Parcours d'artistes

Yano, un artiste japonais à Paris

‘Grand prix de la critique 2008/2009 - Palmarès danse’ - best book on dance, prize awarded by the ‘Syndicat professionnel de la critique dramatique et musicale’ (Paris).

20 years after the death of YANO Hideyuki (1943-1988), his memory is still well alive among the French artists who got to know him and worked with him. But the question of his influence had not been much addressed until now. Building on many testimonies, Yano, a Japanese artist in Paris brings this figure back to the surface, somewhat faded away and yet mythicised, a figure which held a very special position in the new French dance scene.

The book explores the young artist’s early years in Tokyo and coming suddenly in Paris in the 1970s, shortly before the European audience discovered butoh. It relates how his dance company Mâ Danse Rituel Théâtre was formed, and the creation of a totally unique work where the East and the West interacted for the first time. From the now legendary Hana Cristal-Fleur (1979) to Le Puits de l’épervier (1983) and Salome trilogy (1985-86), that artist claimed his own tradition, mainly Noh tradition as he carried in him a rare knowledge of Western culture. This back and forth poetic movement between spirituality, the sacred and contemporary consciousness, also explains why his teaching had a lasting impact on several generations of dancers among whom Elsa Wolliaston, Lila Greene, Sidonie Rochon, François Verret, Mark Tompkins and Karine Saporta.

Mainly illustrated using pictures by Anne Nordmann, the photographer who stayed at the choreographer’s side throughout his career, Yano, a Japanese artist in Paris also contains unpublished documents, texts and sketches taken from the artist’s personal archives.

My first memory of Yano is that of a delicate dancer with a pale skin and movements like porcelain wrapping his stealthy dance around Elsa Wolliaston, a living shadow statue frozen at the front of the stage. It was in Paris, in the ‘Théâtre de la Cité internationale universitaire’, Boulevard Jourdan, probably in 1975, one day when I had come to see Elsa, who was my teacher back then. That afternoon they were both rehearsing what would become Rivière Sumida. Quite confused, all I could see of Yano was a strange Japanese man hovering around Elsa.

[…] As for Yano, he had had time, in the second half of the 1970s, to form the dance company Mâ and to see them split up. Indeed Mâ produced their most magical pieces between 1976 and 1980, shining, fragile years, pieces that were to become all the more mythical since they were actually few performances: he was first known for his famous duo piece with Elsa, Rivière Sumida-Folie, followed by Flux-sape, a geo-choreography, and mostly Hana Cristal-Fleur in 1979, whose rerun in 1980 marked the end of the company. Since he was not afraid to work with, in addition to “the Queen” Elsa, people as diverse as Lila Greene, Sidonie Rochon, François Verret and Mark Tompkins, he paid the price of his recklessness. It was a time of collective creation and the only thing these strong personalities had in common was their independent spirit. Which might explain why the company came apart.

[…] I felt that the long journey towards Yano could only be an intuitive one and had first to be seen from the eyes of those – Japanese or French – who met him. Each had their own way of talking about who the “real” Yano was to them, thus contributing, almost without their knowledge, to reconstruct the character with his contradictions and mysteries. Based on what I called the “impossible portrait” I had to go back in time and, as much as possible, look back at the cultural roots of this boy attracted from an early age to the West, so unique and yet representative of his generation.

[…] From then on, the rest – the Japanese years, his arrival in Paris, the creation of Mâ dance company, the growing recognition and the shift towards a dance increasingly reflecting a mix of cultures, blending modernity and tradition, East and West in a totally new way – unfolds with natural logic, that of an intimate blend of art and life. What follows is the story of a short, sparkling, shattered life. The life of an artist. Almost a fiction.


“The way he danced, I had never seen that before – I am still looking for that”. Dance critic Bernadette Bonis was one of the first one to see Yano performing and became a close friend of the choreographer over time.

“He had incredible grace, and he could listen. A sort of childish curiosity taken to the extreme.” François Verret. Dancer and choreographer, member of Mâ dance company.

“I think we were all deeply touched by Yano, inexplicably.” Mark Tompkins. Dancer and choreographer, member of Mâ dance company for a while.

“There was a certain harmony, closeness between us that I never found with anyone else. In Japanese culture, as in African culture, death plays an important role. I feel like we had the same intuition.” Elsa Wolliaston. Dancer and choreographer, initial founding member of Mâ dance company.

“Maybe what he was looking for was to go beyond differences, towards the merging of 4 continents. A sort of cultural neutrality in a way.” Sidonie Rochon. Dancer and choreographer, founding member of Mâ dance company.

“Look at a landscape, take it in, go home and paint it from memory, the Chinese say. It is very particular way to absorb nature, deep down. We never apply the same stroke twice, there is no idle gesture, everything is crucial. The inside and outside are like communicating vessels. This is what Yano’s work was like.” Lila Greene. Dancer and choreographer, founding member of Mâ dance company.

“With Yano it was all black and white. He could be cruel.” Isabelle Famchon. Playwright.

“Yano was gentleness itself, but he was also a volcano, a bit like supposedly extinct Japanese volcanoes bubbling inside.” Tamia. Singer.