The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Connecting the theater people of Asia   The Japan Foundation international collaboration program
A Collaboration of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Japan

(Sep. 1997 at Bunkamura Theatre Cocoon)

A Collaboration of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Memories of a Legend

(Nov. 2004 at Japan Foundation Forum)
Memories of a Legend
Memories of a Legend
After Lear there has been almost no participation of Japanese artists in your projects. What do you see as the role of Japanese artists in the Japan Foundation’s international collaboration program?
Even though Japan is taking the initiative in these programs in the economic and organizational (planning) aspects, I don’t believe that necessarily means that the programs should by Japan-centered. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that if Japan can stimulate exchange in the region by serving as an intermediary, that positive results of that effort will come back to us in rewarding forms. Also, although there may be few Japanese actors involved, Japanese are playing an important role in other areas of expertise like stage plans and technical operations, and in those capacities they may actually be more involved in the creative discourse than actors would be. Of course, I also think it is great if Japanese artists come forward and say that they definitely want to participate in a project.
Since the role of the Japan Foundation is neither that of a production company or that of a promoter, I believe that what we should be doing as an organization is to offer new models for ways to do collaborative works. Whether it is inviting existing works to Japan or producing new collaborative works, the aim is to show our audience that there are people in Asia thinking these different thoughts and expressing themselves with these different creative vocabularies, and in that way to create the interest and foundations for future collaborative works. So, even if it only happens once in a few years, I want to see us show these possibilities in a way that has real impact.

In Japan there is still the idea that international collaboration on works is an unusual thing and people ask for explanations of why it needs to be done, but in the West it is known as multiculturalism and considered to be a natural practice. That gap is something that you alone cannot fill in, but having been involved in your projects in an advisory capacity, I have felt that what you have done by presenting specific new working methods and aesthetics to the Japanese public and Japanese artists has been important in terms of the pursuit of new models for artistic and cultural exchange.
It has been almost 30 years since you personally became involved in Asian performing arts exchange. During this time the relationships between Japan and the countries of Asia have changed a lot. I would like to ask you what kinds of changes you have observed in the field the performing arts.

There have constantly been exchanges with theater people in China and South Korea, compared with other Asian countries. With regard to Southeast Asia, there was almost no exchange going on at the time of the founding of the ASEAN Culture Center. In the dozen years or so since then, there has been a considerable increase in collaborative work with this region. Some examples are the collaborative work Rinkogun Theater Company has done with Philippine artists, Ku Na’uka Theater Company’s work with Indonesia’s Theater Garasi and the Setagaya Public Theatre’s Contemporary Asian Theater Project. There have also been cases of Japanese actors going to study in Indonesia, or studying at a theater school in Singapore. These types of things were virtually unthinkable at the time the ASEAN Culture Center was founded. And now, the Japan Foundation’s policy is to shift to areas of Asia like South Asia and Central Asia, and the Middle East, that are still lacking in this kind of cultural and arts exchange with Japan. Our recent Performing Women is an example of this shift.

By the way, what kind of audience comes to see your international collaboration works?
Unfortunately, people who are otherwise Asia fans don’t necessarily come to see Asian theater and theater fans rarely come to see unknown Asian works. With Performing Women we wanted not only Asian fans but also a wider section of the general public to see the work, so we scheduled the performances at one of Tokyo’s major theaters, the Bunkamura Theatre Cocoon. Still it was a struggle to get a sufficient number of people to come see it. I feel that, regardless of whether it has to do with Asia or not, Japanese theater fans are quite closed-minded when it comes to things they don’t know or don’t understand. And, I believe that it is the job of the Japan Foundation to break through that resistance and get people to look to the world outside.

While you have been pursuing the Asian collaborative works program over the years, have you found any cooperative partners to work with on an ongoing basis?
There are individual artists with who I want to continue to work, but in terms of building ongoing cooperative relationships with organizations, it has been more difficult. Speaking generally, the benefits of economic development have not filtered down to the field of collaborative projects in the arts, and so it is hard to find organizations that we can really work closely with. In the area of arts festivals, the established festivals of Hong Kong and Singapore have been joined in recent years by new arts festivals in a number of countries, and they are promoting the Association of Asian Performing Arts Festivals as in network for these festivals, but it is still very rarely that a collaborative production comes out of this festival network. Anyway, I believe that it is very important that we break out of the established pattern where Japan alone is providing the funding for collaborative projects if we are ever going to have real development of collaborative programs.

As a presenter, are there any artists or companies now that you think are especially interesting?
Having just done Performing Women, I am especially interested now in Central Asia and Iran. Mark Weil of Uzbekistan’s Ilkhom Theatre, who tragically passed away in September, was certainly one of the Central Asia’s great directors, and so is Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli, who participated in the Performing Women project. Among the younger generation, there is an interesting Russian-ethnic women’s company called Art & Shock Theater in Kazakhstan. For these women in their 30s, Kazakhstan was still part of the Russian dominated Soviet Union in their childhood years, and their production Back in the U.S.S.R. that I saw looked back on that era partly with nostalgia and also a good portion of sarcasm. It was thoroughly enjoyable and really made me laugh, and I sensed their talent be so strong and sturdy. This work was performed at the Kijimuna Festa in Okinawa, Japan, this summer.
In Iran there is a system of government support for theater companies, so the theater people can make a living at their art, but that support is coupled with considerable restrictions and censorship. There are a number of outstanding young artists who are trying to turn this conflict into creative energy and produce excellent works. Among these are the two artists Amir Reza Koohestani and Hamed Taheri, who were both candidates for our last project. Both in their early 30s and both are artists that I would like to work with in the future. They are invited every year to venues in Germany, France, etc., and are thus spreading their range of activity internationally. And, it is disappointing that Japan cannot make the stage for them.

Could you tell us what you find to be the greatest appeal of Asian theater?
I feel that Asian theater people are deeply aware of the meaning in doing theater, the reality. And, I believe that the clarity of their reasons for doing theater works and the clarity of their concepts communicates directly to the audience and moves them. I also have the belief that societies with strong traditions make for strong contemporary art. Indonesia and India are good examples of this, and lately I have also come to see Iran in this light too. A high level of traditional culture becomes the stimulus that can be the driving force behind the creation of new art and culture, and when that combines with a strong will to make a statement about something, the result can be very powerful works of art. This is the potential that Asia has.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |