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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Ayako Kato

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Ayako Kato


Ayako Kato
(photo: Ralph Kuehne)


Called “moving everyday sculptures, artfully cast in naturalness” (Luzerner Zeitung, Switzerland), Ayako Kato is an award-winning Japanese-native contemporary choreographer, dancer, and improviser originally from Yokohama, Japan. She has been directing her company Ayako Kato/Art Union Humanscape since 1998 through interdisciplinary collaboration with over sixty musicians/composers in eight countries and 34 cities throughout the US, Japan, and Europe.

Venues/festivals include A Race in Space Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland; DOEK, Amsterdam, Holland; Tabito Art Meeting Festival, Fukushima; the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, New Haven, CT; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Jay Pritzker Pavilion of the Millenium Park, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Chicago Jazz Festival; Links Hall, Constellation and beyond.

She is a recipient of 3Arts Award in Dance; 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; “Best of Dance” in The Chicago Tribune; Links Hall Co-MISSION Fellowship; Players: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago by Newcity Stage, Meiner Achievement Award; Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award and beyond. www.artunionhumanscape.net, Ayako Kato Dance on Vimeo


Ayako Kato
(photos: above, Ralph Kuehne;
below: courtesy of HMS Media)




Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

Yes. I have been planning to present Inception: ETHOS Episode II, the second iteration of my ETHOS trilogy project, in September and October 2020. I have been envisioning the production with six dancers and two musicians as site-specific at historical buildings and natural environments through Chicago Park District's Night Out in the Parks program. The studio I usually use is also currently on lockdown. So, without being able to rehearse, the piece cannot happen either.

Other than that, MuCCC Dance Festival in Rochester, NY, planned in mid-June was postponed to mid-July through the beginning of August, and the Dance Shelter artist in residence concert I am involved with in Chicago at the end of June is postponed. November’s collaboration with Bob Eisen for aMID 2.0 Festival is pending, and another collaboration led by Rika Lin with Japanese artists was postponed because the travel grants to support them are not happening.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

Let me answer by following the haiku poet Basho's biography style:

In my body, there is a thing identified as IT which is thin, sensitive, and loves to sway in the wind. Eventually, IT made dance as my lifelong pursuit. One time, IT fell into dejection and I almost dropped my passion. Another time, IT was filled with competitive pride, and never calm. Once I wished to be more useful for society with other means, yet I couldn't be so because of IT. Even having hoped to gain more security, the wish was prevented because of my love for dance. IT also has been breaking the dream of intensive scholarly achievement. Then, eventually, with incompetence, my path connected to the Way of dance.

Zhuangzi in Taoism, Basho in haiku, Zeami in Noh Theater, Marcel Marceau in Pantomime, Maya Plisetskaya in ballet, Jorge Donn in dance, Kazuo Ohno in butoh, John Cage in music, Cunningham in choreography, all these predecessors had followed and connected with the Way. All followed their nature and embodied the universe within and outside of themselves through their life, and they are my inspiration.

To see and embody the intangible, letting go of ego, following nature, and being one with nature is my particular practice.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I choreograph the intangible through movement, physicalizing imagery. Centering, grounding, and emptying are the key practices to restore and heighten my awareness upon existence. Through meditation and somatic exercises, becoming an empty conduit allows us to open up and further connect with the environment within and outside ourselves. From the center of gravity, or Dantian, the spheric worldview reaches from past to future and engulfs the synchronic present. The metaphysical awareness travels through moments and locations both internally and externally, shifting from micro to macro, establishing tensegrity and forming the anatomy of society, humanity, history, the world, nature, and the universe.

Since 2017, I have been envisioning a resonant bird's-eye view of Stoicism, Taoism, and Indigenous tradition for the ETHOS trilogy project, advocating nature-multicultural-centrism rather than human-Euro-centrism. Embodying the worldview above, the ETHOS physically invites the audience members to experience multidimensionally the past from the present (ETHOS I), the present from the past (ETHOS II), and finally, the future from the past through present (Final Episode) to perceive the new ethos for the coming age.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

My practice and visioning align with recognizing the dignity of being and treating each other with respect and equity. Interestingly, when we recognize our own center, we also notice others' centers. This principle applies to recognizing identity and dignity in ourselves and others. This cannot be achieved overnight, yet can be improved little by little through our practice.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

Seeing means seeing the intangible. Beyond the differences in languages, ethnicities, cultures, genders, ages, and species, humans have the ability to read the air, think of others/other things, and take care of each other and things, both living and nonliving things. How much awareness we can holistically build up in ourselves is the key to improve ourselves through our internal bird's-eye view.

My anatomy teacher Irene Dowd said, "The environment affects us, and we affect the environment." Gregory Cajete states in Native Science, "The land nurtures humans and humans nurture the land."

In the smaller fractal scale, how our body is functioning and how our mind is moving at the moment affect the intangible tensegrity of the anatomy of the society, world, and the earth. It becomes clearer because you sense the impact of how your state of being and movement is influencing the next moment.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

Listening to myself carefully and sensing happiness here and there is my self-care tip. In that sense, I am taking action on things I have been dreaming of, postponing, and couldn't touch on before honestly in the way I want and can. That includes reaching out to people if they come to mind; organizing an online anatomy study group; making rice bran pickles that need to stir every day; planting seeds (I am living on the third floor) with the potential to expand it to the rooftop (the proposal letter has been sent to the landlord!); planning to compost on my own. Finally! I need to balance those with homeschooling and my work, so I need to be careful not to be too ambitious. Yet, as others might be feeling, I am seeing that this period can be the prologue for a new social system to coexist ecologically, improving a new ethos, stepping away from Capitalism. So, as much as I can, I want to move, tuning into the movement of nature to strengthen my tie with IT now.

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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