The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Three years since the Royal Shakespeare Company, moved to new premises, the Barbican Centre adopts new strategies

The Elephant Vanishes
Photo by Joan Marcus
How do you choose theatre companies for BITE?
It's a really big mixture. First, we choose internationally renowned directors like Ninagawa, Peter Brook, etc. We also like contemporary work that challenges people and forms of theatre, which have not been seen before. We also present contemporary dance and music theatre, which has large musical components but is staged. The most important thing is to have work of the highest quality. Certainly this has nothing to do with quota for countries. We will choose the best work that we can find from three to four different countries, and then we might look at contrast or balance between dance and theatre, great people and newer people and, to a lesser extent, balance of countries. We would not do the whole season with work from one country but at the same time we do not say no to more than one work per country for a season if they are particularly interesting.

Where go you get information about outstanding theatre companies?
It's a mixture of seeing and hearing. I travel a lot internationally to see work.
What I decide to see depends on recommendations from the industry, or going to see other international festivals to see work there. A lot of people write to us with suggestions. Quite often the cultural department of a particular country comes to see us. We get quite a lot of invitations from countries with the view to bring their work here, and often like Ninagawa, when we present a company that was successful, we want to repeat that.

Who are the audience of BITE?
Audiences change every time. In a sense we are different from a festival. In a festival you may have different people coming to the place as well as local people, seeing lots in a short space of time. Because BITE is extended over the whole year, we feel our audiences are predominantly London based and less tourists, as people are specifically coming to see our work. But, if we have Japanese theatre, a large section of the audience is Japanese.

What Japanese theatre has been shown at the Barbican? In general, which programme was popular?
We have shown Ninagawa's Modern Noh Play, Shintoku Maru, Hamlet and Dam Type Theatre. Another Japanese piece we have done is The Elephant Vanishes, which is collaboration between Complicite and Setagaya Public Theatre. We did Hashirigaki, which is from Theatre Vidy, Lausanne in Switzerland, which had a Japanese actress in it, and Japanese folk music was part of it as well. We presented The Elephant Vanishes twice as it was such a huge success. I think it had a magic combination really. Firstly, it was a great piece of work. Secondly, Complicite and Simon McBurney are so well known here. Thirdly, Murakami has a cult following and is certainly immensely respected in Britain. All of these combined in a fantastic production. With regard to Ninagawa's productions, I think people do enjoy the insight into Japanese life.
Tickets for Peter Brook's work were all sold out and is was an incredible success. The Abbey Theatre and dance from Africa have also been well received, The Black Rider directed by Robert Wilson from America was also incredibly successful. And even little quirky unusual things like the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have been a huge hit.

Since BITE has started, have there been any changes in direction?
We made a slight change of direction when the RSC left full time and BITE was spread over the year. It was just impossible to double our six-month season because that would be stretching the audience too much and we did not really have money to do that. We wanted to present some of the productions for longer, and for the first time we started to produce our own shows. Last year The Black Rider, first presented at the Barbican for five weeks, travelled to San Francisco and Sydney. Julius Caesar by Deborah Warner will be travelling to Paris, Madrid and Luxemburg. Judging by the last six months' box office, we found that most of our shows have exceeded our expectations in terms of audiences and we have always met our budget. So, I suppose we are doing very well.

hat is the merit of touring abroad?
You cannot make a profit even if the theatre travels abroad, but what it does is help to find co-producing partners who are willing to put money into productions and make productions possible. The two projects mentioned above are very expensive projects and we would not be able to do that without co-production partners.

Are you planning more international collaboration?
There are possibilities that Complicite and Setagaya Public Theatre will collaborate again and we have already said we would like to be part of that.

Have you any plans to show any Japanese theatre in future?
We do not have anything specific in the pipeline but that might change tomorrow or the next day. Of course we are talking to Thelma Holt about the next time we will bring Ninagawa back, but we do not have a fixed date yet.
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