CN D Magazine

#5 march 24

A Japanese Village Where Dancing and Farming Bodies Met

By Christine Quoiraud

Photographs of the Body Weather farm in 1996 and 1997 by Christine Quoiraud ©  CN D Media Library, Christine Quoiraud collection

For several decades, choreography met agriculture in the Japanese village of Hakushu, nestled at the foot of mountains close to Tokyo. Choreographer Min Tanaka and his dancers settled there from 1985 to 2018, at Body Weather Farm, to develop the research into “body meteorology,” which they had initiated in the 1970s.

Camera in hand, Christine Quoiraud, a member of the company until 1990, captured the early days of the farm through minute detail. For CN D magazine, she looked back on a series of images – all part of the archive she donated to the CN D’s library – that bring to life the company’s agricultural work, which shaped their dance practice.

It’s 1986, our first spring on the farm. Tanaka Min’s company [editor’s note: in Japan, last names are traditionally pronounced before first names] has been renting land and a traditional Japanese woodshed for a few months. The shed is very rudimentary. On the sign above the door, we can read “Body Weather Farm” in Japanese. On the ground floor, the windows open on the main room and behind the little window, on the right-hand side of the picture, is where the bathtub used to be. At that time, we had to cut wood, light a fire, and heat up the water to bathe… Behind that room we had a kitchen and at the back we had outdoor space where we could have lunch facing the rice fields that stretched out into the horizon. Upstairs, we had a big room which we used to rehearse and work on dance, and that was also our dormitory, where we slept at night. I went back in 2019, and the owner happened to be there, taking possession of the building. I was able to go in and meet all these ghosts again.

We’re dancers; when we arrived no one knew anything about agricultural work, so we had to learn everything from the farmers of the valley. When rice seeds germinate in the greenhouses, we have to plant them at the appropriate time in the rice fields. Sometimes we’d get up at 4am to cut up daikon, which is a Japanese radish, and hang it out to dry. We soon had animals too: cats, a dog – Kokoro, which means heart in Japanese – donkeys, and up to 2,000 chickens. We also made goat cheese at some point… Tanaka Min had insisted on giving me that responsibility but, like most non-Japanese folks, I would often go back to Tokyo to do odd jobs and earn a bit of money. 

In those years, farm work exceeded any work we did in the studio. Once we had better knowledge of farm work, we were able to organize ourselves differently. At some point, we were given a dojo hall in the village, to work on the Rite of Spring, for example, which we did in 1990 for the Opéra-Comique. We had more traditional work days for dancers then: we practiced and stretched in the morning, and worked in the fields after that. We also organized big summer festivals every year. In this picture, where a dancer is petting the dog, there’s a big wooden sculpture which was done by the artist Kazuo Kenmochi during this first “art camp,” in 1987. Then Tanaka Min invited several visual artists to display their work – which was often of that same large scale – on our land.

Before they came to work with Tanaka Min, some of the boys had worked odd jobs in the building industry. Frank van De Ven had worked as a carpenter in Europe. We built these chicken coops thanks to their practical knowledge – we cut trees in the mountains and made boards out of them. We did the same thing to build stage props and various items of the scenography, like for Plan B in Tokyo, where we performed our pieces. Oguri and I were a team: we helped each other to do the audio, the layout, and the translation of the programs for our shows. He had devised a little portable organ for lighting. It was a bit DIY, but it was enough for us.  

The group was always shifting: at the time we were about ten or fifteen. Kyoko Sanzume, the young woman in the two pictures was a dancer with Yoko Ashikawa, the director of Hakutobo group – Tatsumi Hijikata’s company. When Hijikata died in January 1986, Tanaka Min offered to host a few of his dancers and let them practice their own dance. I don’t remember if they stayed for a few months or just for a few weeks, but their presence was very enjoyable for me. They brought a bit of female energy into a very masculine environment.

I was in charge of shiitake mushrooms at some point – those mushrooms grow on wood. A farm worker had taught me how to regularly rotate the logs for maximum humidity and sunlight. I loved the\ work precisely because it was repetitive. I’d do the same things over and over in the incredible atmosphere of the pine forest. Tanaka Min helped us to think of dance as a place within farm work. We had the bodies of farmers, shaped by our gestures: bending over towards the ground, carrying stuff, anticipating the time for planting, speeding up to save crops when there was a storm, slowing down during pollination. It was an ideal atmosphere to build a 360-relation to the world, where human rhythm was inflected by the imperatives of the nature around us and all the living organisms.

We did everything collectively and we didn’t have much free time. As a survival strategy, I had poetry books in French and I’d sneak out for bicycle rides and stop in little spots to be alone and dream in my native language. Walking around the farm with my little camera was also a way of escaping for me. I had no other ambition but to capture the fragility of a moment and all the little wonders of the world to give my friends and family an idea of the life I was living. Today, these private images have become public documents. At a time when our relationship to images has been completely overhauled, they bear witness to “a mundane but sacred daily life,” as I like to call it.

An interview with Léa Poiré

Léa Poiré is an independent journalist based in Paris and Lyon. After studying choreography and being in charge of the dance section and co-editor in chief for Mouvement magazine, she is now working in cultural journalism, media education, and she collaborates regularly with choreographer Mette Edvardsen as a researcher. She is also the editor of CN D magazine.

Photographs of the Body Weather farm by Christine Quoiraud in 1996 and 1997, from the Christine Quoiraud collection at the CN D media library

“Dive in, Fine in”, research on Body Weather
A research file by Christine Quoiraud
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“Donner la palabre”. An interview about improvisation for Body Weather
A research presentation by Christine Quoiraud
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Also of interest: From the Vault with Christine Quoiraud and Odile Fix