The dancer and 7Circles founder speaks on the power of movement, the practice of origami, and his recent collaboration with Joel Kerr featuring Issey Miyake designs
Dancer Takeshi Matsumoto learned origami as a boy, as he attended school in Japan. “It was a great opportunity to develop dexterity and attention to detail,” he tells Document. “I wanted to use it as a starting point for a performance, [drawing from] children’s curiosity.”
That desire, however, was the root of something bigger than a one-off show: Matsumoto went on to found 7Circles, a performance collective dedicated to children’s education and expression, envisioning a society better in tune with nature and the body. Its central principle? “That the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future,” explains Matsumoto. “This ranges from learning environmentally sustainable ways of living, to minimizing household waste, to creating performance content that inspires.”
Today, 7Circles operates in the UK, merging contemporary dance’s improvisational methods with the tenets of the art of origami—its playfulness, its endless possibilities, its attention to form. Matsumoto’s personal philosophy similarly extends outwards, beyond youth and into the realms of broader creative culture. Here, Document provides a behind-the-scenes look at 7Circles’s collaboration with Issey Miyake and Joel Kerr, reflecting a case where movement collides with visual art, design, film, and beyond—sitting down with Matsumoto to dissect his creative process.
Morgan Becker: How did 7Circles come to be?
Takeshi Matsumoto: In 2016, I volunteered at a school for stateless children on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Rainbow School has around 30 children between the ages of three and 18, who do not have official nationalities; they live and study together under the same roof. After spending two weeks with them, I began to realize my privileges, [as well as] my willingness to offer something creative and sustainable [through] performance.
Since then, I have visited the school five times, teaching students contemporary and creative dance, and creating digital content [around] themes of social injustice and marginalization. This opportunity was the springboard for 7Circles, an artist collective that produces performances for current and coming generations.
Morgan: How did you land on contemporary dance?
Takeshi: We use a lot of improvisational frameworks in order to find specific movement languages. Additionally, we use children’s creativity and interests to inform performance, to be considerate of individual points of view. After training in Japanese traditional folk dance and drum, I moved to the UK to study contemporary dance at Trinity Laban, where I gained insight into [the art of] performance-making.
Morgan: A lot of your work centers the healing properties of movement. How do you go about imparting that to others?
Takeshi: I had an opportunity to collaborate with Hagit Yakira, a dance artist and therapist. Working with Hagit expanded my professional interests towards the therapeutic use of movement, not only for performance-making but also for non-trained dancers to communicate on a deeper level. Inspired by her work, I [pursued an] MA in dance movement psychotherapy; I learned that the body can be a site for instigating physical and psychological change, improving interpersonal relationships through movement.
Morgan: What’s the Seventh Generation Principle, and how do you tangibly abide by it?
Takeshi: It’s based on an Indigenous philosophy: that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. I learned it from Tomoko, the director of Rainbow School. This ranges from learning environmentally sustainable ways of living, to minimizing household waste, to creating performance content that inspires current and future generations.
Morgan: How was it, working with Issey Miyake’s designs for this video?
“Reflecting on my cultural heritage gives me a sense of my own roots.”
Takeshi: It was inspiring and eye-opening to realize the power of what we put on our bodies. On the day of the shoot, Makiko [Aoyama] and I wore around 10 pieces, each of which represented care and playfulness. We were very inspired to [witness how they] impacted our feelings and ways of moving—as though each piece had its own spirit. Issey Miyake’s garments had a great resonance with the intention of the performance—[referring to] playfulness and materiality.
Morgan: What were you inspired by over the course of the project?
Takeshi: It is always inspiring to work collaboratively. Makiko and I worked with Joel [Kerr], the fashion film director, who brought Issey Miyake’s clothes and 7Circles together to create something beautiful and special. Both in preparation and during the studio shoot, it was very exciting how spontaneously and playfully we bounced ideas, [each] maintaining our own sense of authenticity.
Morgan: How do you bridge the gap between a traditionally Japanese practice and an audience in the UK?
Takeshi: In my practice, this gap is actually an opportunity to develop my work—to explore something that I wouldn’t be able to if I stayed in my own country. As a migrant artist, home is a place where I feel a sense of belonging. Reflecting on my cultural heritage gives me a sense of my own roots, which is enhanced when I’m engaging in a new culture.
At the same time, creating works for audiences in the UK can provide an opportunity to start [something new] from my own cultural practice. With 7Circles, I started with tradition—but in collaborating with children in the UK, the theme gradually became about creation and destruction. We discovered a whole new way of playing with paper by ripping and scrunching.
Morgan: What do you hope to impart to the people you teach—and then, to the people who watch your performances?
Takeshi: I love to explore the myriad possibilities of what the human body can do. I think that, developmentally, the body is the primary site to experience the world, through the senses and interacting with others, [which cultivates] self-knowledge. I would like to share that moving the body brings a sense of joy and liberation; listening to the body is a way to maintain well-being.
Talent Makiko Aoyama and Takeshi Matsumoto at Club Origami. Hair Liam Russell at JWA. Make-up Jimmy Jones using Byredo at JWA. Stylist Assistant Serena Park, Federico Cantarelli. Production Image Partnership. Producer Eli-Rose Sanford. Production Assistant Zac Peskin.