Yass Hakoshima began his career while dancing with the Yokoyama Ballet troupe in Japan. His initial success led him to the United States, where he studied modern dance with Erick Hawkins and mime with Etienne Decroux. In the late ’60s Hakoshima made his stage debut in New York, and thereafter embarked on a 10-year tour of the United States, performing in over 400 cities in 49 states.
In 1976, he established the Yass Hakoshima Mime Theatre, incorporated as Danmari Ltd. He has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Suntory Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Soros Foundation, Deluxe Corporation Foundation, and from many other corporations and individuals. Mr. Hakoshima is now an international favorite, touring from New Zealand to Montreal, and Hong Kong to Berlin.
I have known Yass and his wife, the dancer Renate Boue for close to 20 years now and am completely inspired by their endless creativity and pursuit of artistic excellence. Yass is an extraordinary performer with an incredible amount of stamina and curiosity for the world around him.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND; WHEN AND WHY DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WANTED TO BECOME A MIME ARTIST?
When I was ten or twelve years old, I was a good story teller. I explained stories in a convincing manner to my classmates and friends. In fact, I enjoyed doing this myself. During my life in Tokyo 1955-58, working at Tokyo Keikan, I took daily ballet classes with the Haruki Yokoyama Ballet and mime classes with Hieronobu Oikawa, who had just returned from Paris, where he had done studio work under Etienne Dercroux. While the Yokoyama Ballet Co. had been touring in Hokkaido for a 3-week engagement, I danced in “Coppelia” and “Swan Lake.” As you can imagine, we always performed on large stages with wonderful audiences. Somehow I got the idea to try out some of my created mime pieces. During the intermission after the first performance I proposed this to the artistic director and to my surprise, the offer was accepted. I would be performing my own choreographed solos! Because at that time very very few artists were showing European style mime, only at a few occasions Japanese people were able to see mime when they were watching European movies. Therefore my appearances were very unique at that time for Japanese audiences to see mime in a live performance, and it became a great hit during the Hokkaido Ballet tour. On a big stage, one person doing something called Mime was a great challenge. During that time I was also reading a lot of literature and constantly searching Western theatre history, and finding Western art forms, specifically about the art of mime, which at that time was very little known in Japan. Twice I was able to see Marcel Marceau perform in Tokyo, which confirmed my vision of getting more and more interested in the art form of mime.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR BREAK-THROUGH PART AS A MIME?
After many years of choreographing numerous performance works, I realized that one of the popular mime styles, the so-called 20th century classic short vignette, which is so beautiful and absolutely stark, sharp, direct and showing human expression. It holds a poignant deep meaning like a powerful black and white calligraphy. However to exist among the other “big brothers” like opera, symphony concert and many other types of theatrical forms, which use enormous visual effects like stage sets, costumes, fantastic songs, dialogues, all of which can over-whelmingly impress audiences with enormous excitement. Mime on the other hand, and especially soloist performing on the big stage, without song, no talking, just demonstrating body expression of everyday gestures in life, was not enough! I found one clue: ”visualization of music” could help me to step out of the short vignette style. I concentrated on 15 to 20 minute scenes of short stories or events, well edited, and still keeping a poetic sense and deep meaning. I listened to selected music over and over until the entire score was built into my body. I enjoyed it so much because I finally found it: Freedom of Expression!
HOW DO YOU CREATE A CAREER FOR YOURSELF AS A MIME AND WHERE DO YOU FEEL THAT THE BIGGEST AUDIENCE IS FOR YOUR WORK?
My career began originally in Europe when I lived in Germany and gradually began to create evening length programs that I could offer to various presenting organizations, such as universities, arts centers, theatres etc. When I moved back to the USA in 1966, I had my NYC debut at the 92nd street Y and also at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, which were attended by several representatives of artist agencies. I was signed up with one agency. I stayed with them for over ten years, touring all over the USA in all states but one! It was a very hard touring time. Sometimes I toured in my own car, sometimes I flew, sometimes taking a bus! It was a very strenuous period, with one-night stands, visiting hundreds of colleges and universities, community concerts,festivals.
In order to make ends meet I had to be my own stage manager, lighting designer, performer, choreographer, music director, costume designer, mask maker, props creator etc etc.
All these performances were mostly one-night-stands, including also one- or two-week residencies. Eventually, in 1976, other agencies became interested in my work and I was represented by an International agency (Kazuko Hillyer International) in New York for 13 years. Now I would be touring to larger festivals and theatres around the world.
Simultaneously I would also work with international agencies in Europe, as well as in Asia. And I was touring practically all year-round. The biggest audiences for my work are definitely in Germany and in Taiwan because I had so many performance tours in these countries. Also audiences in Australia and South America were equally receptive and understanding.
I SEE YOU AS SUCH A POWERFUL STORYTELLER - CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS. HOW TO CREATE A CHARACTER? DOES INTUITION PLAY A ROLE IN YOUR PROCESS?
