Danielle De Picciotto & friends in conversation – Yuko Matsuyama

Yuko Matsuyama: “I seek a truth in a non-verbalized dimension”

Yuko Matsuyama (Photo: Henryk Weiffenbach)

I met Yuko Matsuyama at the cultural institution “Haus Schwarzenberg” in Berlin. There are people who have a charisma like music, you can feel it like a sound. Yuko is such a dancer and musician. She began her career at the Takarazuka Revue musical and revue theater in Japan, where she staged countless performances and productions for three decades: musicals, revues, operas, dramas, concerts and dance theater. Since 2010 she has been resident artist at Haus Schwarzenberg in Berlin Mitte. There she organizes events and performances all year round and works as an experimental, interdisciplinary dancer.


Yuko Matsuyama (Photo: Henryk Weiffenbach)

Danielle de Picciotto: You are an interdisciplinary performing artist. Could you describe your driving motivation? Why do you work in different mediums? Is there a combining element?

Yuko Matsuyama: I think because I moved to Berlin. Improvisation, experimental music or Tanztheater, all were completely new for me although I’ve been singing and dancing all my life. 
Performing arts is like a skilled professor with sparkling eyes, with whom I can unravel various cultures and histories with great interest. I began my artistic training in classical Japanese dance. Then I performed in musicals and review shows almost two decades before I moved to Berlin. There is a saying in Japan, “Onko-Chishin”, it means, learning new things from the past. But in Berlin I feel that it is quite the opposite. When I do something new here, I gain greater understanding of the old things connected to it.

Do you have one main theme you strive to express?

I think it is: “What makes us feel that we are connected?” I’ve been working on the topic of „subjectivity in perception”. I am interested in how to be deeply present in the given space and time where a performance occurs, not only for the audience but also for the performers. As a performer, I’m trying to find a balance between how I experience the performance and who I am as others perceive me.
The dance artists Carlos Osatinsky and Fernando Pelliccioli once told me about the necessity of providing an atmosphere of trust. Our performance series “Movement & Sound Improvisation” has been one of the platforms debating this topic, but I actually think of this topic when I sing Hawaiian music as well.

How would you describe your dance/performance style?

An atmospheric entertainment. I sometime use texts or sing lyrics, so the meaning of words and texts are important to me, but I seek a truth in a non-verbalized dimension.

Dance is an art form that communicates without words. It is also an ancient way of getting people to connect and come closer. Is dance in times of this pandemic possible?

I appreciate your perspective of dance! Only professional and educational trainings have been allowed during the pandemic. I miss watching people dance and I find it painful that our life goes on without dance.
Meanwhile we have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of classes and performances offered online. This was a previously an unknown world for most of us. Initially, I thought that video would be better for image and sound quality, but in fact, the demand for live streaming, where you can feel the connection, has increased. I wonder, if these online activities will continue in the future. Or maybe we have just been sharing the moment of not dancing together.

Yuko Matsuyama, live

Yuko, what are you working on momentarily?

In May two of my songs will be premiered at the performance “What can I offer you today” by the aerial artist Rosiris Garrido. Beside that I’m recording some songs with Ukulelezaza and am also planning a solo sound performance.

You work a lot with Hawaiian music – what interests you in this music?

I joined the Berlin Hawaiian band „ Hula Hut & the Seven Seas“ in 2013. Historically there is a musical connection between Berlin and Hawaii. It was a Berliner, the Prussian Kapellmeister Henri Berger who was sent to Hawaii in 1872 to conduct and lead the king’s band, the Royal Hawaiian Band. There are many fascinating anecdotes around the music and it is teaching me an interesting perspective of Western music. I love to sing the music because I’m charmed by the way Hula Hut play the old Hawaiian tunes.

You teach, produce, direct and are a dancer/musician. What is your favorite area and why?

Teaching. I offer Pilates based training and voice performance. Performance and teaching can both only be complete and have depth if there is somebody to share it with. Since the pandemic, I have spent my time maintaining my own performance practice and it’s been like a defragmentation of myself. I feel that in the moment I teach others, I am able to access the knowledge that I have accumulated as physical sensation within myself. And it is very exciting to find new paths together with a student in how they can strengthen their performance.

Yuko Matsuyama, live

What are your plans for after the pandemic?

Yuko: I’m dreaming of creating a small-scale performance that can make the audiences feel safe in their own skin. 
It has been more than a year since music and dance disappeared from our city. 
This pandemic reminds me of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and I believe that after experiencing a disaster, we will be never the same again. As you know, my country Japan has gone through many natural disasters. Since my childhood I have heard and seen people rebuild their lives and their towns from the rubble. Those images have formed my trust in the strength and flexibility of humanity.

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