With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, January 27, 2012

ACF 1330: Dance documentary THE SPACE IN BACK OF YOU coming to the Walter Reade Theater

The Space in Back of You
Directed by Richard Rutkowski
Based on an original stage tribute by Robert Wilson
U.S.A., 2011, 65 minutes
When: Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 8:45 PM
(New York Premiere)
and Monday, January 30, 2012 at 3:30 PM
Where: The Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center
165 West 65 Street, 4th Floor NYC 

This lovely and loving documentary is a tribute to Japanese dancer and choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi. Born Mitsuko Kiuchi in 1928, she began her training in the Hanayagi dance tradition at the age of four. She took the name Suzushi Hanayagi at age twenty. 

She knew the music of John Cage in the 1950s while still in Japan. In the early '60s, she came to the United States and studied at the Martha Graham School. But she looked for something post-modern, beyond the formula of the Graham technique. She associated with the members of the Judson Dance Theater, an informal group of dancers who perfomed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. She became a friend and collaborator with  Carla Blank and, later, Robert Wilson.

In 1969, pregnant with her son Ascenda Kiuchi, she returned to Japan. The ensuing years found her performing and choreographing not only in Japan and New York, but elsewhere around the world. Suzushi, as everyone in the films calls her, is now afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and currently lives in a nursing home in Osaka. One of the most touching segments of the film is Wilson visiting her, and later talking about that visit. (My eyes tear up again now as I recall this segment in order to write of it.)
Wilson and Carla Blank created "KOOL-Dancing In My Mind," a performance portrait inspired by Suzushiand. It includes reconstructions of some of her choreography and is intended to provide a reminder of her importance in post-modern dance. Portions of it are shown in the film.

Suzushi (seated, left) with David Byrne next to her and Robert Wilson, standing at right

As one of her associates in the film says, Suzhshi became "a creator of the space around her." For some time she was rather perplexed by the dichotomy of her traditional Japanese dance training and her involvement with Western avant-guarde dance movement. After studying Zen, she came to realize that this was her nature and that, for her, the two worlds were one.

The Space in Back of You provides video clips and still photographs of Suzushi's artistic life and, to a lesser degree, her personal life. There are interviews with Wilson, David Byrne (who provided the music for several Suzushi/Wilson collaborations, as well as "KOOL-Dancing In My Mind") and many others who knew and worked with her.

Suzushi being visited recently by Robert Wilson

The Space in Back of You (the title comes from her admonition to pay attention to it because it is more important than the space in front) should be seen by anyone with an interest in Japanese dance, in post-modern Western dance, or in learning about an incredibly talented woman who has left her mark not only in the world of dance, but also in the hearts of those lucky enough to have known her.

A Q&A with director Richard Rutkowski will follow both screenings.

Film and ticket information here.  For the official website for The Space in Back of You, click here.

The two screenings will be preceded by La femme à la cafetière (1989). Inspired by a painting of the same title by Paul Cézanne, Robert Wilson wittily conveys the boredom of the figure within the frame, as she passes her time, nibbling sweets, unmoved by the changes around her until she must relinquish her place to a successor., The piece was performed by Suzushi Hanayagi and Consuelo de Haviland and co-produced by the Musèe d'Orsay, INA, and La September. 

The Space in Back of You screenings are part of the 40th Dance on Camera Festival, which begins today, Friday, January 27th, and runs through Tuesday, January 31st.

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