nozomi iijima's

five paradoxes

Osaka born dancer Nozomi Iijima chose the intricate scent of CHANEL N°5 L’EAU, the fragrance of timeless modernity and sophistication, as the inspiration for her project with The Fifth Sense, 5 Paradoxes. 

Partnering with French director Lola Partel Oliva the duo created the short film which explores the duality and paradox of the fragrance, which carries smoky tones beneath its elegant floral edge.

You began studying classical ballet at six-years-old, before moving to contemporary dance, you’ve danced with both Houston Ballet and the Ballet Zurich. I moved to America to study at the Houston Ballet when I was 15. They had me dancing all sorts of contemporary styles, and then I decided to go to the Ballet Zurich to learn eventually; they have a lot going on but only the famous programmes make it to the stage. I felt that the directors only saw me as a classical ballet dancer so I returned to Houston. The ballet world is full of these kinds of inconsistencies, just like any other scene, really. The bar at the Houston Ballet is set high – they have many dancers who do both classic and contemporary. I’m honoured that they decided to take, and I’m now putting more pressure on myself to show them something even better than before. Houston has started incorporating more core contemporary elements recently, and many of the dancers are doing choreography and workshops so there are plenty of new challenges ahead for me.

Why do these styles of dance appeal to you? I love classic ballet, it allows me to become a completely different person. Many of the stories are quite dramatic so it’s an art form that allows the audience to get a similar sense of enjoyment in the same way they may have while watching a movie. It can’t really be performed without daily practice to build up a strong foundation, technique, and experience. In contrast to this, there are many cases in contemporary or modern dance where sense is more vital than skill and it is this freedom that I love the most about contemporary dance. It’s interesting to see the director’s vision depicted so clearly in the dance and it feels much more relaxed in comparison to classic ballet.

Many of the stories [in ballet] are quite dramatic so it’s an art form that allows the audience to get a similar sense of enjoyment in the same way they may have while watching a movie
Even if it’s beautiful, a dance is boring if it doesn’t have music that is equally so

Which of your senses is the most important for you when dancing? My sense of sound. I love to play with the music, adding pauses or accents. Even if it’s beautiful, a dance is boring if it doesn’t have music that is equally so. My older brother is a breakdancer so I often watched him perform house dance and all of the different steps he would do. House dance has a lot of clever steps, and the way performers embrace the music is very skilful and cool.

You left your hometown of Osaka for America at the age of 15. What effect did this experience have on you? I was never homesick because I never thought of my new home as anything other than a wonderful environment in which I could practice ballet all day. There were various language and culture barriers to overcome, but I had fun every step of the way. I did wonder what people would think having a Japanese woman immersed in the middle of all these Americans in the ballet and at first, I couldn’t seem to see my own ability. I couldn’t speak much English which made me miss out on some roles initially, but apparently the directors saw something in the way I would cross my arms and leave. I don’t remember that at all, though.

During the production of Five Paradoxes for The Fifth Sense, you revealed dances inspired by the Chanel Nº5 L'Eau fragrance. How did the scent inspire you? It is a very unique fragrance that is both floral with hints of smokiness. It is very complex, and has elements of other aromas tucked away within all the fresh, colourful, and elegant notes, which is why I decided to express this duality. I feel I have two very distinct sides to my personality and you will always find contradictions and paradoxes within people in the world; strong yet weak, graceful yet clumsy, wanting to become something yet not doing anything about it. I wanted to put all of these inconsistencies within myself into my dancing. I love the classic forms of ballet and was quite good at them but when I went to Zurich to pursue contemporary further, I found that perhaps it wasn’t quite right for me. Instead, I decided to focus on finding the best way to present the antinomies and frustration within me through dance.

What was it like working with director Lola Partel Oliva?  Just as there aren’t many female film directors, female choreographers are also far and few in between; it’s unfortunately harder for them. Directors are the same as choreographers, though, and when I saw how Lola gave directions to the cameramen and the way she filmed little details over and over I could tell that she knew exactly what she wanted. Lola incorporated some Japanese elements into the visuals that I think helped represent my identity. She also gave my opinions top priority while working to make it easy for the dancers to move, and still figured out a way to do all of this so it fit well within her own creative vision. Seeing Lola in action was wonderful and I am truly grateful she was the director for this project.

This was the first video where you worked as a choreographer? Yes.  Lola was very detailed in how she wanted me to do things, offering suggestions like, “Do this here” or, “Make this move more dynamic”, which made it very easy to put together the choreography. I probably would’ve lost confidence in what I was doing if she just gave me opinions or didn’t supply any feedback. 

Do you now feel more confident in choreographing?  Well the truth is, once I would actually start dancing on set pretty much nothing went as I had planned it. I felt too much like a fish out of water in the different locations and situations, and as a result did pretty much everything off-the-cuff. I didn’t have much experience with improvisation though, so I was a bit scared to see the finished video. Still, I don’t think there are really any right or wrong answers in contemporary dance or ballet; I’m more concerned with sharing something with the audience than I am with having them judge my performance. I hope they feel something, even if they don’t understand everything I’m doing. Classic ballet is easy to understand because the story, positions, and costumes are always the same, and it’s easier for the dancers too since they know what they need to do. Contemporary is a bit different, though, because it’s all up to the choreographer. Some choreographers want freedom, while others want you to do things exactly as they say. But there are also productions that don’t have correct interpretations or even set concepts. Those are the ones I find interesting. It’s important to think of what the viewer is going to take away from the performance, even though they may not understand the choreography behind it.

I feel I have two very distinct sides to my personality and you will always find contradictions and paradoxes within people in the world; strong yet weak, graceful yet clumsy, wanting to become something yet not doing anything about it

There are twin dancers of elementary school age in the video, what was working with them like?  It was plain to see that they really loved to dance and loved ballet. I’ve shared the stage with children before and had a lot of contact with them, but I didn’t have much experience coaching them. I found it quite difficult to do the choreography and lead them at the same time, children aren’t the best listeners, they would keep copying each other’s movements until I had to tell them to stop (laughs). They were very cute and I found the whole experience very rewarding.

There is also a scene set in a club. Since clubs are often one of the most universal places one can go to dance, which kind of places do you enjoy going to? I love techno and regularly go to events. This filming was my first time going to that particular club, so I invited some friends to be extras and the whole shoot turned out to be really enjoyable. Ballet dancers overseas often go to clubs, and when I was living in Houston, I went dancing all the time with my friends at gay clubs. They’re safer for women and everyone has a lot of fun. The culture in Houston is about as American as it gets in both negative and positive ways, but it’s my second home and I’m very much looking forward to going back there.


Episode 5

Knowing the orthodox is what births innovation

The setting for this project was Tokyo. What do you like about Tokyo compared to other cities? Tokyo is a special city, every time I’m there I always get excited when I go through scramble crossing in Shibuya at night. There are so many people of all ethnicities and varieties and it’s a city of light and darkness, where you have this bright exterior with people shrouded in shadows wriggling within. It’s this dark aspect that draws me to Tokyo.

How would you describe the approach that you have cultivated towards dance today through all your years of experience? The great choreographer Maurice Bejart has a quote about traditions being what make things modern - we have to come to know classics before we can break from them. I love classic ballet and I love the contemporary forms that have evolved from it. My approach has, as many things do, traditions and a central axis and a belief in that it is from knowing the orthodox is what births innovation.