Disclaimer: Due to the fast pace of this journey, and jetlag, massive sensory overload and general crazy rope-time, these accounts are not always as detailed as I would like them to be. Furthermore, if there is anything factually incorrect, please tell me and I will do my best to amend this. I also sadly did not have time to see all the performances nor write down as much as I’ve would have like to. Also, please, if you know the name of the various model’s that the rope-artists worked with, please post. They deserve to be named and get as much credit as the riggers themselves, as they truly shined throughout the event.
This was the first day of the rope-festival Toubaku and as we made our way to the venue, we where both excited. The first performance we caught was that of Nawashi Murakawa‘s kinbaku lifedrawing session. It is like any other life-drawing, except for the model that is holding the poses, is tied up in various shapes, all of which are very aesthetic and translates beautifully onto paper or what ever medium one might prefer. At first, people seemed to prefer watching Murakawa at work and being hesitant on joining in on the actual drawing, but after a while, people started to pick up the coal and the drawing papers, creating beautiful shapes. My own creativity is quite limited to the written and spoken word, so I just enjoyed sitting down and taking it slow. If there is something that I really enjoy with Murakawa’s rope, it his his lines and serenity. The rope is very organic, and seems to fit perfectly both through his hands and with the model, in the same time as his tying style is almost meditative.
The next performance was that of the two Danish friends of mine, who did a powerful and interesting show, with very precise rope, and in which both the skill of Max’s rope and the extraordinary strength of Tina as a model could be showcased. When Tina’s second leg went up to complete the ebi zuri, the audience let out a collective *Gasp*. What also was very touching was to see how Osada Steve watched his disciples on stage, being very aware of every move they did. Both Max and Tina made something that I must imagine to be quite a difficult tie to look almost effortless.
As we then walked down the stairs to inspect the other stage, we walked straight into the performance of Aotsuki Nagare who together with his model created a very intense performance, with bombastic choirmusic with slightly religious undertones. As I was late, I missed a fair amount of the rope-work itself, the model was already tied up as we walked in, but it felt like landing in a victorian sadomasochistic dream, somewhat resembling to The Story of O. I think it was the raw singletail whipping together with Nagare’s victorian looking tailcoat that gave me that impression. As his model was still shaking from the whipping, Nagare than sat down to watch his model, tied into a hip and crotch-harness, standing in front of him, undulating her hips to the point of orgasm. While sitting down watching her, he was also occasionally pressing a boot against her body, against her crotch and cunt. Now, I’m a sucker for these scenarios in general. There is something about boots, feet and masturbation, as well as boots pressing against the body that just does it for me. But what I had a hard time believing, in all of this, was how much she was actually coming. I know that a performance require a certain level of fantasy, but is it so strange for me to become quite doubtful of a fullscale orgasm or two during a performance? This is not me being jealous (or perhaps, an evil man in tailcoat that is pressing his boot against me…well, anyhow), but somewhat of a sceptic. I don’t doubt the honesty of the performance, just the way in which it felt like the female body in general was somewhat simplified. Then again, I’ve always been doubtful when it comes to the ‘control’ over the female orgasm.
But what I did enjoy was the distinct Master/slave dynamic between the two, strong and vivid and in which suffering, sexuality and submission became the central themes of the performance all in all. While there was many shows with clear sadomasochistic elements, few had such a strong sense of M/s as this.
Towards the end, she stood on her knees, offering her hands towards Nagare, who slowly dropped the ropes all over body. As he then carried her out from the stage, I could feel a sense of release and devotion.
The next performace was very different. Mark from Dv8 and Lani from Australia probably did the most ‘Western’ performance during the weekend, in terms of theme, focus and movement. It was a highspeed performance, explosive and modern . The rigger was very precise, working in perfect conjunction with the beats of the music. As a shownumber, it really showed the abilities of another incredibly powerful model, who worked up into a cresecendo and then entered a very dramatic sviwel-sequence of movements.
