The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Pioneering the role of the university-based arts center, The Hopkins Center for the Arts in New Hampshire, USA
Let’s talk about Japan-related productions. We (Japan Society) recently sent to HOP a traditional puppet group, Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo, as part of their tour. Also HOP has frequently worked with us to present contemporary Japanese performing arts we produced tours for.
Yes. Kim Itoh, Ku Nauka, Pappa Tarahumara, and Aoi/Komachi by Takeshi Kawamura have come here from Japan. Also we have presented Eiko & Koma in the States. Maybe one of the things that inspired people about Japan-related arts is Hashirigaki by Heiner Goebbels.

Besides, you had served several years as a committee member for The Japan Foundation’s PAJ grant program for Norht America, and also served for Toyota Choreography Awards in Tokyo last summer. Through those experiences, how do you analyze what is going on in Japanese performing arts? What are your expectations for Japanese performing arts?
I’ve always been really fascinated by the imaginative usage of technology that I see in some contemporary dance in Japan—maybe because I am an American and here you see almost no technology. We are kind of dark-age here with dancers because there are no resources at all, so they don’t use technology very much.
  The other thing I would like to say about contemporary dance is that in Japan not everybody comes from formal training. It’s interesting because here so much dance comes out of people taking various kinds of physical training. They took ballet and moved into kind of Paul Taylor style; or they took contact improvisation and moved into another style. You can tell what their training is—and almost all have some kind of training. But, in Japan, anything could happen. Sometimes it could be disappointing: “What is that posture with legs dragging?!” But in another way it’s kind of interesting because people really see the body as a blank page. The artist who won the top award at Toyota Choreography Award, Yukio Suzuki, was so strong. His movement was not coming out from any established kind: it was a kind of butoh movement, but you couldn’t see any formal dance training behind it at all. If there had been dance training and he was trying to what he was doing, it would have been a much softer piece; it would not have had the edge he had.

From your experience with the PAJ grant program, which has two kinds of grant, one for collaboration between US and Japanese artists and another for touring in North America, how do you see the influence and contribution of those grants? How do you see Japanese performing arts activities in this country overall?
I think there is a challenge. We did see lots of people who knew about the value of the PAJ program and use it very consistently—they keep coming back. I am sensitive to that because for those artists there are very few resources. I think the challenge with that program is how to broaden the constituency, both in terms of presenters who, like me, are taking a risk or trying to collaborate with you to develop on some brilliant idea, and also in terms of artists. They, PAJ program staff, know this point, too. So we always had thoughtful discussion on how to broaden it. But doing that is always a challenge.
  It takes so much money to help American artists to really experience these extraordinarily creative Japanese artists. How do you do it? It’s a long distance. Even though we have this virtual technology, you can’t just begin that way. You have to begin with real relationships. So somehow, people need resources to get together one way or the other. And that takes a lot of money. I think that is always a limiting factor when there are two groups of amazing people who could do amazing things together. Then, how can they find each other? Physical distance is still the biggest challenge.

You’ve been working at HOP for 14 years. What would you like to do in another five years or 10 years?
I do love the people I work with. I love working with my executive director; he is very inspiring and always supportive of me. It’s a great place to work. And because I’ve been there so long, community people trust me. So when I say, “I know you don’t know this but try this,” they come to try. They do take a risk. I think my audience members like adventures. They are living in a small town in the woods with a river, but there is a really dynamic art center there. A lot of people say they chose to move there because of the HOP, or chose to retire there because of the HOP. It’s great for us. I am always thinking about next projects that I am excited with. So as long as I’m exited, I don’t tend to think deeply about the future.

So you don’t get bored?
The whole definition of what we, presenters do is to think up things to entertain ourselves (laughs). So we would never get bored because it’s up to us to create more challenges, right?

Exactly (laugh). Thank you so much for your time and sharing your thoughts with us.
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