This enigmatic quality made Nishimura a darling of the experimental dance scene. Her long list of performance credits – including quirky and high-profile pop culture projects – matches her own choreographic accomplishments. But never one to keep up with expectations, living up to it all, she left her life in New York City to go back to school. She is currently completing a Masters of Fine Arts at Bennington College, a paradise for artistic exploration nestled in the hills of Vermont.
Nishimura, 42, grew up in Tokyo, a fierce lover of animals, anime and science fiction. Dance played a minor role in her childhood, relegated to a weekly Japanese folk dance class taught by a friend’s grandmother and occasional ballet lessons. In high school, Nishimura joined a dance club.
It was only at Ochanomizu University that she was introduced to a wider range of contemporary dance forms. While still a student, she attended a workshop taught by Kota Yamazaki, a butoh practitioner and choreographer 20 years her senior. Nishimura continued to learn from Yamazaki, and the two developed a close friendship and started dating. Six years later, they got married.
Although Nishimura did not imagine pursuing a dancing career, her keen sense of curiosity drove her to keep learning. In 2001, she moved to New York and, at Yamazaki’s suggestion, enrolled in a training program at Merce Cunningham Studio. Arrived a few months before September 11, with very little fluency in English, it took Nishimura nearly two years to find his balance.
“I got completely lost,” she says. “I didn’t have a solid dance background, and everyone seemed to have a ballet background and a very architectural body. I couldn’t find a connection between my life and what was going on in New York, in. particularly in the field of dance. “
Nishimura also felt his attention drawn in two divergent directions. At the same time as she was training in the postmodern field of Cunningham, she continued to study with Yamazaki (he moved to the United States a year after his arrival) and eventually joined his company, Fluid Hug-Hug. Unlike most modern Butoh practitioners who work with scenic choreography – in the footsteps of form co-founders Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata – Yamazaki comes from a line of improvisation created by Butoh master Akira Kasai. “It’s quite rare,” notes Nishimura.
While helping Yamazaki in an intercultural exchange in a Senegalese fishing village, Nishimura had a kind of epiphany. “In Senegal, everyone knew how to dance, and dancing was totally integrated into their life. They didn’t need to go to a studio, ”she says. “At that point, I realized that I was the one separating my life and my dance practice, and I didn’t need to do that anymore.
Back in New York, Nishimura returned to Cunningham Studios with a new perspective. “Suddenly I fell in love with Merce’s philosophy,” she says. “It wasn’t so much about dance technique, but what Merce was trying to do. I felt like a free bird in the studio.”
Nishimura began to communicate more freely with the other artists around her, and little by little, opportunities began to present themselves; her first professional concert was to dance for RoseAnne Spradlin. Today, Nishimura’s resume reads like a who’s who of the dance world of downtown New York: Credits include John Jasperse, Vicky Shick, David Gordon, Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, Neil Greenberg and many more. others.
“Mina, for me, can hardly hurt,” says Mitchell, who has known Nishimura from his early days in Cunningham’s class. “She has a really crazy imagination. And there is a rhythmic clarity and intensity and a particular coordination in her body that is very unexpected, but that allows her to come in and out of different qualities and textures.”
Around 2004, Nishimura also began to engage in choreography, inviting friends to join her in the studio to create duets, trios and possibly larger group works. “Mina has this ability to stretch time, duration, and perception that feels distinctly outside the meaning of Western composition,” says Olinghouse, who has worked with Nishimura as both performer and archivist. “She is such a deep experimenter.”
Nishimura in Alternative Rock Band Late Sea’s “Hunter” Music Video
Andrey Alistratov and HazukiAikawa, courtesy of Late Sea
In recent years, Nishimura has also been called upon for commercial projects. In 2015, she made headlines dancing alongside Sia on “Saturday Night Live”. Wearing a two-tone wig to mimic the Australian pop star, Nishimura brought what she calls “butoh-ness” to her dance. With her distinctively idiosyncratic movement and mutable facial expressions, she seemed to play the main role in Sia’s ultra-controlled performance.
In 2017, Nishimura was in front of the camera again in a spooky short created for the Women’s Tales series by fashion label Miu Miu, directed by Celia Rowlson-Hall. The following year, she starred in a music video for alternative rock band Late Sea; her skin painted white but for red eye shadows, Nishimura dances on a beach, surreal boxes floating around her.
“The camera really captures subtle nuances sometimes lost in a large theater,” she says of the benefits of film work. “When I do more butoh style work with my facial expressions it can be difficult to deliver on stage.”
Nishimura had to work hard to simultaneously maintain the Eastern and Western Movement philosophies that underpin her. She explains that in butoh, she aims to destabilize herself, to empty her body and her sense of self so that she can be easily transformed. But in postmodern dance, identity is key. “I always felt a bit strange switching gears from one to the other. Of course every choreographer has a different style, but I started to wonder what my own body language is, ”she says.
Over the past seven years, Nishimura has started to feel an organic shift and a sense of clarity around owning many identities at once. “Whatever Mina’s job was, I started seeing her dance rather than trying to fit in,” Yamazaki says, with Nishimura playing the role of performer. “Now I can’t keep my eyes on her during the performance. It’s mesmerizing, even when she makes a subtle movement. She’s magical Mina.”
This is especially evident in Nishimura’s own work. His solo Princess cabbage, which was created at the Danspace Project in 2015, is based on textural materials by Hijikata. He understands his designs, which play an important role in his creative process. And in 2019, Nishimura created Hi, Merce! I have a question. for a program hosted by Mitchell at the Skirball Center in NYU.
“Cunningham and Hijikata were such different characters from completely different social and cultural backgrounds, but they can meet through my body,” says Nishimura. “My body is like a black hole. It absorbs everything, so I feel like I am receiving a treasure from these great figures.”
Nishimura’s maturation as a creator also led to a new sense of collaboration with Yamazaki. Although she had long played an important role in her husband’s business, the couple have only recently moved on to starting and running a new job together. Their first duo, The other self, premiered in 2019, and they are now creating a new room, Me, ghost, the other, you, which they studied in residence at Florida State University’s Maggie Allesee National Choreography Center last December.
“The images we use are abandoned ghostly bodies that have fallen from the rigid world,” says Nishimura. The duo recently performed an excerpt for presenters in Japan; they hope to debut in a theater there and also bring it to the United States
Shortly before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Nishimura left Brooklyn, his 17-year-old home, for a new adventure. After teaching three times with Yamazaki at Bennington College over the past decade, she is now a student herself, completing a Masters in Dance. In addition to her studies, Nishimura teaches and choreographs on Bennington students, and remotely directs a performance project, called “Disappearing Total”, at Sarah Lawrence College.
Although they travel frequently to Japan, Nishimura and Yamazaki enjoy the quiet tranquility that Vermont offers, but she says she misses the excitement of New York and her friends there. Nishimura fills her free time with nature walks, exploring her reiki practice and a new appreciation for Netflix’s vast library of Korean dramas.
“I thought it would be important to neutralize myself, reset myself and think about what I really want to do in the rest of my life,” Nishimura says of his decision to change course midway through his career. career. “In New York, every day you get to see dance pieces or art exhibitions, and I felt like I was always reacting to what I saw. Now, instead of living reactively, I want to learn to live a little more proactively. ”
Nishimura with her designs in her Princess cabbage
Mathew Pokoik, courtesy of Nishimura
Drawing plays an important role in Nishimura’s creative life, both inside and outside the studio. “I draw a lot, regardless of how I dance,” she says. But his choreographic notes go beyond simple diagrams. “Instead of drawing lines or dots, sometimes I draw someone’s face, if I want to create a smiley space,” she says. “It helps me cultivate different layers of images within me. Sometimes that image can be language-based, and it can also be drawing-based.”
Nishimura sees her drawings as another expression of her inner life. “She draws her internal states as tones or colors that become inhabited,” explains Cori Olinghouse, who worked with Nishimura to archive these images. “When I think of Mina, I think of someone who is able to animate interior landscapes and make invisible forces more visible.”