The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
An Overview
Jun. 9, 2010
Latest Trends by Genre: Contemporary Dance  
Latest Trends by Genre: Contemporary Dance  
Japan’s dance scene (aside from traditional classical dance and folk dance) can be classified into four categories: Classical Ballet, Modern Dance, Butô, which has been extremely well received overseas and which was founded in 1959 by Hijikata Tatsumi; and Contemporary Dance, in which individual artists depart from existing methods and traditions and pursue original physical expression.

The Butô scene is still dominated by its first generation of dancers. Although ôno Kazuo, the world’s oldest Butô dancer, does not dance much now, Amagatsu Ushio’s company, Sankaijuku, premieres a new work at the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris and tours the world every year (and also won the Grand Prix at the 2006 Asahi Performing Arts Awards for “TOKI – A Moment in the Weave Time”), Dairakudakan celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2007, and Kasai Akira is still active not only as an improvisational dancer but also as a choreographer, and often performs overseas.

The second generation includes Tanaka Min, who directs the genre-breaking Dance Hakushû in Nagano Prefecture (which won the 2005 Asahi Performing Arts Awards). Among the dancers active on an individual basis is Yamada Setsuko (currently professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design), who founded the dance company Biwakei in 1989 and who has trained many young dancers. The Butô dancer Murofushi Kô is also highly regarded. Yet even though these dancers are prominent in the dance world, the genre of Butô as a whole is no longer giving rise to a succession of new talent.

Instead, we see contemporary dance arising to take the place of Butô. Contemporary dancers take the possibilities for physical expression cultivated by Butô and develop them in new ways. For example, Teshigawara Saburô, a post-Butô talent who has attracted a great deal attention, was awarded the Bagnolet International Choreography Prize in 1986. His success in Europe brought contemporary dance to the public attention.

In addition, the appreciation of the yen during the “bubble” economy beginning in the mid-1980s brought increased opportunities to engage performing artists, something which had previously been difficult due to the expense. At that time, Nouvelle Danse was the leading trend in Europe, led by dancers such as Pina Bausch, and Nouvelle Danse companies were highly touted in the media when they were brought to Japan along with operas and musicals. These performances in Japan by companies from overseas created an audience for contemporary dance for the first time, and led to the current boom.

After the collapse of the bubble economy, public theaters such as the Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater, the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall, and Biwako Hall, took an active role in engaging famous foreign companies. They continued maintaining an environment in which the works of world-class artists such as Frederick Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, and Philippe Ducouflé could be seen.

The stimulus from the world’s contemporary dance companies was one factor in developments during the 1990s. Itô Kim’s company followed Teshigawara in winning the Best Newcomer Prize at the Bagnolet International Choreography Prize. The dance company H. Art Chaos was acclaimed as Dance of the Year by The New York Times with its large-scaled performances imbued with a unique esthetic. Idevian Crew followed a creed based on freely conceived ideas and humor that went beyond the framework of dance. The Condors achieved great success with their entertaining acts of dance and storytelling performed by an all-male troupe dressed in school uniforms.

Moving into the 21st century, support from public funds and private corporations was a factor in the simultaneous establishment of several festivals and prizes, which encouraged the debuts of a new generation of artists born in the 1960s and 70s. Many individual styles competed for attention, and the situation was comparable to the proliferation of dramatic performances in small theaters during the 1980s.

The Birth of Dance Spots

A factor in the emergence of the new generation of young artists was the existence of artistic spaces that discovered and trained new talent for contemporary dance. Initially during the 1980s, aside from Hijikata Tatsumi’s Asbestos Studio, a rehearsal space and performance hall managed by Butô groups; and Dairakudakan’s Toyotama Garan, the only venue producing dance performances was Jean Jean, a small theater in Tokyo’s Shibuya area. Subsequently, a number of private business companies decided to improve their public images by supporting the arts, so they opened performance halls where contemporary dance was performed, including Spiral Hall, Park Tower Hall.

In the second half of the 1990s, new vacant spaces appeared in urban buildings abandoned during the recession and were transformed into artists’ spaces, and the epicenter of the current movement was in the many “dance spots” that were established during that period. Session House put on many unique productions, such as a festival made up of short, ten-minute works, or a presentation at which the audience decided the admission price after seeing the performances. The space known as Die Pratze produced the Dance Festival “Dance ga Mitai,” in which the featured dancers and program changed daily. ST Spot is a small theater in Yokohama that is operated by an NPO (ST Spot Yokohama, p.15), and has a spirited artist who acts as the curator to plan and support everything from auditioning of new dancers to production, and has produced a number of new prominent artists. Osaka’s Theater dB (closed in 2007) was administered by a non-profit organization, Dance Box and became a gateway to success, as well as a base for contemporary dancers in the Osaka area. In all these cases, producers knowledgeable about dance are in charge, and they cooperate with one another in training young artists.

In addition, public theaters such as the New National Theatre, Tokyo, Itami Ai Hall, Setagaya Public Theatre, Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, Aichi Arts Center, Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, and Museum of Art, Kôchi, came to the fore as venues for dance. By producing their own projects and providing continuous financing, they have become a major factor in supporting the dance scene.

Niigata City Performing Arts Center (Ryûtopia), in particular, deserves attention for its future course as a model of Japanese public theaters. Its artistic director for the dance division, Kanamori Jô, has returned to Japan after making a career as a choreographer in Europe, and founded Noism, presumably the first full-fledged contemporary dance company that belongs to a theater. His enterprising creativity is attracting a lot of attention to the company’s new work every year.
| 1 | 2 |