After speaking with Yako Miyamoto, the artistic director, founder, and creator of rhythmic dance company, COBU, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see COBU’s newest show, EN. Miyamoto is not only the creator of COBU but she is also a current cast member of the off-Broadway hit Stomp. It’s been said of COBU’s previous shows that one does not need to understand English nor Japanese to understand the show. Miyamoto’s zest for life and ability to communicate through nonverbal expression is a testament to that. It is clear that this talented artist has a great passion for life and her work, and she shares that with the world through COBU.
How did you come up with the name COBU?
Cobu has two words. “Co” means “drumming” and “Bu” means “dancing.” My combination means, “Dance like drumming. Drum like dancing.” The two words together express my style. “Cobu” has a different meaning too. [It means] “cheer up the people.” In Japanese one word has one meaning but two words [put] together has [sic] a different meaning. So, [just] like [with] drumming and dancing, [when you put them] together [you] cheer up everyone!
What inspired you to form COBU?
I started to play the tradition Japanese taiko drums since I was eight years old in Japan and I went to New Zealand to play taiko at ten years old. I want to express Japanese soul and Japanese culture. Young people [think] Japanese culture is so old. It’s not cool. But I feel Japanese tradition is kind of hot! And American culture is so cool. Traditional is traditional [but] it’s not my style. Hip hop is hip hop [but] it’s not my style. I want to combine all of them. Hip hop culture together [with] the traditional culture.
Kind of bridge the gap between the different cultures?
Yeah. [Everyone has] different feelings but [we all] feel the same beat.
East meets West?
Yes, but it starts with West.
What made you want to form your own company?
I just performed by myself. And after a show, a girl, (now fellow COBU ensemble member, Hana Ogata), saw me and she said, “I want to perform with you” and I was like, “OK, we can play together and do competition.” I didn’t say, “OK I want to come to America and make an artistic, rhythmic, group.” Not like that.
Why did you come to America?
At university I started tap dancing. But I couldn’t find a teacher so I came to New York City to take a class from Savion Glover. And I was like, “OK, this is great!” Before I met tap dance I was just dancing with music but [now that I know] tap dance I can dance with my [own] music. That was a great experience.
Did you meet your company members in Japan?
No, everybody asks me. But we met in New York City.
How many company members are there?
Yep, all women.
Is it always women?
About five years ago we had a boy but now it’s all women.
Is that on purpose or is it just how it happened?
It just happened. But the last four years we’ve been all women. It’s a great feeling.
Do you hold open auditions? How do you acquire new company members?
Sometimes, once a year, we have an audition. But I don’t announce a lot. I just announce at the preview of my own show. So if they see my show and they really want to do it, just call to get an audition.
How many years has COBU been together as a company?
Ten years. Since, January 1st, 2000...wow, that’s a long time!
So you formed COBU before you were in the cast of Stomp?
Did somebody see COBU and ask you to be in Stomp?
Somebody sent me an e-mail. He saw a COBU show and [said], “You should be in the stomp.” I got the audition information from him. Then I took an audition. Finally, after the audition [I found out] he was just an audience [member]. He is not on the Stomp staff or crew.
Are you still performing in shows with Stomp while you are working on COBU shows?
Yes, I’m doing both of them.
Now, did you learn hip hop in the States or in Japan?
I was at Keio University in Japan, actually my major was chemistry. [That is when] I realized that I loved hip hop dancing. From age 18 to 22 I was a hip-hop dancer. I danced in music videos. Hip hop music has a “psch psch psch psch” beat that sounds for [sic] me like taiko drumming. That, “bosch chka bosch chka bosch” sound. I love taiko drumming. I love taiko drum beats but I didn’t feel exactly like “oh, this is it [for me].” [I wanted to use] taiko drumming [with] that hip hop beat with tap dance. Tap beat is like, “...” (ummm...insane beat-boxing that this interviewer can’t even begin to figure out how to type phonetically!)
(I’m left speechless, clearly in awe of this incredible display of rhythmic talent. We both simply laugh together.)
I’m not good at explain [sic] my work, even in Japanese. I [have difficulty] explaining with words. I just beat to explain something.
The form of expression that you use to tell a story is through sounds and not words. Do you find it difficult to express what you do in words?
Yes. I can hear [the] drum. To explain something, I express through my feeling and I choose my beat. My beat can feel something. So, I choose to make a beat. Make a rhythm. That’s easier for me.
Speaking of stories, you have the world premiere of you show, EN, coming up soon. What is EN about?
It is a story but not like, “I went to the park....” Not like that. I have a fixed performance with my group, it’s the same cast, same beat, same rhythm but every night is a little different, their feeling is [sic] different. It’s alive. And after [each] show each audience [member] has a different feeling. People send me emails [telling me what they took from the show]. I’m one part of the dance but each audience [member] have [sic] their own part of the dance and each performer has one part of the dance. I choreographed the show but I can’t control [the story].
There is no set story because the story is different for everyone?
Yes. After the show, we have a question and answer sheet. The audience write what [they] feel. Sometimes [they are] in [the] same theatre [at the] same show but they feel exact different feelings. Just listen, “poh chk poh chk chk chk poh chk poh.” [Some people hear that and] they feel [like] crying, [for other people] something inside [them] is smiling, some of them feel it’s like a bird in the sky, and some of them feel like I am crying. Everybody’s got a different way and a different feeling and they can have it all from [watching] my show. It’s such a good experience for me. Every time [I perform], the audience shows me a lot of things.
By the way, did you finish your chemistry degree?
No. Not yet.
Well, it seems like you’re doing OK without it!
(EN plays September 17th at 8pm, September 18th at 3pm and 8pm, September 19th at 8pm and September 20th at 3pm and 7pm. Performances are at Theatre for the New City, 155 First Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. The show runs 80 minutes. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at theatremania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information on COBU, visit www.COBU.us. Check back to Theasy soon for a review of the show.)