Australian born designer Christopher Dorian Hancy studied at the Antwerp School of Fashion under the tutelage of renowned designer Walter Van Beirendonck before departing Europe for the ‘Sun Origin’ to graduate from ESMOD Tokyo. During this time, he studied the art of tailoring and suit making from his mentor Yukio Kakita, a former couturier for Christian Dior while interning for JW Anderson, Mikio Sakabe and Jenny Fax. For MOTHER DIGITAL, Christopher shares his work and reflects on his collaboration with the Tokyo-based performance ensemble Dairakudakan who recently premiered their Kotchuten production 'Miyazaki-Yakko'. We also invite Saimon Yuna, the Choreographer, Director and long time member of Dairakudakan—she speaks of her nostalgia and shares her story about the production based on her hometown.
Interviews & words by Rebecca U
CHRISTOPHER DORIAN HANCY (Costume designer)
What was your role in the production of 'Miyazaki-Yakko'?
I was to provide technical support and advice concerning the Inshyo (impression) of the performance, basically speaking, the costumes. My role was to act as one tentacle of Saimon’s 'Miyazaki-Yakko's' octopus.
Since 2001, Dairakudakan have been showcasing works by the younger members called the Kochuten series and now have you as a young costume designer.Do you feel Dairakudakan have been striving to engage more with the younger generation?
Honestly speaking, I don't think Dairakudakan strives to reach any audience, I think people get drawn to them kind of organically. Their promotion seems to mainly come from a word-of-mouth thing, they don't actively advertise outside of their already established community. I wish that more people did know about them, it's such an experience to see them perform!Last year, Maro-san was recognized by the Ministry of Culture to be a National Living Treasure of Japan—If you see his work, it is soon made obvious why. I can’t even begin to imagine how phenomenal the performance would be if Dairakudakan were to orchestrate the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I'm gunning for that.
How did you get involved with Dairakudakan?
I was invited to see their Kotchuten performance of 'Crazy Camel'; it was an intense show performed in this intimate space—it blew my mind!
I immediately felt a deep connection, it felt as if someone had taken my secret inner monologue, torn it out of my heart and smashed it on stage for me to see. It was so beautiful! A mixture of surreal scenes, horror and ecstasy. From that point on, I was hooked. Since that first show, I have attended every Dairakudakan performance. I started to participate in some workshops and joined their annual summer camp.
The summer camp is a kind of cult like retreat. It's a week long experience in the Hakuba mountains in Nagano. I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the philosophy of butoh directly from the director of Dairakudakan, Akaji Maro.
This time was also important for me because I was able to meet and talk with the various members of the company; each person was their own brilliant character. Around one year before starting my label Beaugan, I announced to Maro-san and the team my intention to 'steal from them' as an honor to him. About a month before my first showroom in Tokyo, Saimon Yuna [the choreographer & director] invited me to work with her on the production of 'Miyazaki-Yakko.'
The story is based on Saimon Yuna's home-life & childhood experiences in Miyazaki prefecture. Do you feel the results of your work was a collaboration with Saimon?
Saimon was the captain of the ship, her course was strange but the journey was smooth.
Saimon’s direction was very unique, she had incredible empathy, she really took her time to listen to my opinions and ideas. Her particular style of direction resulted in a creation influenced by every member, I could really sense that she was amazingly perceptive in our conversations; we had a very organic flow which generated a lot of ideas.
I was so impressed by Saimon taking charge in everything, this included image production for the story, consultations with each team member, the choreography, stage design, direction for the costumes, music and lighting.
What were the key ideas and words mentioned to help you create the costumes?
Saimon had already created some core ideas and scenes before she approached me. She mentioned that the costumes needed to be like props to help effectively create or destroy the context for each scene. I thought this was interesting. Saimon has a very peculiar method of word choice and communication,
for example, one word I remember she used was Nazo Nazo which means something like to pose a riddle to someone, other words and images were things like Mazatteru which means to mix or Moyasu which means to burn. It was these kind of ideas and images which were used to describe the movements of the performance.
She requested that my costumes should somehow support the movements according to the images, other times, the orders were more technical and direct like 'Can you remake this uniform, but make it more free to move in?' and in another situation she would say'I wanna do this…' followed by her showing me her idea and I would reply with 'Ok! let's put it in a secret compartment.', that was how we worked.
Could you describe your experience working with the Dairakudakan team?
While I was working on 'Miyazaki-Yakko', I was also designing my upcoming collection for my label Beaugan (out in August) with one of my assistants. My limited amount of time meant I could only visit the Dairakudakan studio once a week when I was able to. At the studio, I would watch Saimon and the dancers develop their performance and concepts while sketching the scenes and movements from these rehearsals and also from the videos that were sent to me. I generally worked fourteen hours a day during the week and tried to devote my weekends sourcing textiles and experimenting with fabrics for the show. The month before the presentation, I asked my friend Shimamura Shintaro (who deserves a hearty mention) to help me experiment with the selected fabrics and sewing for the final costumes.
How was the process for you?
To create well constructed costumes or constructed garments, it normally requires a defined idea from the start to begin construction towards completion, however, during rehearsals the movements and entire scenes kept getting altered which also meant that what was required for the costumes were constantly changing. This process resulted in us discarding many ideas and costumes to make room for new ones. I had to forget all my previous training as a garment designer and block my way of thinking as a technician. In the end, the result was very DIY and slap dash. In retrospect, considering the Dairakudakan methodology, I realized that maybe this was their intention.
