US/Japan Connection Spring 2013

by Renata Petroni, Director of International Program

Two years into the US/Japan Connection, a project of NPN in partnership with the Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN), NPN and JCDN are looking forward to the first artistic exchange planned for FY14. This project is designed to develop opportunities through knowledge building and the creation of a strong network of connections. Japan’s Faifai theatre company will come to the U.S. in the fall of 2013, touring to three NPN Partners. Anyone interested in receiving information on the company or in joining the tour, please contact Renata Petroni at renata@npnweb.org or (504) 717-5257.

faifai - Anton Nero Kuri

The tour will present Anton, Nero, Kuri originally created by Faifai´s director Chiharu Shinoda in April 2009. Faifai (www.faifai.tv) is a Tokyo-based theater company established in 2004 known for their pop aesthetics, energetic groove, and experimental style that transcends the narrative boundaries of dramatic theater. They depict human relationships in today’s complex society with humor and sensitivity. Though young, the company has come to the attention of critics and presenters in Japan, Asia and Europe. Their multilingual piece My Name is I LOVE YOU was awarded the ZKB Patronage Prize at Zürcher Theater Spektakel, Switzerland.  In the words of our colleague Jordan Peimer of Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, “Language is of course an issue in performance, but the best work always transcends that. Especially exciting was Faifai’s (Japanese for “Fun-Fun”) work Anton, Nero Kuri. There were three simultaneous texts: a spoken one in Japanese, a movement score, and projected English translation which worked together in very different and exciting ways to portray a community in a housing block which comes together around a sick cat — improbable, but the most thoroughly charming work of the week.”

Faifai will be presented by Legion Arts, Cedar Rapids, IA (November 25 –December 1, 2013); DiverseWorks, Houston, TX (December 2-8, 2013); and Contemporary Art Center (CAC), New Orleans, LA (December 9-15, 2013) in conjunction with the NPN Annual Meeting. The group was first seen by the group of U.S. curators (see below) in 2012. This will be Faifai’s first tour in the U.S. The ensemble will spend one week in each city where, in addition to public performances, they will conduct residency activities in local communities, ranging from workshops with children to lecture demonstrations and workshops for artists.

To develop connections, NPN’s International Program supports trips to and from partner countries. Following the JCDN partners’ trip to the NPN Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in December 2012, the U.S. curators traveled to Yokohama in February to attend T-PAM (Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting). The curators, from NPN Partner organizations, are Yolanda Cursach of MCA, Chicago; F. John Herbert of Legion Arts, Cedar Rapids; Sixto Wagan of DiverseWorks, Houston; and Dawnell Smith of Out North, Anchorage, accompanied by Renata Petroni, NPN International Program Director and Kyoko Yoshida, Executive Director of US/Japan Cultural Trade Network and consultant to the Japan Connection project. They had multiple objectives: a working meeting with JCDN partners to discuss the selection of a U.S. artist who will conduct a month-long residency at the Kyoto Art Center in FY14; participation in T-PAM sessions; seeing a wide range of performances; and a meeting with Faifai, a young and talented Tokyo-based theater company who will tour the U.S. in FY14.

(l to r) Sixto Wagan, Dawnell Smith, Renata Petroni, Reiko Hagihara, Kyoko Yokoyama, Kyoko Yoshida

(l to r) Sixto Wagan, Dawnell Smith, Renata Petroni, Reiko Hagihara, Kyoko Yokoyama, Shima Suzuki (photo by Kyoko Yoshida)

Presenters and artists from Asia, Europe and the U.S. gather in Yokohama each year to attend T-PAM (www.tpam.or.jp), an important international platform for information exchange, networking, mutual learning and discussion. High energy and a whirlwind of activities is the mark of this encounter which never disappoints. Launched in 1995, T-PAM moved from Tokyo to Yokohama in 2011 because the city offered economic incentives, and its smaller scale made the organization of the meeting more manageable, while its proximity to Tokyo allowed a continued partnership with venues.

