Altering Positions Through an Artistic Inquiry of Japanese DanceAmi Skånberg
Cross-gender acts have saturated Japanese performance history, with men and women using gender as a performative act. This practice-led article investigates gendered embodiment and gendered spaces through the Japanese dance and walking technique suriashi (which translates as sliding foot). It is practiced in traditional Japanese performing arts and in martial arts. Gender in traditional Japanese dance/Nihon Buyō is constructed physically through the positioning and moulding of the body, as well as through costume and cross-dressing. The original suriashi practice is performed in the dance studio or on stage, however my research asks whether suriashi could also be a method to act, as being active, or to activate, in other spaces outside the theatre. I exemplify gendered perspectives through a suriashi walk by myself and the drag queen Bruno the Bad Boy at the yearly Saiin Kasuga Shrine Festival in Kyōto. I propose that the suriashi style created to impersonate women is not only a gender construction, it is also a reminder of the continuous absence of women in Nō and Kabuki theatre, resulting from the 1629-1868 ban of women from stage, the adoption of Confucian cultural values, and teachings of Buddhism. Combining extended practice-based and situated knowledge with historical accounts, I elucidate the act of ‘becoming woman’ or ‘performing as woman’ in traditional Japanese dance. This helps to process a global conservatory performer training as well as processing gender issues in the contemporary society, explored through gender theories, performing Hélène Cixoux’s sexual difference and Judith Butler’s gender trouble.