In May, Brazilian dancer and choreographer Eduardo Fukushima was in Pamplona, Spain, taking part in the Festival de Danza Contemporánea de Navarra. While there, he was performing his solo work, Crooked Man, while also developing a new work, Title in Suspension, as part of a two-week residency at the festival. In many ways, Fukushima’s participation in this European festival, far from his home in Brazil, is a snapshot of his life since taking part in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which enabled him to spend a year (2012-2013) in Taiwan under the close supervision of Lin Hwai-min, the artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. Before 2012, Fukushima had never left South America. Since then, he has travelled across Asia, learned English, given countless workshops and performed and participated in residencies across Europe and in Canada. From one year to the next, he became an international artist.
Though his horizons have expanded, his working methods have not fundamentally changed. He still feels deeply connected to São Paulo, the complicated metropolis in which he grew up. Its rhythms and conflicts are written in his bones and in the visceral movement style he developed over years of studying various dance forms, from classical ballet to martial arts to Japanese butoh, an expressionist school of dance developed after World War II. As his name suggests, Fukushima is half-Japanese. Because of his background, he feels a deep curiosity and affinity towards Asian culture. “I could see in Asia some aspects of myself that I could not see here [in Brazil]. Even the shape of Asian bodies is almost the same as mine,” he told the dance writer and critic Deborah Jowitt. One of the fundamentals of his current discipline is a focus on Tai Chi, particularly a variant practised in Taiwan, Taichi-Dowing, which he now teaches in Brazil.
Fukushima’s solos are harrowing to watch because of the intensity of his performance and the internal conflict and effort they suggest. “My work is about human beings,” he says, “so I can work anywhere.” He still choreographs for his own body and dances alone, though he has experimented with collaborations with other dancers. But in the harsh economic realities of Brazil, gripped by the worst recession in its modern history, there is little funding for artistic endeavours. “We are in a big crisis in Brazil and are becoming marginalized as artists. I don’t want to work with others if I can’t pay them. I don’t want to exploit people just to develop my own work and have a name.”
Instead, Fukushima works with a small team, bringing with him whenever he can a lighting designer, a musician, a producer and an assistant. All but one are Brazilian. It’s a luxury to have two weeks, as he did in Pamplona, to immerse himself in composition, day and night, without distractions. “Back home I have a lot of friends, I have to clean the house, I have to live, so it takes time to concentrate.” It is a discipline and focus he first experienced during the year in Taiwan, where he had his own studio to work in every day. He also travelled to China, Japan and Malaysia, exploring movement ideas wherever he went, in temples, hotel rooms, even parks. Working alone, he could travel light. Back in Taiwan, though, Lin encouraged Fukushima to open his rehearsals to outsiders so that he could receive feedback at every step in the process, forcing him to clarify his intentions and ideas from the very beginning. “He didn’t ask me,” Fukushima says, “he made me. It was so hard, but so good for me.”
That year in Taiwan challenged him profoundly. “It was a very lonely year,” Fukushima says, though Lin kept close tabs on him, inviting him to participate in Cloud Gate rehearsals and classes, and visiting his studio regularly. (Fukushima and Lin have stayed in touch by email.) “It was the first time I had felt like a complete foreigner, an outsider. I couldn’t speak the language. I was like a baby, fragile, only able to watch things from the outside. It forced me to be more observant, to face my monsters and overcome them.”
Since then, Fukushima has performed the solo he created in Taiwan, Crooked Man, many times, along with an earlier work, How to Overcome the Great Tiredness? Of Crooked Man, dance critic Nicholas Minns wrote of a performance at Dance Umbrella in London: “In this masterful depiction of feverish states of mind, Goya comes to mind, and like Goya, Fukushima sublimates his journey into something beautiful, terror becomes pathos, grotesque distortion becomes wholeness, suffering becomes compassion.”
He recently created a new solo, an intriguing collaboration with conceptual artist Mateo López, another Rolex Protégé. López, who is from Bogotá, Colombia, had an exhibition in São Paulo last year which included an interactive sculpture whose shape alluded to a clock. He invited Fukushima to do a performance at the gallery that related to the sculpture. From that experience sprang the idea for a new work. “I was very open to the experience,” says Fukushima, “and, since then, the work has been growing. It is the first time I have used materials other than my body.” A new impulse for Fukushima: looking outside rather than inward, creating a character separate from himself. To further this exploration of “otherness”, he used eccentric props and costume details: sticks that obscured his fingers, clothes that concealed and exposed his face. The premiere took place in Lesaka (Spain) in early June, as part of the Festival de Danza Contemporánea.
At the festival, Fukushima’s residency coincided with performances by Cloud Gate Theatre, the company he grew to know so intimately during his year in Taiwan. He appeared onstage with members of the company for an open discussion in which they talked about each other’s work. “We saw each other’s work and we talked,” says Fukushima.
It was like coming full circle: the young artist-in-training, who had spent a year under the wing of a great master, Lin Hwai-Min, was sitting onstage discussing ideas with members of Lin’s company, in front of an international audience. The graduation from local to international artist was complete.