between here and there.

She settled in France in the ‘80s. To me, she was a warrior, Amazoness away from home who was fighting in a male-dominated society.

  1. What’s your life motto?

Everything is neutral and has meaning. We tend to define what’s good and bad, what is success and failure. Especially when something is seemingly bad, but it’s not all bad. These are the times to learn and grow. Life is the best teacher.

Be kind to others and to yourself. Be kind with your actions and be kind to the objects you touch. Appreciate everything. Stay curious. And enjoy it!

  1. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?

Put all colours to make it white and add shades of darkness to it. Then add a drop of moonlight.  What colour did you get?

Catch Yumino at Butoh Festival in Paris on 23rd and 24th of May, or follow her work on Facebook and her personal webpage.

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