An Avant-Garde Self Defence Class Reimagined Through Dance

As Japanese brand Shiseido teams up with Ayabambi for their new campaign, we sat down with the contemporary dance duo to discuss martial arts and finding beauty through strength

Dance duo and real life couple Ayabambi first rose to notoriety through YouTube, where their mesmeric form of street dance strongly reminiscent of Vogueing captivated audiences worldwide, and was so far reaching that it even impressed the likes of Madonna (and we all know how the queen of pop feels about the infamous 1980s dance movement). It’s not difficult to fathom why everyone fell in love with Aya Sato and Bambi: watching the two women oscillate in perfect synchronicity is truly a beguiling spectacle. However, when I met the dancers on the set of a new video that they were working on in collaboration with Shiseido, the pair were quick to dispute being pigeonholed in such a category: “People often say they can see Vogueing in the influence of our dance,” says Sato. “But I never learned it – I can’t say I am a Voguer, because I am not. Don’t call me a Voguer, or a ballerina or any other kind. Just call me Aya… and Bambi!” she continues, gesticulating at her partner who is sat beside her, clutching a gothic Lolita handbag in the shape of an old telephone.

I soon learn that the inspiration behind their choreography for the video is found in all sorts of places, with Aya and Bambi going so far as to learn karate for this particular project. “I thought I knew what it was, like in Kung Fu films, but it was totally different from what I thought,” laughs Sato. “It was really serious, strong and poised.” The couple note that they were working with black belt karate masters to learn their movements, and were nervous about causing offence upon abstracting the martial art from its history and into their rather avant-garde form of choreography. “We were terrified they’d just see two skinny girls dancing, so tried not to use too much of what we learned in the choreography. But we feel it still comes across as strong, elegant and beautiful.”

The routine that the two have been working on, the film of which premiers here, has been choreographed in celebration of Shiseido’s defence serum Ultimune – and through collaboration with the contemporary dance duo the brand has playfully broken the codes of traditional beauty advertising. The campaign has been directed by videographer Jacob Sutton, a talent who Ayabambi could not praise enough: “Working with Jacob is wonderful – I love him so much. He is such a nice person with loads of ideas. He knows what makes us look good on film – the silhouettes and the movements.” Likewise, they explain that the styling – conceived by AnOther Magazine’s senior fashion editor Agata Belcen, who dressed the pair in custom designs by emerging London talent Marta Jakubowski – helped to enhance their performance on screen. “When I am dancing, I like to wear platform shoes,” says Sato. “They make me feel otherworldly, because I feel poised and taller than everyone else. Lines and silhouette are so important to me when choosing what to dance in too. It helps to create that poise. If I don’t have the right silhouette, I am not going to be able to dance in it properly.”

The overarching theme of the new campaign is one that celebrates strength – whether that strength comes from learning how to defend yourself physically from danger, or from the harmful effects of pollution and sunlight on your skin. You may think the link between the two rather tenuous, but the campaign is so artfully created that it feels seamless, with Aya concurring that make-up and skincare can indeed manifest as a form of warpaint: “I don’t want to look cute or beautiful – I hate the word cute! I want to do something different and to show it on my face. And I don’t have any rules I follow. I love art in all forms so I want to make it for myself, and find strength in myself through my aesthetic! And this is what I also want to do with my work with Bambi.”