Another performance that I thoroughly enjoyed so much was that of Umitsuki Kurage. I can’t really pin this performance down very easily. I remember a white juban very clearly, and a very powerful, intimate experience, with a lot of sensitivity and heart. Kugare is a member of Ichinawa-Kai, a rope-collective managed and sponsored by Kinoko himself, and it was many of the members of this collective who during the weekend stood out from the crowd in their styles and approaches to rope.
Following Kugare, it was time for Hajime Kinoko himself, for his first performance of the weekend. His traditional performances are different from the neo-kinbaku, and it was indeed a show that took both him and the model very far. As they entered the stage both of them wore traditional Japanese clothing and sat down on the floor. The way in which Kinoko starts his sessions is a very distinct one for him, one which both of them sit facing the audience, him sitting behind his model. He first place his right hand on the neck of the model, just holding it there, then moving both of his hands to the shoulders of the model. As he does this, you can see how the focus of both him and the one that he ties become condensed toward right here and now. His breathing slows down, so does hers, and her she closes her eyes, lowering her head, and that focus is what you can continue to see throughout any session that Kinoko does. It is such a clear signal that it draws you in as an observer, even if you are not tied yourself. While this is not a film for the session at Toubaku, it is one which shows his style of tying, and the presence he brings to the way in which he ties.
In this specific performance, there was a focus on the dishevelment of the model, gradually exposing her by slowly sliding clothes of her, bit by bit, forcing the kimono apart, and invoking a sense of shame in the way she was positioned and moved by him and the ropes that he used.
This concept of working with rope and shame, Suuchinawa, is one which stands very central to Japanese rope practice, and one which was seen in many different configurations during the weekend. I find the concept of shame in general being very interesting, especially from a sociological point of view. In what situations are we ashamed? How is shame invoked in general in our different societies, and in specific, the different type of kink-communities that we inhabit? There is no point in trying to essentialize these concepts, even if that might be tempting, as they are a part of a ever so changing social world, and one which indeed can be culturally specific but certainly not static in its expressions or the way that shame is invoked. But this is probably a good topic for a whole blog-post on its own, so I will return to the performance of Kinoko-san. As the performance moved on, the rope turned into a more of a tool of not only shame and sensuality, but also a more torturous kind of rope and interaction. He moved the wax-candles over her body, up towards her face, and the trace the candle left looked like black tar over naked skin. As she was partially suspended from a croth-tie, Kinoko pushed and pressed his model towards the point of tension not allowing the possibility to escape the pain in any way.
The last show at the festival on Saturday which I managed to catch, was the final minutes of Kazami Ranki. The only thing I thought I knew about him was how though he could be both as a rigger and a sadist, but to my surprise, there was not a lot of what I had expected of seme-nawa, torturous rope, going on. There was indeed rope which was truly demanding for the model, but what was so very special about this performance was the incredibly strong connection between them, it literally radiated out in the audience. His presence on stage was matched by that of his model, who again, was clearly such a strong woman. At one point, I could not stop staring at her legs, as the muscles that relaxed and tensed as she was moved in the ropes were so clearly defined. But the most intense moment of all came when Ranki untied her, and as they sat on the floor, something extraordinary happened. When the last strand of rope was about to taken off her chest, she leaned into his arms, and as they cuddled she started crying. It was not long before the last rope had been removed, and at that point, Ranki himself was crying as well. I had never seen anything like it, nor expected to do so. It was a moment where e the audience, including yours truly, was so affected by the feeling of unison and devotion between the two on stage, that they themselves broke out in tears. It was so amazing seeing a rigger and his model being so close to each other through their experience as well as letting us, the audience in on such an amazing show of vulnerability. One might forget from time to time, that even though riggers are the ones who are in control, they are too often so very vulnerable. In order to connect with someone, you really have to open up to not only see them as for they are but also letting those who are tied into one’s own heart. When that happen, magic such as the magic we got to witness in the case of Ranki and his model is indeed created. It was so touching and truly an honor to be allowed to witness this at Toubaku 2011.
To be continued…