The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Art Director Jo Kanamori (29) talks about the future of Japan's first public dance company
In 2004, Niigata City Performing Arts Center “Ryutopia” welcomed Jo Kanamori as art director of its dance division and subsequently established Japan’s first full-fledged public contemporary dance company, “Noism 04.” Ten dancers were selected for the company from nationwide applicants and are now performing as resident dancers in Niigata. The company performed its first production, SHIKAKU, in June and its second, “black ice” in October.
Niigata City Performing Arts Center “Ryutopia”
Opened: Oct. 1998
This culture complex built by the city of Niigata includes a concert hall (1,900 seats), a theater (900 seats) and a Noh theater (380 seats). Ryutopia is administered by the Niigata Municipal Foundation for the Promotion of Arts and Culture as one comprehensive facility along with the adjoining Niigata Municipal Music Culture Center, which includes specialized music practice rooms and a performance hall. The Center’s theater division is led by the producer Hiroshi Sasabe as art director, with the director Yoshihiro Kurita serving as associate director. The art director for the dance division is Jo Kanamori. The total annual budget for the Center is about 400 million yen. The Music division has a Junior Orchestra for young students of music which is based at the Music Culture Center and it also operates a music school for elementary and middle school students and produces original musicals. The Center also creates original productions to tour Japan and has presented a Shakespeare series at its Noh theater featuring famous quest actors.

With Noism are you aiming to build an European type company system?
Even within European dance companies there are several different types of systems. I want to take the best aspects of the companies I worked in and apply them to Noism. As my goal for these first three years, I want to see this become a company that came proudly say three years from now that they are functioning as a professional company in Niigata. And, I want to establish a system by then that other cities wanting to create public dance companies can look to as a model. I don’t know when it will be, but I also want to create a dance school. I learned a lot when I went to study at Béjart at the age of 17, and I would like to make some changes at the (dance) education level. In my day, you simply had to go abroad if you wanted to make your way as a professional dancer. I would like to contribute to create an environment in Japan where young people can practice and pursue their professional career.

What about your company’s repertoire?
I don’t want this to be a company that performs only my pieces, as if my choreography is the best. First of all, there are many masterpieces which I would like to present in Japan. I want our dancers to experience these works and I want the Japanese audience to see them. I am also thinking about inviting outside choreographers to come in and do pieces for our company. In the near future I want to commission some Japanese choreographer to do a piece for our company. There are also a lot of very talented choreographers of my generation that I know overseas and would like to bring to Japan someday to do works with here. I know some choreographers that I think are doing the most vivid work today and if I could bring them to Japan I would like to participate as a dancer myself in their works. I want to build a repertoire of pieces that we could say were made possible because such outside choreographers came and worked with the company Noism.

What about being both a dancer and a choreographer?
I want to continue to do both, but for now I am concentrating on choreography. I still want to dance, but when you are thinking about your own dance it becomes enough just to think about yourself and you can become egotistical in the process. This is not a time for egotism. This is a time when I must focus my full attention on the dancers I have chosen and what I want us to create. I think that once Noism has really established itself as a company my desire to perform again as a dancer will become stronger.

What kind of dancers do you want to nurture?
The first requirement of dancers from now on is that they be able to create movement by themselves. This is absolutely necessary. Dance will continue to evolve very rapidly and new concepts and subject matter will emerge one after another. So, it is not enough to set your sights only on what is already out there on the dance scene now. Being a professional dancer means being a dancer who is already thinking about the newest issues before you are asked to. I think this is a consciousness that is lacking in many Japanese dancers today. It is difficult because most of these dancers have been brought up in a system where it is enough to do what you are told by your teacher, and if you try something new you are liable to be scolded. But I hope people will start to realize soon that this is not enough.
A professional dancer is one who has his or her own unique identity, one that is not interchangeable. I want our dancers to become dancers who have a character of their own that is strong enough to inspire a choreographer to choreography in a way that brings out that character during the creation of a piece. This kind of creation is a process of give and take, and the choreographer wants to receive that kind of stimulation from the dancers. And, it is this kind of unique strength or character for which the dancers are chosen when casting for a creative piece. If you are going to create a piece that only contains the things you already have within yourself, you should be doing it by yourself, solo. At the same time, I want to give things to the dancers, too. And I believe that when you have this kind of two-way give and take, it is the ideal situation for creation.
Connecting this to the question of repertoire, I also want our dancers to be ones who can perform in a number of different types of dance. There are many different ways that the body can be used in dance. When we invite outside choreographers to come in and work with our company they may be ones who are interested in a different type of body movement from mine. When that happens, I want our dancers to be the type who can adjust and absorb new things from the choreographer and receive new inspiration.
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