Kokoro is a Japanese word meaning heart, soul and spirit. The Kokoro Dance Theatre society was founded in 1986 by Barbara Bourget, who is trained in ballet and contemporary dance, and Jay Hirabayashi, ski racer and Buddhist scholar. The company’s mandate is cross-cultural exploration and multi-disciplinary collaboration. It has evolved its own movement language based on the Japanese dance form known as butoh, a serene and brutal post-Second World War genre that redefines time and space by rejecting premeditated outward forms and tapping into imagery drawn from the subconscious. Kokoro dancers focus inward and employ intense control to produce singular body images and stage effects, amplified by shaved heads, gnarled hands and feet, chalky white body makeup and fundoshi loincloths.
Bourget has said that she is drawn by butoh's focus on ma, the space between events. Hirabayashi calls what he does "butoh zen jazz dance." The fusion of their approaches has resulted in prolific creation: the company has produced more than 100 works since its inception, including 40 full-evening staged works. It has toured across Canada, the United States and Europe, and performed in a dizzying array of venues, including proscenium theatres, site-specific environments such as streets, parks and beaches, at jazz and folk festivals, and in galleries, restaurants and clubs.
Kokoro Dance is unusual among Canadian contemporary dance companies in that it trains dancers in its own movement style in addition to choreographing, performing and presenting. Both directors teach, Bourget focusing on technical training within a consistent class structure and Hirabayashi employing a more eclectic approach to integrating technique and improvisation through butoh training.
Kokoro Dance is a uniquely visible dance company in Vancouver, regularly participating in community events such as the annual Powell Street Festival on the city's Downtown Eastside. Even people who never attend dance performances know about Wreck Beach Butoh, which the company began presenting annually in 1996. Performed by as many as 23 nude dancers at the clothing-optional beach, it has become a signature piece for Kokoro and remains a source of creative inspiration. "It continually reinvigorates us," says Hirabayashi, "and puts us in touch with the earth, air and sea."