'Moving Southwark' Meet the Dancer: Kai Tomioka

'Moving Southwark' Meet the Dancer: Kai Tomioka

The new series Moving Southwark from Jevan Chowdhury has just been launched on Sedition. The new collection is derived from one of the films from UK-based artist Jevan Chowdhury's project Moving Cities. Inspired by the history and the stories revolving around Southwark, one of the oldest parts of London, Moving Southwark captures the dancers in and around the borough of Southwark. It takes viewers deeper into London, to its tube stations, bus stations, from Barbican to Swiss Cottage. We explored the series with the dancer Kai Tomioka, one of the collaborators of Moving Southwark.

Read the interview to learn more about the Kai Tomioka's background in dance, his experience in Jevan Chowdhury’s Moving Southwark and his current projects.

"I think the key to a long career in dance is to remain inspired. Without inspiration, you are left to find it only within yourself, and personally I believe that there is only so much one can do without the influence of others. Remaining open to all possible avenues of inspiration can allow for new discoveries to occur every single day!"

Kai Tomioka, Photo by Jack Thomson

You’ve been dancing since age of 12 and graduated with a first class degree from Central School of Ballet in 2015. Could you tell us about your background in dance? What is your earliest memory of dance?

Kai Tomioka: My beginning in dance began at a local dance school near my home in North London, where I was very much a jack of all trades, master of none. I had a taste in modern, jazz, street dance, breakdance, tap but at this point I didn’t have a clear goal or direction of what I wanted to do with it, it was simply something that I enjoyed. They started a boys ballet class, and plucked a few of us who were all similar ages to start doing ballet. I would say this was where I started to gain a sense of purpose. Together we would encourage each other, support each other, and now over 10 years later I am still working with some of these people to this day!

A difficult thing in dance is finding your own identity and voice. Dance training is there to give you the tools that you will need, the access to the information and vocabulary that would otherwise be very hard to get without a formal institution. What happens after that is where you need to decide what it is you are going to do with these tools, and what it is you want to say. I am still very much influenced by my early days of dancing, sometimes I am asked to dance in these different styles, and the dancer I am today is an amalgamation of all my different dance experiences. As a mixed race half Japanese half English person I felt very passionately about moving to Japan to discover and learn about my heritage and that half of me, and I gained further influences culturally and artistically during my time there.

Photo: Moving Southwark 10, Jevan Chowdhury

Could you tell us about the experience in taking part in Jevan Chowdhury’s Moving Southwark film. You were the Choreographer Assistant in the project. What is it that fascinate or challenge you about the project?

Kai Tomioka: A big part of what I enjoyed about the project is the diverse group of artists that we were able to assemble. Dancers from all different types of of backgrounds, cultures and movement language meant that the work has such a vast movement language that was great fun to work with.

Moving Southwark was a film project, and therefore required a very different approach to a dance piece that is performed live to an audience. The focus on image was vital, and Jevan was always very clear with his ideas for what he wanted to capture. By starting with the images he wanted to capture, we were able to open up a dialogue with each other about how that would physically materialise itself into movement, and this was then communicated to the dancers. There was a focus on allowing the dancers to have creative freedom and voice in their own material, but I believe that the through line and concept brought it all together into what you can see today.

Kai Tomioka, Photo by Jack Thomson

How would you describe your connection to dance?

Kai Tomioka: I see my connection and passion for dance in most of what I do, outside of dancing. Dance began as my hobby, it was what I used to do for fun. When it became my profession it was how I would earn a living. This transition can be difficult as it becomes a necessity, and at times no longer what I would do out of choice. When I am not working, I enjoy listening and playing music, I enjoy cooking, watching films. All these things are so influenced by my relationship with dance. I enjoy listening to all different genres of music, all created by individuals who express their creativity through audible art. I draw inspiration from different cultures and voices in music, and this all can dramatically change how I respond and dance to different sounds, through different textures. I enjoy curating and choreographing food, as pretentious as that sounds I appreciate the care and time that can go into food, it is something we need to do every day for as long as we live so why not give it time and care, you reap the benefits yourself.

Film and cinema are big influencers for my own creative practice, the images that you see can be translated into dance, and themes that present themselves can equally do the same. I find that as my career goes on I am becoming more and more passionate about dance. I understand my body far better than I used to, and treat it with a lot more care and love. Dance is a career that requires a level of passion, you put yourself through a lot of hardships that it only makes sense if you are passionate about it!

What inspires you?

Kai Tomioka: What inspires me is people. I am inspired by my friends, my partner, my family, my colleagues. I am inspired by dancers, artists, actors, musicians, human capability and possibility is what inspires me most. As an artist and a dancer I am a result of those around me, my teachers who taught me at dance school, who impacted and informed my technical training. My colleagues who I have worked with across my dance journey thus far, people from all over the world with so many rich stories and cultures that continually inspire me. I am inspired when I listen to music, that informs my body with sensations and images that shape my movement vocabulary. I am inspired by those who I teach, who offer perspectives and insights that I can no longer recognise myself.

I think the key to a long career in dance is to remain inspired. Without inspiration, you are left to find it only within yourself, and personally I believe that there is only so much one can do without the influence of others. Remaining open to all possible avenues of inspiration can allow for new discoveries to occur every single day!

During the initial period of the lockdown, when we spent most of our time indoors, did you develop any new ideas relevant to your practice?

Kai Tomioka: I think the lockdown gave everyone a chance to breathe. A moment in time where we all had no choice but to step back, reflect and to reevaluate. I moved to Japan in the summer of 2019, so therefore spent all my time during the height of the pandemic in Japan. During the lockdown, I felt very far away from my family and loved ones. The accessibility of the world that was so taken for granted was snatched away from us so quickly, that we all didn’t realise the ramifications that it was going to have on our connections with people around the world. Dance is such a sensorial art form, that is enriched by sharing at experiencing it with others around you. The time in isolation helped me to develop a new relationship with my own body that I had dismissed for a long time. Reconnecting with myself physically, emotionally and mentally reminded me of why I am in this profession.

Now I am clear on the path that I wish to carve in my artistic journey, and I am not waiting for opportunities to be presented unto me but instead I am actively seeking them out. There is a hunger and a desire in the dance world now that was perhaps lacking prior to the lockdown, but now who knows what will happen in the near and immediate future, so there is no point in waiting.

Could you tell us about the current project you’re working on?

Kai Tomioka: I am currently working with the company, BalletBoyz directed by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt. Balletboyz is a company that was very present in my early days of dancing, so joining the company now feel like a real full circle moment for me.

We are currently touring the work Deluxe that originally premiered just before lockdown but was sadly cut short, so it is great to now be able to perform this work two years later. I am also actively working on building collaboration between the dance and arts sectors between Japan and the UK. This is where I believe that there is a lot of work do be done in order to bring work from Japan that does not have the same support there as it does here. Be it film, workshops or creating dance pieces, I am looking to find ways of making this happen and to build bridges between the two dance communities. This is something that Jevan and I are trying to make happen too so watch this space! 

Watch the video interview conducted with the London-based film maker Jevan Chowdhury and learn more about the inspirations behind Moving Cities project and the making of the series.