NSCD alumnus Daniel Phung interviews Yukiko Masui about the themes and ideas at the heart of her latest work “Falling Family”. The DanceXchange Choreography Award winner has drawn inspiration from her own family’s encounters with bereavement and illness to create this visceral, intensely moving piece. See it as part of the unique double bill arriving at Riley Theatre on Saturday 9th March.

Daniel: Talking about grief is a task for anyone. What made you want to talk about it?

Yukiko: I really struggled to recognise that I was going through grief and there were some regrets that I was holding onto from the time my grandmother was passing away.

Death and grief are inevitable but we are not taught how to deal with them, and I certainly didn’t know how to talk about it to friends or even family. But clearly my behaviour during the grief process was unstable, so I was recommended to see a therapist who really unknotted something that was tangled in my brain.

I wanted this piece to be the starting point of the conversation for people. You don’t need to feel alone and lost when you are facing challenging moments.

And often when you go through grief, it’s not just death itself that’s causing you emotional trouble, it’s everything around it. How you say goodbye to the person passing away; what kind of relationship you had with this person; feeling guilty about not feeling sad; suddenly facing family members that you haven’t seen for years; organising the funeral and so on. There are so many unusual/daily activities that throw you off balance.


Daniel: Since it’s a piece that’s so personal to you, how does it feel to watch it from the outside?

Yukiko: During the creative process, there was sometimes a sense of disconnection from the feeling that I had towards the subject matter. My story became a matter of fact.

On the other hand, however, there were moments which triggered my emotion in unexpected places. In improvisations, things that actually happened with my family emerged without me having told the dancers about it.

Watching any performance is hard. I’m already quite critical of myself and my work, but this particular piece is very hard to watch as it’s so personal. It makes me feel quite vulnerable. At the same time, I feel so empowered by watching the dancers going through physical struggle, owning the movements and really understanding and embodying the idea of the piece. It’s very cathartic.

Daniel: What can people expect while watching “Falling Family”?


An exploration of various family dynamics

Emotional turmoil

Intense physicality

Care and compassion



Daniel: Why “Falling Family”?

Yukiko: The piece is based on my family story so I wanted to keep “family” in the title.

There are three reasons why I decided to include “falling” in the title:

  1. The domino effect is the object manifestation of the piece. When one domino falls onto another, you cannot stop the movement. That’s what happened to my family when we found out about my grandmother’s terminal illness – it led to a series of crises that all toppled on top of each other like dominoes.
  2. In choreological studies there are 6 actions to categorise all the movements: gesture, weight transfer, turning, jumping, travelling and falling. Falling is the only one with a negative connotation, and I got a slightly melancholic feeling from it. Falling is always seen as a sign of weakness or failure even though, due to gravity, falling is an inevitable action.
  3. At the time, I felt like my family was a failure. For me, Failure and Falling came hand in hand. Instead of calling it Failing Family, I opted for Falling Family.

Daniel: How much of your experience with this subject has influenced the work?

Yukiko: A lot.

I have previously tapped into my personal experience as material for choreography – but that was for a solo, “Unbox”.

I used to believe that you cannot be someone else or tell someone else’s story. Then again, we all face crises in our lives; most of us are aware of some degree of dysfunction in our families, and death, dying, loss and bereavement are facts of life.

Together with the dramaturg Arne Pohlmeier, I introduced techniques to the rehearsal process that opened up ways for the dancers to link their own experience to key parts of my family story. That way, rehearsals became more inclusive – the dancers weren’t only trying to be my family or tell my story. They were translating the specifics of one experience into something that anyone with a family can relate to.

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