In a small world



[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, December 2020.]


Barcelona isn’t well-known for flamenco but Kayoko Nakata, thinks it should be. 

As a Japanese flamenco dancer with a Catalan husband and two year-old son, she lives near the city’s Sant Pau hospital. When she can, she goes back to her place of origin in the rural Iwate region where she’s a lifetime cultural ambassador.

Kayoko told me, “At the Barcelona Ciutat Flamenco Festival at the end of October, my work, “Hermandad” was selected from a lot of applications and I was able to perform at the Auditori Sant Marti. “That was just before the last three concerts in the festival were cancelled due to Covid restrictions.”

“Flamenco is a small world,” said. “Here and in Seville where I studied it, the attitude is very often that [Romani] Gypsies do this and Japanese people could never dance flamenco. Tourists don’t want to see Japanese or Chinese or Africans dancing flamenco. It’s a closed world too. I struggled a lot and eventually doors opened for me and I danced in “tablaos” (or daily organised performances on stage) a lot.”

“The title of my latest show means bonding but also brotherhood. In that way, it describes what I’ve done with two types of music. I fuse flamenco with traditional musical elements from Japan. 

For example, in the song that opens the show I dance dressed in a “kimono” (traditional and formal Japanese garment) and I use hand movements from the ancient “Nihon buyo”  dance from my region. 

There are people in Barcelona who really like being surprised by that mixture. I’m someone who wants to create music and movement without borders. I don’t feel Japanese or Catalan or Spanish. I’m a human, a person.” Summing up herself on her website, she uses the phrase “I DON’T KNOW WHERE I COME FROM OR WHERE I’M GOING.”

I asked Kayoko about the meaning to her of “duende,” that core spirit of the art that is said to take over flamenco dancers when they are in full flight. She compared it to the Japanese idea of “mu:” nothingness or being without, "unasking." She said in that state, thought was absent, like when she meditates.

Other things are also absent in her life, however. Currently because of the theatres being closed and face to face sessions prohibited, Kayoko teaches flamenco online from her apartment, though she’s only doing a small number of classes. Her students are both in Japan and those living in Barcelona, where she believes the  flamenco scene is based on many thousands of residents who have an Andalusian family background.

Like so many other teachers though, she’s had to try to adapt this year. As have the people around her. “I think the neighbours in my building are angry at me because of all my stamping on the floor but luckily none of them have said anything,” she laughs. “I want to restart classes in my studio because that’s more enjoyable.”

As a foreigner or “gaijin” as they are called there, I was lucky enough to live in Japan for three years. Similar to Kayoko Nakata, I also had a partner and young child with me. Also like her, I discovered something of a small world.

I learned that the world was not as big as I’d thought because Japanese people basically wanted many of the same things as me. This, despite the fact that they have a hugely different culture and history from where I’d grown up in Australia.




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