Kokoro Dance taps the meaning of Life
The Georgia Straight learned something shocking in its recent interview with Kokoro Dance’s Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi: they’re older than you might think from watching them dance. Granted, Kokoro’s butoh- and ballet-inflected movement depends more on focused attention than extroverted physicality, but it’s still a surprise to realize that one of the 27-year-old company’s founders is eligible for a federal pension
Hirabayashi, in fact, is 66, while Bourget will celebrate her 63rd birthday on October 10. Both continue to work at a pace that would flummox many younger artists—and Bourget, at least, has been advised that retirement is not an option.
“I recently said to a physician I see that I was thinking of retiring,” she confides, interviewed with her husband and creative partner at their comfortable Mount Pleasant co-op. “And he said, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t do that, because your body will completely disintegrate.’”
The two laugh. If they’re feeling the aches and pains of age, they don’t show it—but in Kokoro’s new full-length work, Life, they do confront issues of aging and loss, in the company of two similarly mature collaborators and a transgenerational cast of dancers.
Life emerged from email conversations Bourget and Hirabayashi had with fabric artist Kai Chan and composer Lee Pui Ming.
“We have four children and five grandchildren, and we just lost Jay’s parents in 2012,” Bourget notes. “They died on the same day, which was uncanny, because they hadn’t lived together for over 40 years, and hadn’t actually spoken very much. So in our conversations we started to talk about these things: about the significance of life, and about the significance of having a life partner that you’re also doing work with.”
The Kokoro choreographers thought that the project was still at the talking stage when they met Lee and Chan at the latter’s Toronto home, but after a pleasant meal, they had an even more pleasant surprise. “Kai made us this wonderful lunch, and he just listened quietly to what we had to say about what our interests were,” Hirabayashi reports. “And then he took us into his basement, where he works, and he’d already started!”
“Pui Ming said ‘I’d really like to do a string quartet,’” Bourget adds. “That appealed to my classicist self, because I love them—I love the braid of that. And because it’s an ensemble piece, with seven dancers, it already had that idea going through it. So then we go downstairs and here’s this beautiful thing that he’s made that’s all strings, like the strings of the string quartet or the strings of life. The metaphors were just really powerful—and we hadn’t even been drinking!”
Adding to the serendipity surrounding the new creation is that Bourget and Hirabayashi recharged their passion for butoh this summer by travelling to Japan, where they took part in an intensive eight-day workshop with Akaji Maro, director of the influential Dairakudakan troupe. Sessions began at dawn and went on until long after dark, with no one working harder than the 70-year-old Maro himself.
Asked what they brought back from an experience that encompassed everything from late-night improv sessions to costume creation, Bourget has a one-word answer: “Inspiration!”
That apparently includes the renewed understanding that creativity is not for the young alone. “We have so much more to say about where we’ve been and where we’re going,” she adds. “And we recognize that we’re in the kind of autumn of our lives, so it seems like a good time to reflect on the power of that—all the struggles we’ve had, and all the joy we’ve had too.”