Does time stand still in a crowded train? Or does it move so fast that it takes your breath away? The latest dance piece from Un Yamada that will be performed here is inspired by her daily life in Tokyo, where the feeling of having “no time and no personal space” is commonplace.

“On a crowded train, it is difficult to even find a place to put my hand,” says the Japanese dancer and choreographer.

“Sometimes I can’t even see my own hands and fingers. There is just an overwhelming sense of people, colour, noise, doors and invisible walls. These are the seeds of my idea.”

The choreography of One Piece is based on the “tension felt by a hand and its five digits”, with the number five (five dancers, five colours, five boxes) taking on a prominent part in this dance.

“At first glance, it might seem cute and pop-culture oriented,” says Yamada of this piece.

But that’s just on the surface.

Underneath the veneer of peace is a pervading sense of madness that grows and fills the space.

Since its debut in 2004, One Piece has been making its rounds locally in Japan as well as abroad in Europe. Performed by an all-female cast for a good decade or so, a new version was created in 2014 specifically for members of the opposite sex. New movements, costumes, sets and music accompaniment were introduced to reflect this change.

So far, the male dancers have all been Japanese.

The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Un Yamada, draws upon the same primitive forces that inspired the century-old work of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Un Yamada, draws upon the same primitive forces that inspired the century-old work of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. Photo: Naoshi Hatori

But the Malaysian debut of One Piece will feature, for the first time, five local male dancers.

It is a first not just for One Piece, but also for Yamada, who founded dance company Co. Un Yamada in 2002.

One Piece is the first ever of all my works to be performed by a non-Japanese cast,” Yamada shares of this demanding piece that boasts many repetitive movements.

Always one to strive for excellence in the name of art, she relates that at a time when dance companies in Japan were often formed by groups of friends who doubled as dancers, she held auditions and handpicked dancers for Co. Un Yamada.

This performance in Kuala Lumpur (a double bill comprising One Piece and The Rite Of Spring) is presented by The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur (JFKL), Co. Un Yamada, Aswara and My Dance Alliance, in collaboration with the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KlPac).

When asked what skills a dancer should possess to do justice to this work, Yamada says he should be versatile, have a certain dynamism, have a keen eye for detail, and have a capacity for silence.

“The most important is silence, which in this case represents the narrow window of transition from one movement to the next. It means the power to remain in ‘neutrality’, the ability to return to the neutral position after any given movement,” she explains.

James Kan, one of the five Malaysian dancers in One Piece. Photo Jeffrey Poh

James Kan, one of the five Malaysian dancers in One Piece. Photo Jeffrey Poh

Auditions for Malaysian dancers were held in October last year, and Fauzi Amirudin, James Kan, Lu Wit Chin, Pengiran Khairul Qayyum and Raziman Sarbini were the five dancers selected.

“I saw many wonderful dancers at the auditions, I witnessed their emotions, behaviour, details, ideas, as well as technique. But One Piece needs a particular energy to maintain its neutrality,” notes Yamada, adding that she feels these five dancers have the most potential to achieve this within the rehearsal time span.

Also, she feels that they have nuances of both their male and female Japanese counterparts, a winning combination of masculinity and grace – and from the sound of things, the versatility for these to blend seamlessly into the world of One Piece.

“I expect this to be the best performance of One Piece, ever,” she says.

Aside from One Piece, this double bill presentation will also see 13 Japanese dancers taking to the stage for The Rite Of Spring, which is inspired by the then-controversial ballet and orchestral concert work by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, which premiered in France in 1913.

It had unusual choreography (by Vaslav Nijinsky), the music was composed in an unorthodox fashion and its theme of pagan sacrifice did not seem to resonate particularly well with the audience.

Pengiran Khairul Qayyum in One Piece, choreographed by Un Yamada.Photo: LH Tang

Pengiran Khairul Qayyum in One Piece, choreographed by Un Yamada.Photo: LH Tang

Today, however, it is lauded as a magnificent piece that dared to go where no musician has gone before.

Yamada’s version draws on the similar primitive forces that inspired Stravinsky more than a century ago.

“He superbly evoked imagery of spring after a long harsh winter; of thick ice breaking, flowers blooming and the forces that drive the circle of life and death, through orchestral dissonance and irregular rhythms. My choreography seeks to maximise these elements,” she explains at length.

Unsurprisingly, One Piece and The Rite Of Spring are worlds apart in terms of style and concept.

“If I had to sum them up in one word,” says Yamada, “One Piece is ‘society’ while The Rite Of Spring is ‘nature’. The common theme binding them together is ‘human nature’.”


Co. Un Yamada Double Bill: One Piece x The Rite of Spring will run at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre on Jan 30 and 31. Visit www.klpac.org or www.jfkl.org.my for more information.