The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Norikazu Sato
SATO, Norikazu
NPOs Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN)
Presenter Interview
A look into the activities of the JCDN, a pioneering arts NPO dedicated to getting out information about the Japanese contemporary dance scene.  
After the 1998 passing of Japan’s Non-Profit Activities Promotion Act, NPOs have been established in the performing arts field that are now engaged in a variety of activities. One of the representative NPOs of this which has played an important role in the contemporary dance field since its founding in 2002, through efforts such as disseminating information and establishing a system for nationwide performance tours, is the Japan Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN). We spoke with JCDN representative, Norikazu Sato, about the activities of the organization and its mission of “creating points of connection between the society and dance.”
(Interviewer: Noriko Tsuchiya)

What gave you the idea of starting JCDN?
For 15 years between 1980 and 1994, I was a member of the Kyoto’s butoh company Byakkosha. After the company disbanded in 1994, I spent the next two years working in a job that had nothing to do with the stage. It was during this period that I realized for the first time that most people live lives that do not have any connection at all to the arts, and to dance in particular.
After that I learned through a friend about an NPO in New York called the Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) and I had the opportunity to work at one of its departments called National Performance Network (NPN) as an intern for one year. What I saw there was an organization that conducts workshops and other activities with a focus on the questions of how dance’s place in society should be created and how to encourage the spread of dance. When I was in the [Byakkosha] company, I think you can say that by contrast we were almost completely apart from the society in general and we were struggling with about how to get society to recognize our form of expression. It was a big surprise to me to see that in New York there was this completely different concept that dance is so meaningful to society. What’s more, I saw that they actually had a methodology for accessing society.
When I failed to get a visa extension in time, I came back to Japan in 1997 and happened to have the opportunity to become involved in a certain international dance project. Through this project I had a chance to interact with a variety of people here in Japan’s dance scene, including the artists, producers and critics. And all of them said how few venues there were for presenting contemporary dance in Japan, how small the audience was, how little information was available and how few points of connection there were with the society at large.
On the other hand, this was also a time when new movements were emerging in the Japanese contemporary dance scene with talented artists like Kim Ito, Kota Yamazaki and so on. We were also seeing the emergence of small venues involved in nurturing artists, supporting activities and getting out information. These included the Tokyo Session House, the Yokohama ST Spot and the Osaka Torii Hall (which has since ended its dance program and now transferred it to the Dance Box). Since there were these directors who knew the dance scene and there were programs being created, I sensed immediately that we need an idea for the creation of a network like the NPN.
So, I set up an office to prepare for the launching of JCDN with some support from the Saison Foundation and began by going around the country and surveying the dance scene by talking to people involved in dance in each region. After that I planned a meeting in Tokyo to get opinions about the activities JCDN should engage in. I was thinking that about 30 people might attend, but it turned out that about 120 people gathered from all over the country. Seeing this response, I felt that the organization had a chance of being successful.

Did that meeting lead to a clear idea of what kinds of activities JCDN should involve itself in?
Yes. The consensus made me convinced that the mission should be “creating points of connection between dance and society” and that the organization should work to build an environment for dance by conducting activities on an interactive basis that would create a system for nationwide dance tours, provide support for artists to create works, build a network with overseas groups, develop an open source of information about dance activities, create a platform for the exchange of information and conduct survey, research and promotional activities at the same time.
The reason why we decided our mission should be “creating points of connection between dance and society” is because we felt a definite problem in the fact that, although Japanese had developed economically since WWII, there had also been a tendency to eliminate artistic activities in society. I recall how shocked I was when learned about the so-called Sakakibara Incident that sent shockwaves around Japan in 1997 when a middle school student killed an elementary school student in Kobe. This incident made me think about how Japan was suffering by having become such a competitive society and how the arts had drifted away from the mainstream of life to become a form of luxury. I also came to believe seriously that it was the role of the arts to help save our country. I think this though became the starting point.
Dance is unique among the arts in that the dancer uses only his or her body as an expressive medium for communication using virtually no other tools or props. Dance is based on the ability of self-examination, the ability to express one’s self and the ability to create moments where you can relate with others. These are all essential abilities for human beings to live [in society], which you might call “life force,” and I believe that these abilities and this force are weakening in contemporary society. This made me think that our mission should be to bring these powers of dance to life in society.
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