ROUND TABLE 5: Mr Takao Kawaguchi

Orienting sexuality; at the margins of Japanese performing arts

Mr Takao Kawaguchi talked in his presentation about his biographies of performers, dancers, and choreographers by focusing on several past works themed around his sexuality. As director of the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay film festival between 1995-2000, he had joined in “s/n” of the Dumb Type, a Japanese performance group in 1994. It was directed by Mr Teiji Furuhashi. It intensely investigated the issue of his identity as a Japanese, HIV positive, and gay. The piece has had a long-lasting impact on the contemporary Japanese theatre as one of the performances confronting the Japanese social taboos of sexuality. The experience encouraged Kawaguchi to create his first solo performance "Sekai no Chushin (The Centre of the World)" (2000). The next one entitled “Perfect Life series" (2009) focused more on inter-relational aspects depicted in the story of how he broke up with his ex-boyfriend.

Through these works, Kawaguchi confronts questions of how to articulate the issue of sexuality for Japanese audiences. Indeed, when Kawaguchi performed his first solo work in 2000, a Japanese male audience member who is a heterosexual asked him critically: "Why should you treat sexual identity in dance?" As these words reveal, sexual identities have not been a central issue in Japanese contemporary art.

The Challenge in “Touch of the Other"

So the following work “Touch of the Other" (2016) was rather challenging for Kawaguchi to present in Japan. The piece was about gay culture and activism in American society in the 1960s. It is made based on a manuscript of an American sociologist, Laud Humphreys, who described in his fieldwork the sex between males in public toilets. The research is collected in the ONE Nation Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California.

The performance of "Touch of the Others" was intended to obscure the border between performers, also performers and audiences and to set a flexible perspective on common gender behaviour. On the stage, transparent panels enclosed the toilets. The space visualises the public toilet which Humphreys observed. The former part of the show was a re-enactment, in which Kawaguchi read out Humphreys’ manuscript including various direct sexual expressions and encouraged the audience members to participate in the play. The latter part of the performance took a more freestyle form, involving five or six performers, both male and female, all with different backgrounds in performance and dance. Some political slogans of the American lesbian and gay activism were projected on the back wall of the stage chronologically, going back from 2015 to 1969 such as “Jesus has two daddies”, “some women have a penis” and “we are here, we are queer”.

In this work, Kawaguchi also attempted to reflect his recent concern of the increasing conservatism of gay behaviour. The so-called LGBT movement (as he called it critically) reached a peak in 2015. Two moments caused this tide; one is the spread of anti-HIV drugs which began from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, and the other is the legalisation of same-sex marriage or partnership in America. They created a gap between the rich educated and the poor non-educated groups of lesbian and gay activists. The former archived their goal to gain citizenship, and stopped their activities, although the latter has been still in an awkward situation. Kawaguchi criticises the fact that the wealthy educated group who participate in the mainstream of society abandon the other weaker side and disrespect the heritage of the gay culture, which is anti-establishment and anti-hetero-normativity.

Indeed many gay people still cannot come out in their sexuality to others including their family members. Some of them gather in public toilets to meet their sexual partners secretly. By tracing their activities through Humphreys’ manuscript, Kawaguchi discloses the shadowy side of the human being addressing sexual desire condemned by the public, and intends to shake up the notion of the public and nonpublic and generate an alternative view of the world.

Mr Naoto Iina, the dramaturg of "Touch of the Others" said in an interview that it was shocking for many Japanese audiences to join in the performance of the sexual re-enactment, however it was acceptable and successfully took the audiences’ interest. It shows the possibility to share this issue in Japan through the performance. Kawaguchi continues thinking about the condition of understanding the life of gay people in Japan, and seeking ways to develop the work of "Touch of the Others" further to explore the connection to audiences in different cities and societies.

In discussion, we moved to talk about his autobiographical way of making performance. Kawaguchi’s stage history shows his international career in many varieties of genre and collaboration. How has he been consistent to explore his theme and interest in the different places with the various collaborators and sponsors? Kawaguchi answered that he didn't consider the point so much when he worked in these different environments. His style of dance is not very typical in the sense of following the technique, but more like performance and action. So there was an exciting encounter, then things happened by chance. For instance, "Touch of the Others" could happened by getting multiple financial supports from various public and private foundations because it was the moment when the LGBT movement was booming. In Los Angeles, he worked with many experts of gay artists. On the other hand, almost at the same time, he worked with young artists who had just begun contemporary dance for the creation themed the refugees problem in Imphal, India. Once a theme takes his attention, then he can start considering how to express the concept physically. The collaborator of "Touch of the Others", Mr Jonathan M. Hall, said in an interview that Kawaguchi’s style is literally “the personal is political” and also “the political is an art”. Kawaguchi presents his body and life directly as art by starting from personal issues and interests. He believes that his perception reflects the social issues surrounding him, connecting and expanding to address common issues in the world.

Photo: Ryohei Tomita

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