[among people in Jerez] lies in foregoing the explanation and getting straight to the rhythm. They chant it as a song. Tomas ay, tomas ay, toma toma to
Once he let go of conventional, studio-bound ideas about how dance should be taught, things changed quickly. Members of the cast began responding to the song in a coordinated fashion, yet in individual unique ways: those who stood tapped their feet and moved their bodies; those in wheelchairs rocked their heads and tapped their armrests. Suddenly, the idea of a performance by people with disabilities coalescenced into reality.
“The world changed before my eyes,” said Sato, his face lighting up as he recalled the scene.
With progress finally showing, Sato continued to train the dancers for six months, shuttling between Shizuoka and his dance company in Tokyo. The performance was staged on March 2006.
Dancers with various disabilities working hard backstage at Te o Tsunagu Oyakokai (self-help centre) in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka (Hiroki Sato/arte-y-solera.com)
Asked about what the disabled performers learned from this project, Sato demurred. “I can’t generalise about how they benefited from the experience. Some kids were visibly moved to tears as they danced. Others simply moved as they were told.” He then laughed. “But actually, it was often the parents and adult caregivers who couldn’t get into it!”
In art, a common humanity
This experience with disabled performers has become one that he recreates for audiences five years later.
“What was special about that project was the way dance seemed to transform the relationships of caregivers and care receivers. For a moment, while the music played, the adults ceased to be parents, and children ceased to be disabled. Their social roles as caregivers simply dissolved.”
Today, Sato thinks of flamenco dance as a transformative ritual that applies across cultures and abilities. It was the able-bodied participants, not the one with disabilities, who gained most from the experience— himself included. Art has the power to level social roles and asymmetries in relationships. “It is a tool to unite and make people simply become equals,” he said. “I also reaffirmed that social work isn’t about serving, but about mutual learning.”
“The flamenco cante is similar to the cry of life. It is different from traditional singing as a performance. It is naked. There’s not ornamentation. The cante is a part of daily life. There’s no escape from it.”
Hiroki Sato is a flamenco dancer and choreographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Winner of the Grand Prize at the 2004 Cultural Affairs Arts Festival (as well as other domestic and international awards), Hiroki shuttles between Tokyo, where he is co-director of the flamenco theatre company ‘Arte y Solera’, and Jerez, Spain, his adopted second home. Prior to his career as a professional dancer, Sato worked as a certified caregiver and nursery teacher, working with people with disabilities.
Sato was in Singapore in June 2016 to perform and conduct workshops at the 2016 Singapore Flamenco Festival (21 May – 12 June 2016).