Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.
Europeans stare at the stars, but Aboriginal people also see the spaces in between where the Spirit Emu resides.
— Bruce Pascoe, Introduction to Dark Emu
Last January, as we were finalising this issue, Australia caught fire. I was planning to write about time, and how time flows differently in every thing Japanese; about how one can listen to a rock grow, how a petal meandering its way to the ground holds a world of beauty, how one can start a revolution with some pollen falling from the skies. But where I was, the skies were incandescent and the air was leaden with haze and smoke and as we sat waiting to see when it will all be quenched, time grew heavy and long, and I still thought about time. I thought how much longer it will take us to see that this is a reckoning.
How much time have we had to see how much harm we have done to these lands, these sacred aged lands that are not ours, how despicable our politics have been, “a black comedy pregnant with collapse, its actors exhausted, without imagination or courage or principle, solely obsessed with pillaging the tawdry jewels of office and fleeing into distant sinecures (…), while outside the city burns.”
But then, we never see much. We only see what we want to see. What is plain. What is here. What is. We do not know how to un-see, un-learn, to see with the senses, with the body. To see without understanding. To understand without possessing. We would never see the Spirit of Dark Emu in between the stars. We will just go with the stars.
.For this is how we have always done things, we Westerners — we have divided the world according to the binary logic of ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’, ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’, ‘self’ and ‘other’, the ‘past’ and the ‘present’. We have limited our imagination to what can be seen and conquered, we have made time linear so that we can easily write (hi)stories of our wars and victories of the past and build empires of lies and deceit to which we gave period, place and purpose to invent a present.
Time in kabuki cannot occur without the concept of ma – the space between two movements. It plays the same role as a conjunction in writing. It is the unchoreographed unperformed pause for a movement to be able to exhale out the emotion it generates. Ma gives the space and time to the performer to not ‘mean’ anything in that particular moment and opens the possibility to be in full communion with the audience. As this is precisely the moment when the audience can grasp the invisible force of what is unfolding. Sometimes the ma can be quite long, as the performer focuses on its energy to reach all the way to the last row at the back of the theatre. This moment of stillness carries as much value as the sophisticated movement preceding and following. Such stillness does not imply nothingness, an absence of being but rather an un-being to the being. It is what some call an aesthetic of ‘incompleteness’, an invitation for us, the beholder, to complete, to interpret, to imagine, to intervene and finish what the dance has to say. In that sense we are co-authors of what we see, and we have agency in what we decide to see.
This Japan focused issue opens up multiple invitations: to perceive time beyond the linearity that makes the Western world spin, to conceive tradition as a continuum of contemporaneity, to understand specific dance forms and lineages as trans-national and trans-historical. But more than this, it is an invitation for us to be reminded that we are nature, that unlike matter, which has firm, solid elements, we are ourselves made of air, and fire and earth and water, and that what we truly are and what the world truly is lies in the interstitial, the liminal, the in-betweenness of these.