Damien Jalet on the Japanese Ritual Which Connects Man to Nature

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Damien is wearing a cotton gabardine trench coat with contrast stitching by Marni. Roll-neck by Sunspel. Cotton pyjama trousers by Dries Van Noten. And his own shoes

The choreographer behind Suspiria’s captivating movement discusses the elemental power of Onbashira, a perilous Japanese log-riding festival

“Onbashira is a ritual I was introduced to by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, a friend of mine. In Nagano, Japan, there are four temples around Lake Suwa, each of them protected by four pillars. Those pillars are changed every six years – they choose 16 massive trees on top of the mountain, with permission they cut them down, and then hundreds of men hook themselves onto them as they slide down the steep side of the mountain to the shrines. Hundreds of men. It’s like a tree rodeo, in a way. You have to imagine the power of that. It’s a very dangerous thing and, if they die, it’s a noble death. People try to hold on to the tree, but as it turns around it pulls them, creating something accidental in the body. It is the holding on and the surrendering that I find so beautiful. For me, this ritual allows all those men to connect to nature, to the landscape, and also to gravity. Gravity is the invisible force that we have a tendency to forget, but it holds on to everything on this planet.”

Dario Argento’s Suspiria has been a quietly powerful (if undisclosed) influence throughout French-Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet’s career, so when director Luca Guadagnino called on him to shape the language of dance within his contemporary reimagining of it, the success of their pas de deux seemed preordained. In Jalet’s hands, the movement of the body becomes at once captivating and overwhelming – a vehicle for catharsis. “Suspiria keeps on growing in me,” Jalet tells me moments after watching the finished film for the first time. Over the course of nearly two decades in dance he has worked with the likes of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir, Antony Gormley and Nick Knight, among many others. For him, collaboration is crucial.

Hair: Pawel Solis at Artlist Paris using Oribe. Make-up: Aya Fujita at Calliste Agency using Takeda Brush. Photographic assistant: Charlotte Krieger. Styling assistants: Rebecca Perlmutar, Camila Paiva and Georgina Craig

This story originally featured in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now.