Yokohama was a quiet fishing village until 1853 when the arrival of the U.S. fleet, led by Commodore Matthew Perry demanding that Japan open its ports to Western trade, ended the policy of national seclusion of the Edo period and transformed this sleepy hamlet into a bustling center of international commerce. Since the inauguration of the harbor in 1859, Yokohama has been destroyed and rebuilt twice: the first time in September 1923 when the Great Kanto Earthquake caused more than 30,000 deaths and the second time in 1945 when, in less than one hour, U.S. bombing destroyed half the city.

Located one hour south of Tokyo and with more than three million inhabitants, Yokohama was once considered the largest suburb in the world. In an effort to give the city its own identity, while decentralizing cultural activities away from Tokyo, major investments were poured into Yokohama on the occasion of the 2002 World Cup. A total face lift raised its status to cultural capital. Today, Yokohama boasts a large number of cultural facilities including the new Kanagawa Art Theater (KAAT), a major venue with a 1,200-seat theater, a 220-seat theater, and two flexible studios, as well as several new and renovated visual and performing arts spaces.

Circus in Yokohama (photo F.John Herbert)Yokohama Ferris Wheels (by F. John Herbert)

Each year, the city and its cultural institutions partner with T-PAM to make it an exciting event. This year, in addition to more than 30 performances and visual art events that took over the city’s various neighborhoods, the meeting’s sessions and discussions revolved around the creation of the Open Network for Performing Arts Management (ONPAM), a network of art professionals loosely structured on the Informal European Theater Network (IETM) model. According to its 13 co-founders, ONPAM’s mission is to raise awareness of the social role of the contemporary performing arts and advocate for cultural policies that would benefit the performing arts and society. ONPAM reflects the need of a new generation of artists and arts professionals to “address the profound social, economic and psychological effects that the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have had on the Japanese population.” Since 3/11, through a series of workshops and discussions that provided a platform for reflection, T-PAM has been a catalyst for artists and cultural workers trying to cope with the senseless devastation and questioning their roles, philosophies and beliefs.

In addition to the T-PAM sessions, the U.S. participants enjoyed an amazing program which included performances presented by venues in Tokyo, special selections performed in various spaces throughout Yokohama and surroundings, as well as showcases of emerging companies selected for T-PAM by three young curators, Takuo Miyabnaga, Katsuhiro Ohgira and Yukuko Ogura.

Among the rich offerings, four companies caught the interest of the U.S. team: Mum & Gypsy (www.mum-gypsy.com), whose work the U.S. team has been following since their first trip to Japan in October 2011, is a Tokyo-resident movement-based theater company directed by Takahiro Fujita that is coming to international attention; Okazaki Art Theatre (www.okazaki.nobody.jp), a Yokohama-based theater company created in 2003 and directed by Yudai Kamisato, presented the Absence of Neighbor Jimmy; Maud le Pladec, one of the main figures of the new generation of choreographers in France presented Professor, an investigation into the relationship between music and movement; and choreographer/performer Daniel Kok (www.diskodanny.com), based in Singapore and Berlin, presented Q&A a dance/performance created from on-line surveys about what the audience expects from a dance work. Kok designs his performance in accordance with the answers submitted about music, movements or choice of color.

Finally, for the US/Japan Connection curators, T-PAM provided a great opportunity to deepen their partnership with the JCDN partners and work on its first artistic exchange for FY14. Part of the curatorial responsibility of the U.S. and Japanese teams is the commitment to select one Japanese company each year to tour to at least three venues in the U.S. and, reciprocally, one U.S. company each year to tour to three venues in Japan.  JCDN curatorial team comprising Ritsuko Mizuno, JCDN Producer (www.jcdn.org), Reiko Hagihara, Program Director at Kyoto Art Center (www.kac.or.jp), and Kyoko Yokoyama, Program Coordinator at Fukuoka City Foundation for Arts and Cultural Promotion (www.ffac.or.jp) will travel to the U.S. for 10 days in April 2013 with the goal of selecting a U.S. artist/company. The trio will travel to the Fusebox Festival in Austin, as well as New York and Chicago, to see performances, rehearsals and meet with several artists. The selected artist/company will spend one month in residence at Kyoto Art Center in spring/summer 2014 and will be presented by Concarino in Sapporo and Fukuoka City Foundation for Arts and Cultural Promotion.

The U.S./Japan Connection is funded in part by the Center for Global Partnerships, a Division of the Japan Foundation, the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network, and by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission.




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