Ko was always a great reader of very demanding authors of philosophy and literature. Despite his humility which often made him pretend he did not understand much about ‘difficult’ texts, Ko would always be thoroughly reading authors renowned for the technical complexity of their writings, whether from a conceptual point of view (Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze, Bataille) or from a stylistic point of view (Mallarmé, Lautréamont). But even though Ko’s inspiration fed on complex ideas, concepts, images, or phrases, his art was less cerebral than visceral. Or rather: Ko’s dance always managed to give a deeply embodied and visceral form to his intellectual preoccupations. His thoughts, however complex and sophisticated, would always translate into raw incarnations on stage – to the extent that someone who did not know Ko well could easily picture him as a purely intuitive dancer with little concern about intellectual considerations. And Ko would encourage this misunderstanding himself by ironizing his own discourse or the excessively conceptual interpretations of his work by critics and intellectuals.
Among others, Mallarmé and Nietzsche were recurrent references for Ko. He would honor them in the titles of his own dance pieces – ‘Zarathoustra’, ‘Un coup de don’ (slightly twisting the title of Mallarmé’s poem Un coup de dés), ‘L’après-midi d’un faune’. He would also make parallels between them, notably on the notion of ‘Midnight’, in Mallarmé’s prose poem Igitur and Nietzsche’s poem ‘Drunken Song of Midnight’ in Thus Spoke ZarathustraBoth Mallarmé (1842-1898) and Nietzsche (1844-1900) – who were born and died exactly two years apart from one another – were authors of the human dereliction, of what Weber called ‘the disenchantment of the world’. For Nieztsche, God is dead. For Mallarmé, not only is God dead, but Verse is dead too – how could Art replace God if its main vehicle, Verse, is broken? Where can derelict human beings find a sense of sacrality in a desacralized, disenchanted world?
Ko’s answer to this crucial philosophical question is: within the dancing body. ‘Our own body is the first “Other” and the first “alien thing” we confront’. Within the body, and especially the dancing body, lies the possibility for anyone to experience and experiment on Otherness within oneself. In a sense, Ko replaced the verticality and transcendence of God, by the much more concrete and tangible notion of Otherness or Alterity – or more simply: Outside (Soto, in Japanese, a notion that Ko constantly refers to). For Ko, this Alterity does not belong to a distant, abstract, ethereal sphere, but consists in the first thing we experience as embodied human beings: the Otherness of our own body. We are born to this inner Alterity of the body. Our identity, our feeling of ‘self’, is strongly intertwined with a feeling of alienation and otherness.
But dance offers the body a way out of this inner alienation. By confronting other dancing bodies, one can escape from the enclosure of one’s own body. Through a visual mirroring effect, the other’s body appears like a reflection of one’s own body; through contact, the other’s body feels like the same. ‘The crucial point is the touch and enlacement of my body with others directly’. Through sight and touch, the dancing bodies of others reveal the sameness within otherness. Other dancing bodies are alter egos which allow us to identify, and to feel the sameness of others within ourselves.
Dancing is thus experiencing a double paradox: the alterity of one’s own body, and the sameness of others’ bodies. Alterity within, and identity outside. ‘This is the moment when we must learn from the hybridity of dance, from the transformation of the dancing Body’. Dance is this transitional state of hybridity where one experiences both alterity and identity, otherness and sameness, both successively and simultaneously. Dance is a journey from sameness to otherness within sameness, and from otherness to sameness within otherness.
After Mallarmé and Nietzsche, why is Ko so fond of this image of Midnight? Midnight perfectly embodies hybridity (between day and night) and transformation (from today to tomorrow). Midnight is a purely transitional state, a suspended moment of nothingness and eternity within linear time. An elusive piece of infinity within finitude. A pure Edge. A Limit, in the mathematical sense – ranging from Zero to Infinity.
Ko often practiced a deeply philosophical breathing exercise: he would start to breathe in and out – merging the inside with the outside, identity with alterity – and at some point of this infinite, circular 8-movement of his breathing, he would introduce a cut, a Zero, a suspended moment of non-breathing, which could be extended almost indefinitely. This suspended moment outside of time between inspiration and expiration might have been Ko’s own, private, inner and portable Midnight. His own Zero within Infinity, his own Eternity within Time.
Ko was always dancing on the edge, and would carry his own Edge, his inner Midnight, wherever his roving life would bring him around the world. He was very fond of the French word “errance”, wandering. This wandering was not only geographical, but also physical and mental: Ko would constantly create an edge, a Midnight within his body and his consciousness, so that the point where he stood – in his body, in his thought, but also in his life and in his career – could become a border, opening up new horizons.
Ko’s fascination for the figure of the mummy also comes from his exploration of edges and borders. The mummy annihilates and redefines the border between life and death: it is not really alive since it does not move, but it is not dead either since it does not decompose. The mummy also removes the border between movement and immobility: it does not move, but it has a presence and an intensity that do not belong to the realm of stillness. Ko used to say that the mummy might still be alive, but living in slow motion, breathing imperceptibly once or twice a year.
In his art, Ko managed to become a dancing mummy, breaking and reinventing edges and borders between life and death, Zero and Infinity, movement and stillness: a creature of Darkness and Light, a hybrid being constantly living on the edge of Midnight. In his own hybrid Time and Space – merging Interiority with Exteriority and hybridizing Finitude with Eternity – Ko gave his own bodily solution to the philosophical problem of alienation and dereliction, sameness and otherness, ‘far from the myth of identity’, simply – how beautifully simply – by dancing.
I am very attached to the poem “Minuit” of Mallarmé … I see some similarities with the “Midnight Song” by Nietzsche in it. But I put my thoughts behind. I detach myself from my own intention and while detaching I find myself confronted with plural dancers’ bodies – directly.
The direct contact with bodies is the key to “Minuit”. The crucial point is the touch and enlacement of my body with others directly and this is triggered by Midnight. How can we find the moments that are capable of emitting sparks? – The moments according to individual perception and reciprocity. Once the potentiality is revealed, I die in a flurry of sparks by the other bodies. One after the other dies and falls onto the fragments of my body … again and again.
“The attraction is for Blanchot undoubtedly what for Sade is desire, for Nietzsche the power, for Artaud the materiality of thought, for Bataille the transgression: the pure, mere experience of the outside.” (Foucault, La pensée du dehors)
It is necessary that “the body of the dance” must be opened up to the other. This is the moment when we must learn from the hybridity of dance, from the transformation of the dancing Body. And also we have to learn <fragility> from each other. Our own body is the first “Other” and the first “alien thing” we confront.
Being far from the myth of identity, and “being outside” from the myth of identity, this is dancing.
Basile Doganis is a Greek director-screenwriter who grew up in France. During his studies in Philosophy, he spent 3 years in Tokyo where he made a documentary on a Japanese rap band (Kami Hito E – On the Edge) and was 1st AD on Limosin’s documentary Young Yakuza (Cannes 2007). In 2011, after attending the Binger Filmlab (Directors Lab), he directed his first fiction short film, His Brother’s Keeper (Le Gardien de son frère, 20’, 2012) which was selected at the 2012 Angers ‘First Shots’ Film Festival. He followed the screenwriting course (Atelier scénario) of La Fémis in 2013 and directed his second short film Citizen Day (Journée d’appel, 20’, 2014) which was selected in over 50 festivals worldwide. He is finishing a 10-year-long documentary on late dancer Ko Murobushi started in 2006 and is currently in pre-production of his first feature film, Meltem (Elzévir Films).