Jun Kuribayashi isn't just one of the most flexible and talented dancers in the world. He's also one of the friendliest people you'll ever meet, a performer who radiates positive energy and wears a semi-permanent smile -- at least in public. Like the rest of his colleagues at the gravity-defying dance company Pilobolus, he seems to enjoy his performances so much that positive karma literally flows out from the stage out into audiences. From his amazing solo Pseudopodia (in which he tumbles, rolls forward and morphs his body onstage like a veritable human coil) to a recent Houdini-like escape from a small red gym bag where he was wrapped up, chained and twisted like a pretzel, Kuribayashi never ceases to amaze. Sadly, after nine years with the company, he recently announced that he would leaving Pilobolus at the end of the season. I spoke with Jun this weekend about his past and present, as well as his plans for the future.
Christopher Atamian: Jun can you tell us where you grew up and where you trained to be a dancer?
Jun Kuribayashi: I was born in Japan and came to the United States at the age of 5. I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and studied dance at the University of Kansas. I began my career at MOMIX in 2004 and have been dancing for Pilobolus since August of the same year.
CA: How did you choose to come to Pilobolus -- not your run-of the mill dance troupe by any means -- over other companies?
JK: I had actually seen them perform two years prior to auditioning, but believe it or not when I came for auditions, I didn't actually know what company I was trying out for. Since this was my first audition I figured I would get cut early on and instead just get to experience New York. My wife Casey came with me for support and ended up in the theater all week. When it came down to it, I really enjoyed how incredibly humble and down-to-earth the dancers were and that made me decide to join the company.
CA: Can you discuss how you got so damn flexible -- even compared to most performers -- and what type of training or daily rehearsals Pilobolus dancers undergo?
JK: I think anyone can get that way if they want to. I wasn't born flexible by any means. It's always been a matter of pride with me as well. When someone asks me if I can do something and I can't quite do it, I'll work hard to get it. Also, I've always had really open hips and that helps when you try to sling your legs behind your head. At Pilobolus, we have no real regimen or class in the traditional sense. If we think the group is lacking something, we'll create exercises on the spot to enhance their abilities. We learn to become sensitive to each other's touch through learning and creating repertory. But actually everyone isn't equally flexible...most actually aren't -- but we all contribute other, amazing qualities to the company.
CA: What in your mind makes Pilobolus special? I don't think I've ever heard anyone say anything truly negative about Pilobolus.
JK: There are countless things that make Pilobolus special to me. This company thrives on hiring passionate, intelligent and creative problem solvers. But I think what sets us apart is our collaborative process and family atmosphere. Our pieces on stage are the direct result of dancers, artistic directors and production crew working together organically. The family atmosphere comes in the form of children running around the studio, amazing home-made company dinners and people always being available to each other in and out of the studio. As a result, we're all deeply invested in our work and I think that audiences sense that.
CA: In the past few years, Pilobolus has collaborated with puppeteers like Basil Twist and magicians Penn and Teller. I see too little of this in the dance world. I find it invigorating, creative. Do you agree?
JK: It is a very interesting way to create from the very beginning. When you collaborate, ideally the best ideas win out. Collaboration in general is a very difficult, committed process. You can't allow difficulties or your pride to stop you from pushing forward...that may be why some people fall short when they attempt to work together...not forgetting that you are all working towards the same goal is crucial in my opinion, whether in the dance studio or the outside world!
CA: I also like the way you all seem to enjoy your physicality and bodies in a fun, completely natural way. Is that an issue -- i.e. do you ever think, oh here we are again, half-naked?
JK: Costumes are either hit or miss. They either enhance or distract the performance, and since we are fortunate enough to be in good shape I don't mind the nudity. I was a swimmer in high school and wore speedos every day so a dance belt, after getting use to it riding up my backside, wasn't that much of a deterrent.
CA: As a corollary to that are you and your colleagues as happy in real life as you appear to be on stage? I mean, can one fake such joy?
JK: We have our on and off days, but we do enjoy our job. I can't imagine a more rewarding thing to do apart from parenting at this very moment.
CA: Can you say something about Moses Pendleton and his vision?
JK: I am lucky enough to have worked with all four original artistic directors at one time or another. They are all very passionate and curious about the world and really well-read...The short time that I worked with Moses, in Momix, I found him to be a charismatic speaker and motivator. I guess they are all similar in that aspect. The kind of people whom you would say: "Gee, I want to go talk to that person over there. They seem really interesting!"
CA: Why are you leaving the company?
JK: Well, I am not leaving for any physical reasons, I am not injured or anything. You know, among other things, my wife has been very patient these past ten years while I've spent a majority of time on the road. I guess I am settling down and would really like to start a family.
CA: What are your plans for the next year and the future?
JK: I have no concrete plans for the future, except hopefully learning to become the best dad and husband possible. I have always been fortunate that interesting opportunities have come my way and hope something comes up. I may teach, actually.
CA: Do you have any message or advice that you would like to give audience members or perhaps to young performers who are contemplating a career in dance?
JK: Be open to new things. Don't take everything so seriously: work hard but play harder. Find a reason to smile and try to be a positive influence on the world
Thank you, Jun.