We Are All Water Bags: Bodies Connecting at API2

Japanese dancer Minori Nagai recounts her experience at Asia Pacific 2, an artist exchange program presented by MyDance Alliance that took place 19-25 October 2015 at Rimbun Dahan.


From 19 to 25 October 2015, I took part in Asia Pacific Impro 2, a meeting point for dance and music improvisers, at private arts centre Rimbun Dahan in Kuang. By dancing and working with people from different cultures for a week, API2 made me realize that dance improvisation gets us to meet people, and that improvisation enables us to communicate regardless of our dance experiences.

During the first jam when we danced together, sometimes people felt very familiar to me, and at other times people felt like total strangers. How was I to connect and dance with these people? But by the informal showing at the end of the event, I felt a sense of connection created from all the experiences we had within the week, not only in the laboratory and workshop sessions, but also in the time we just talked and spent time together.

I found API2 very unique because it focused on Asian artists. I felt not only similarities but also differences with the other Asian artists. Perhaps the differences came from our ethnicities or nationalities; in other words, the different environments in which we grew up. During dinners, we talked about various things related to lifestyle, marriage, family, religion, and language as well as dancing. All of these things made me interested in Asia, its culture and its history, and our lives. I could see how many of us shared the same dance methods or teachers from a Western dance tradition. It was therefore interesting for us Asian practitioners to share how we were developing these working methods in our own ways.

For my own laboratory and workshop at API2, my main focus was to deepen and widen the notion of the body as water, as fluid. I also wanted to explore the relationship between experiences with actual solid objects and dancing with the imagination. Fortunately, another artist did conduct a laboratory in the swimming pool at Rimbun Dahan during the week, and we also did dance in the rain in the garden. So I could connect many experiences throughout the week with my personal research.

For my laboratory, first I introduced partner bodywork to release the muscles by rocking, shaking and swaying the body, as if we were moving a bag full of water. Then I introduced partner work for waking up the spine. These somatic exercises utilized our partners’ touch, gradually turning into dancing duets with beautiful music played by Ichi-go Miura.

My public workshop on Saturday was entitled “Like Water in a Container”. I prepared a bag of water for each person and asked them to feel and move the bag, while remembering that we ourselves are full of water, enveloped by skin. After a while, each person expressed their favourite things found from playing with the bags.

Next we explored the body with partners. A person would lay down on the floor and another would touch and move the body like they had with the water bag. I told the participants to use their water bags whenever and however they liked. Everyone had a lot of different ideas on how to use the bags; some placed the bags under the body like a water bed, others put them on the body to give them weight.

For the last exercise, we explored solo dancing from our experiences with the earlier tasks. After 15-20 minutes of solo exploration, we discussed together what each person had done for their solo dances and what images had come up. The open discussion gave rise to lots of new thoughts and awareness. Then we had another 15-20 minutes’ solo dancing for the participants to try out anything they wanted from other people’s ideas from the discussion.

It was the first time I had used an actual water bag for a workshop. The idea of using a real object as a resource for body movement came from the movement training method of Noguchi Taiso. I had taken a Noguchi Taiso workshop taught by Hideo Arai in Japan; one thing that struck me during his workshop was how he had used lots of real objects, like fabric, water bags and toys, to explain movement qualities. By touching and watching actual objects, I found that I had more inspiration and sensation, which turned into imageries for dancing. I wanted to try and share this way of working.

In my workshops, I also reserved time for discussing and sharing everyone’s ideas and discoveries. The importance of discussion was something I found from the week of API2. The time we had spent together in the studio was limited, but there were lots of things that we could develop in the future by communicating verbally as well as via dancing. If we can get new ideas from other peoples, we can bring these back to our own places to explore them by ourselves.

Minori Nagai is a dancer based in Tokyo. More

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Featured photo: A participant interacting with bags of water, Rimbun Dahan, Kuang, 24 October 2015. Photo © Elma Hache