Did your personal experience with the art of butoh assist you in the design process?
To learn something with any real level of depth and understanding requires actual participation, my experiences in the Dairakudakan workshops have been invaluable.My belief is that personal physical experience with movement is crucial to understanding the philosophy behind dance, as clothing is something that covers the body, it is intimate to the human form and to design good costume or clothing, it's essential to understand the physicality of the human body, so yeah, for me, it's essential to my particular design process.
I'm more familiar with your graduate work Christopher Hancy and your label Beaugan, do you occasionally design for theatre productions? If not, is this something you would like to continue doing?
This was my first time, I feel this experience was a small step towards my eventual aim, I wish to make more similar steps like this.
Your graduate work Christopher Hancy uses textiles designed by you & Beaugan uses 13-century old Japanese dying techniques, were you able to apply these artisanal elements into your work for 'Miyazaki-Yakko'?
These particular techniques require a great deal of planning, time, workmanship and construction. Whilst it wasn't possible, considering the particular process for costume ideation and creation for 'Miyazaki-Yakko', these kind of techniques are definitely something that I would love to introduce into new contexts such as art, film, dance or performance in the near future.
Was their an awareness from either yourself or other people about you being an Australian designer working on this project? I think their is something very special about a foreign creative being invited to create something for the the world of Dairakudakan.
Yeah it was cool! The members of Dairakudakan have an inviting and warm spirit towards foreign people. Dairakudakan as a company regularly perform overseas and receive many foreign participants in their workshops. Having said this, I do very much feel the company operates in a very underground and Japanese fashion. In a funny way, under Maro-san’s direction, the company operates a bit like a mafia family; from the angle of only they deal in butoh (not crime!)—Yeah, it's a bit of a private world, very much like a family. Dairakudakan celebrates it's 45th anniversary this year, it's been around much longer than I’ve existed on this planet so I am very honored to be invited in for this project.
You, as a young designer involved in this production, do you think your youth has had an affect on the selection of the costume designer for 'Miyazaki-Yakko'? or your experience in butoh? I read that Kyoko Domoto, a costume designer for some past shows like 'Temptenshiki' (Crime & Punishment) & 'Mushi No Hoshi' (Space Insect) had studied Noh and created some plays in her past.
I wish that my selection for 'Miyazaki-Yakko' had less to do with 'my youth' and more to do with my 'impeccable sense', 'renown talent' and 'bench press ability'. I think my rapidly fading youth may have been considered. Saimon is one of the younger members of Dairakudakan, she mentioned this as a factor she actively considers, so maybe that was the case. Kyoko-san! She is amazing! She is also one of the reasons why I knew about Dairakudakan. Kyoko-san even took me backstage after one of their large performances to meet Maro-san for the first time. (I don't think he remembers it though.) I think what Kyoko-san has created is so strong and original over the many years she has worked with Maro-san—What she has created for Butoh is a real legacy! Butoh is a beast in itself and it must continue to hunt for new prey!
How would you explain the reality of a foreign designer wanting to work in Japan?
From my working experience I have concluded that in Japan it takes around 10 people to change a light bulb. It takes one person to notice the light bulb that needs replacing, one person to come up with the idea to replace it, one person to measure and examine the type of socket and requirements of the new light bulb, one person to research and find the correct light bulb, one person to retrieve the light bulb, one person to install the light bulb, one person to hold the ladder during installation, one person to direct traffic around the ladder during installation, one person to take notes and one person to dance around naked.
To end our chat, can you share some insight or words of advice for the foreign designer working in Japan?
Learn the concept of, and when to accept shouganai [nothing can be done about it, it cannot be helped]. Learn Japanese, then forget it.
SAIMON YUNA (Choreographer, director & dancer)
How did the concept for 'Miyazaki-Yakko' come about?
I was born in an area south of Japan called Miyazaki prefecture. Using mythology and the traditional arts from my hometown, I wanted to reflect on myself and discover what I, or we should be.
Was this idea encouraged by Akaji Maro hearing little bits of your life in Miyazaki? I submitted my project proposal for 'Miyazaki-Yakko' to our producer. She was very interested in my concept and handed me the role of choreographer & director. Was the production heavily under Akaji Maro's control?
No, Not at all, He valued my opinions and my concept for the show; Akaji Maro shared a lot of good advice and tips to help me create great work. His presence has added a deeper quality to the production; He has been a very important mentor for me.
Can you tell us about the art and music featured in this production? Has it been a nostalgic experience for you?
My time working on this project has definitely been nostalgic, especially with some of the scenes in the production. A sound I used is from Miyazaki's local Omatsuri. Omatsuri is a worshipping ritual for Buddha and our Shinto gods or an event held in gratitude towards nature. We also used photographs of local tourist spots—these elements have been very nostalgic for me. In the last 40 years, Miyazaki prefecture has been a popular tourist destination; We used a guide in our show to help reflect on the social conditions of the past; these scenes have been very moving for me.
Clearly language was no barrier, how did you work with Christopher?
After two months of rehearsals, I shared my concept with Christopher; he was very interested in my idea and became excited about the Japanese mythology that was involved.He spent some time researching and came back to us with so many great concepts and images. Christopher's role had exceeded his job as a costume designer, he's been a great motivator—the team was constantly energized—especially when he presented his costume samples. The language barrier was not an issue because we were able to connect through our shared images and mutual ideas. He's been a very important asset to us, I'm looking forward to our next project with him.