Dancer, Kyall Shanks recently returned from Japan where he spent eight months working with some of Japan’s most accomplished choreographers. 

by Lee Pemberton

Kyall grew up on the Far South Coast of NSW, where he went to Eden Marine High School. He was introduced to dance through fLiNG Physical Theatre where he participated from 2009 until 2012. He has experienced an incredible trajectory since graduating from Melbourne University’s Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a $3,500 award for ‘Most Outstanding Dancer and Most Likely to Succeed” out of his year group from the college. 

Kyall was performing with the UK’s Matthew Bourne Company’s production, ‘Lord of the Flies’, and Opera Australia’s ‘King Roger’, before he left for Japan where he took up the opportunity to study at the Dance Box organisation in Kobe Japan. I was able to visit Kyall in Japan in March this year at the end of his time and saw a dance work he created for the final performance. Kyall sat down recently with Lee Pemberton, NSW Regional Arts Fellow and accomplished choreographer, for a chat.

How have you found living and working in Japan with a language barrier? 

At first it felt quite isolating, as the language barrier wasn’t just a problem within the studio but also within day to day life. Sometimes it wasn’t a problem, as our artistic medium is movement anyway, but I was inspired to work hard to learn the language to try and alleviate some of this. By the end of the 8 months I was speaking enough basic Japanese that I could communicate through a combination of it and my Japanese colleagues and friends broken English.

Does the choreographic language differ to what you have experienced in Australia and if so in what way?

I’ve realised Australian dancers are quite advanced technically, but something that I found quite interesting about Japan was the mental and energetic approaches to performance and movement, especially within the Butoh work, which I think really resonated with me. We have such a culture of performance and presenting outwards in Australia whereas I think during my time over there we explored a lot of ideas about what’s happening inside the body during movement, both anatomically and energetically.

Who were the choreographers that most impressed you while there and why?

Three people. Kota Yamazaki, Shintarō Hirahara and Yasuko Yokoshi. I was lucky enough to work with these quite well established Japanese artists whilst I was over there, and I think they have an incredible body of work behind them, as well as so much knowledge of their practice. All three were quite different, but so wise and experienced. I learnt so much from them, and especially because Yokoshi was mentoring me as I created my work as the final part of the residency.

In what way has the experience of Japanese dance influenced your work  today?

I think my movement really changed whilst I was over there. I was always interested in smaller details of the body and exploring this through isolation work, but I’ve come to a place where I seem to approach movement focusing more on the mental aspect of it. I don’t completely understand how I’ve ended up here, as obviously our bodies change and develop slowly, and it’s harder to understand this from the inside, but I’ve ended up having a very particular movement style which I’m exploring at the moment. A mix of isolations, fluidity, stillness and release that I’m still attempting to digest.

You made a piece called ‘Shared’ what was this about and why?

To be honest, something I struggled with whilst overseas was choreographing a piece on myself, and four other dancers, each with vastly different abilities, bodies, nationalities and backgrounds. As a result of this, I ended up creating a work in which there were not many moments where individuals were showcased, but I used the dancers as a group, supporting each other through group work and a shared movement vocabulary. Also, the work itself drew upon the 8 months we spent together in japan, using inspiration from my time there to generate the work, and our shared experience throughout the program.

What is your next adventure in dance going to be?

This month I’m heading off to Sweden to spend a few months undertaking workshops and develop a work as part of an ensemble, working with European choreographers and artists. The work will be toured around Sweden before I return back to Melbourne in September. Afterwards I’ll be beginning a development for a new work with a prominent Melbourne based Choreographer, for Dance Massive in March 2019, a biannual dance festival in Melbourne.

Image: ‘Shared’ by Kyall Shanks with dancers, at Dance Box Newcomer Showcase #6

Image credit : Junpei Iwamoto