The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Founder Val Borne talks about   the Dance Umbrella festival
Val Bourne
This time you are in Japan as a judge for the Toyota Choreography Award. And if you chose to present a winner of Toyota Choreography Award at your festival, I assume that Toyota would offer support. Since 30 % of your budget has been raised from individuals and corporations, do you ever consider choosing works that would certainly bring financial support for your festival?
Never. I have to say ‘No.’ There are festivals like that considering who’s got money this year, and that affects the decisions about what they present. That is one way to operate. But we have never done that. Even this year, I think we have very good support from French government, AFAA (Association Françoise d’Action Artistique). But they came to us. We did not go to them. They came with the idea and we were honest about what we could do and we talked about the choice of artists we would like to present. But we would never do it “because they have money.”
Obviously money is very important. Even with French this time, we were involved in serious financial negotiations. And we are still struggling to raise the large sum of money for Joseph Nadj’s production, because it is very expensive and only 500 people can see it.

I would like to ask you now about Japanese artists. This is your third time coming to the Toyota Choreography Award.
Yes, but besides these last three years I’ve been here one time before—I think it was 12 years ago. All I can remember about that year is that the shortage of rice in Japan was the big issue in the news. The Japan Foundation brought me and I spent like 10 days. At the time there were very little happening in terms of contemporary dance, except that Rosas was performing. So I went to see some Noh theater. Most of the Japanese companies were performing overseas in some festival in Australia or New York or whatever, I believe.

Coming to the Toyota Choreography Award last few years, do you find that anything has changed?
I was amazed that they had so many applicants for this choreography award. I think 200 something people applied for it in the first year. Everybody was complaining that they only had video performances to watch. The first year it was difficult to make a choice because there was no one outstanding performance. Among the eight finalist companies we saw in 2003, it was Ikuyo Kuroda who won unanimously. I liked the works of two young men of Shintai Hyogen Circle last year. It was very funny. Some people thought it was improvised but it could not be an improvisation. I talked to them after the event and I thought maybe I could invite them. But they had nothing else. It was very interesting but it was their first thing—still it was very good for a first piece. But I could not really offer an invitation for a performance of just 20 minutes (laughs).
The number of the participants is definitely one thing which amazed me, compared with 12 years ago. Back then even a company that had emerged in Japan, all of them had a base outside of Japan such as Eiko & Koma, Ariadone, Saburo Teshigawara, all of them. There was very little support for dance, except from the Saison Foundation. Pappa TARAHUMARA, which I knew, they were mostly supported by the Saison, not by government. I like them very much for their work SHIP IN A VIEW but it was too big a show to get in any theater we had. We presented them in 1991 with the piece, PARADE. Huge installation and wonderful props, visually beautiful thing.

Besides the number of the participants, how about quality-wise, compared to 12 years ago? Do you think Japanese choreography is unique, compared to that of Europe, for example?
I think that many Japanese artists have often come from visual arts background. They are like Saburo Teshigawara, for example, or Pappa TARAHUMARA as well. Their visual sense is very acute. Also Ikuyo Kuroda, visually there are a lot. I think also the choice of music is sometimes very eclectic. They sort of sample all kinds of different music in one show, like classics and pop, etc. Western artists are more selective.
Shen Wei— he is not Japanese, but for instance—he used Rite of Spring. Everybody was horrified because he did not pay attention to rhythm and whatever. In fact I think it worked very well, but most of the people were taken aback.
Returning to the question of Japanese dance, there is quite a lot more Western influence now than before, partly because companies have been coming here and performing in Japan—but also Japanese people have been studying in Europe. Like Ikuyo at Laban Centre, and I think also some other dancers have traveled. A lot of people seem to be trained in ballet originally. Of course the boys of Shintai Hyogen Circle are different (laughs). In the first Toyota Award one or two dancers seem to be coming from more of a disco dancing background, which was interesting. But most of them seem to have ballet training and at a very high level. In fact, ballet companies in U.K. we have a lot of Japanese, and they are very good. And American modern dance companies also have many good Japanese dancers, I believe.
I hate the idea that everything is becoming kind of global. But there is more blurring of the edges than before. I think it is true that people are becoming more international. People can keep more pure if they go abroad—like Eiko & Koma in New York, they do what they like to do. They have not been influenced by the outside, mostly they have what they had developed. Ariadone does the same thing in France, they do their own thing.

Which type do you personally find more attractive, Western influenced or exclusively Japanese works, where they just do what they want?
I would not divide it that way. It is a question of whatever is successful as a work.

In other words, you don’t really try to find Japanese-ness or Japanese uniqueness behind the piece but just try to see it from a purely artistic viewpoint.
I think you can say that. What is good comes through. A couple of things I saw in the videos of Toyota Choreography Award looked interesting. But I would not be looking at them as to whether it is Japanese—but just if it is really good. The same thing was discussed for “France Moves:” what is French. But it was really hard. In the U.K. we have a lot of artists whom we call “British” but actually there are not.

Once in a while you have produced tours. Do you have any plans to have a Japanese company tour in the U.K.?
I would have liked, if it had been possible, to have a tour for Ikuyo Kuroda when we invited her last time. But we did not have money at the time. But it would be something that we would look at. If there is a small-scale thing or if there is a soloist, yes, we will certainly consider it.

For instance, with Ikuyo, is her work something you would never see in U.K. or in Europe?
It is different. It has a different flavor. I think people would have enjoyed it. When Kim Itoh came, he was really well received—it was not with us, though. It was a small tour. So, yes, I am interested in producing a tour, but it is just a question of money.

Do you ever decide what to present based only on what you have seen on a DVD or video?
Hardly ever. I have to see the real show. We had one or two that we decided on before unfortunately with video. One time we presented a company from a long way—not from Japan. Their video was terrific. But in the end it turned out that the video was just 20 minutes of the best part. It turned out to be a mistake.
Every year we take a big risk with British. We put them on the schedule but we do not know what they will do. So at least 40% of the festival will be a risk. I don’t need any risk with the remaining 60% of the schedule. So I would prefer to know exactly what we will have, what we are doing.

So in order to present Japanese companies, you really have to come here to see them. Or you can come to the Japan Society in New York—which is much easier than coming to Japan (laughs).
Yes, I saw Eiko & Koma in New York, Ariadone in Paris. Yes it is easier to do it that way.

Since you have to see the actual performances first, are there any festivals you always go to?
There are a number of festivals which you can rely on. For example, going to New York for the arts presenters’ annual conference APAP in January—because all kinds of things are happening at the showcases. You can see a lot of work. The disadvantage of something like that is you are seeing only half-an-hour or 20 minute performances, you cannot be sure if the whole thing is OK.
For example, at the Hamburg festival you see a lot in whole shows. But you would have to be watching works from 9 a.m. in a morning and wouldn’t finish until around midnight—but you would see the whole show, which is really good. But it requires a lot of toughness (laughs).
Last year, I did not go but my colleague Betsy Gregory went to Madagascar to see a festival there of Africans’ work, which is actually put on by AFAA, the French government organization.
We also go to the Johannesburg festival, again we could see a lot of work in one place at one time. We’ve been to Tel Aviv three times. Again, it’s very good. But I have to say the last time the political situation was unstable and it was not comfortable.
There have been festivals in town of Talin in Estonia, and also I have been to Moscow.
So we do travel a lot. Sometimes it is depressing. Sometimes my younger colleagues come back and say, “Oh my god, I did not see anything.” I know it’s about time and money. You felt pressure. But you have not really wasted your time. Maybe you did not see you wanted, but you have always seen something.
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