Mime is the art of creating a world of reality. The performer re-creates the world around him as well as represents and expresses his own inner world for others to see. The “outer” world contains objects, people, animals, and organic life of all sorts, which become the sum of the performer’s environment. The “inner” world consists of his/her own feelings, thoughts, impulses and dreams. Illusion can be created objectively. Objective mime creates objects and environments around you. In subjective mime, you become the object itself, such as marionette, tree, flower or eagle.
One of the most important aspects of a mime performance is the creation of illusion. When a mime creates a fantasy — something that is there when it really is not - that is an illusion. When you see a mime perform, you will see many illusions - invisible objects such as a wall, a door, a chair, or movements such as the blowing of the wind, the rocking of the waves of the sea, an eagle flying in space.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR.
One of the most recent highlights of my career has been my annual national tours in Taiwan, twelve times from 1983 to 2003. The Taiwan audiences named me “Shan Tao An” (Chinese for Yass Hakoshima). One of the most important stages I appeared on during my professional career was one week of performances at the Taiwan National Theatre, a 3000 seat fantastic theatre and wonderful audiences. Opening my career as professional artist were two special theatres in Germany: in Berlin the Akademie der Künste and the beautiful Rococo style Markgrafen-Theater in Erlangen. My first New York performance was at Kaufman Hall at the 92nd street Y and the same year (1966) I appeared at the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in a program with Edward Vilella and Carmen De Lavallade.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT MIME THEATRE?
Mime is simple body language to express a story or essay, events, illusions, crazy fantasies, fables or daily street scenes, dreams, etc. These are raw materials for artistic choreography. However, how to break it down to simple body language format is the crucial point.
Marcel Marceau created most obvious and very common scenes of every-day-life in a poetic way, with comedic nuances and great facial expression. His creations were easy to understand.
However the simple way to express in an artistic way is always very difficult. After Marceau’s worldwide success from 1976 until around 2006, street mimes appeared on every corner in the USA to entertain and amuse audiences in comedic acts.
Of course, everybody enjoyed watching their plays and comedic acts. However those mime artists did not give the public a sense of the ART FORM of mime. Gradually people left from those acts and labeled these performers white-faced meaningless entertainers because it is so easy to start moving around without much training or experience, special talent or serious artistry. Anybody can copy actions in a white face, and therefore people gradually lost interest in the art of mime. The public does not know the various styles of exciting, high level of classic, abstract mime, dramatic or comedic mime performed in the theatre by artists who have been trained for many years, who can compete with other art forms like opera, spoken theatre etc. When we ask people "what is mime,” people usually answer immediately, “I know it, a white-faced street entertainer or comedian! They are so funny and cute!” Is that all?
I have met so many people during my touring time, and at that point I thought seriously that I have to teach and educate people about the ART of mime. This encompasses the comedic act, to give laughter for a complete opposite situation, such as in the tragic drama of human behavior.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE INSPIRED YOU IN YOUR WORK AND WHY?
Composer George Crumb, whose music has inspired me tremendously for many of my recent works. Stefan Odry, photographer in Germany. Akira Kurusawa, film director. Jean Louis Barrault, actor/mime. Comedie Francaise, Jules Dassin. Film director, Vaslav Nijinsky. Igor Stravinsky. All of these have such explosive, artistic, creative energy, and yet they are very human.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE THREE MOST SIGNIFICANT FEATURES A GREAT MIME HAS TO HAVE?
A. Creative power to submerge into the concrete illusion or fantasy world.
B. Vivid memory – memorable, detailed events that the artist encountered throughout his/her life. (The power to submerge into your illusional world).
C. A physically and spiritually completely well-trained body.
WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR INSPIRATION?
Street scenes, daily events, films, video, museums, books, music, photographs.
YOU HAVE SUCH AMAZING COMEDIC TIMING, YET YOU ALSO MANAGE TO DO MORE DRAMATIC ROLES, WHAT DO YOU PREFER AND WHY?
Since 2001 I put all my energy and past valuable experiences into dramatic, abstract work, accompanied by music (mostly live music) and simple costumes, masks, sculpture and paintings. Adding my choreography, creating multi-disciplinary arts projects.
This is what I thoroughly enjoy!
WHAT COUNTRY IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK HAS THE LONGEST AND MOST APPRECIATED HISTORY OF GREAT MIME?
Italy, France, China, Japan, India.
IF YOU HADN'T BECOME A MIME WHAT PROFESSION DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE EXCELLED IN/AT?
My mother was an opera singer, so I was introduced to music at an early age. I could have continued studying music. I love conducting and could see myself having become a conductor.
LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE, WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE AND WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE DOING IN 25 YEARS?
I will be continuing to create new work, teaching, lecturing in the US, Europe and other foreign countries. I am also planning to publish a book consisting of tour memories, with photographs and essays. I am looking for a publisher now!