|Please tell us about your organization’s activities.
The main pillars of our activities are producing and publishing the booklet JCDN Dance Files containing the latest information about the artists and related groups that are members of JCDN, planning and organizing the “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” (We’re gonna go Dancing!) program under which contemporary dance artists tour the nationwide network of dance spaces, and networking with overseas organizations and artists.
Our booklet is published once a year, and in 2003 it was published with a CD-ROM including one-minute clips of performance highlights for 61 groups and artists. We also run a Website with an online ticket reservation service. The “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” program that we launched in 2000 has given artists and groups the opportunity to perform outside their own locality, and its purpose is to create a new movement that encourages the growth of both the artists and the audience by exposing artists to new audiences. In 2004, 23 artist groups held performances in 14 art space venues around the country under this program. This year’s plans call for those numbers to increase to 43 artist groups touring 18 venues. Although getting our information through our booklet and the Website are necessary jobs, I believe that getting people to actually get out and move and come to these performances is the strongest force of all for making positive progress.
Besides these activities, we are also involved as coordinators specializing in contemporary dance for dance programs being organized around the country. Besides enlisting the cooperation of public halls and arts NPOs involved in regional promotion of the arts, we want to see dance programs that go beyond just performances for audience appreciation. Since recognition of the potential of workshops is spreading, we are serving as coordinators in the sending of artists to teach local dancers and the public in workshops and seminars on dance production/choreography. We are also involved in the business of coordinating dance programs in the different localities.
Most of the funding for these activities, about 60 to 70 percent, comes from the Agency of Cultural Affairs and corporate support. Another 20% comes from the commissions we receive for our coordinator services, while the last 10% comes from membership fees (presently from 287 organizations and companies) and ticket sales. We have a full-time staff of five people, and to tell you the truth, we are extremely busy (laughs).
How do you select the dancers that participate in the “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” program?
We hold artist selection events in the different regions. This year we held them in nine locations. But in Tokyo there are so many applicants that we have had to put in place a recommendation system. In addition to this we have selected this year’s participants also on the basis of public solicitation of video tapes of performance as well as inviting artists who have participated successfully in the “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” program in the past to return again as participants. The final decisions are made after we verify the October to December schedule and send video tapes and schedules of the participants to the regional event sponsors and seeing the requests that come back from the sponsors.
The “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” program is now in its sixth year. What effects have you seen from it?
With the exception of internationally recognized groups, before this program the participating artists and companies had only been able to perform in their own localities. Now, by participating in the “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” program they can tour the entire country with their performances. It has been, I believe, a big encouragement to the artists that, no matter what part of the country they were performing in originally, they now have an environment where they can go around the country and expose themselves to new audiences and critics and approach dance wherever they are.
Also, under this system we are able to pay the performers a fee, although it may not be large. Until now, most of these artists had to pay the expenses of mounting performances out of their own pockets, and the only people in the audience were their own supporters, so they could hardly be called professionals. But, the fact that they are now getting paid to perform before objectively critical audiences, even is the spaces are small, has definitely changes the artists’ consciousness, I believe.
You are also involved in joint projects with overseas groups, aren’t you?
Yes. Beginning from 2002 we have a “Japan-U.S. Choreographer Exchange Residency Project” held on a biennial basis. We began this as a joint project with the New York Japan Society and Dance Theater Workshop and Philadelphia’s Painted Bride Art Center. This is a program that enables a group of artists from the two countries to spend about a week in each city of the two countries together, benefiting from exchange between the artists themselves and with the local dance communities in the cities they visit. For the 2004 project five artists were chosen from Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Tokyo and Osaka and together they toured Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Kyoto and Matsuyama.
Many Japanese artists visit New York for performances, but while they are there they are only going back and forth between the performance venue and their hotels and seldom have an opportunity to meet the members of the New York community. To break out of this pattern, we wondered if we could create a program that would give the artists an opportunity for meaningful encounters with different cultures and artists in ways that are truly stimulating. Rather than a program with a set performance schedule that presents finished works, we wanted to create a program that encourages the birth of new things at a more fundamental, grassroots level.
This project gives the artists a chance to meet the local organizers, and it also provides the opportunity for relationships to be created between the participating artists. Since the participating artist from each of the localities visited serves as the host when the group visits their city, it provides a good opportunity for networking and establishing new pipelines. In fact, one result of the 2004 program was that the participating artists worked together to create a new joint work. We want to continue this program in Asia and other regions as well.
Also, we are now working on an “Exchange Project” with Australia. This project grew out of our encounter with a number of Australian artists and organizers at the Adelaide Arts Market. We are trying now to see if we can get together a residency program during 2006, which is designated already as an Australia-Japan Friendship Year, and use this to create joint productions. One of the reasons for this project is that Japan and Australia are quite similar in the way that contemporary dance has yet failed to find a significant place in society.
We are also doing surveys and research that have led to the creation of a UK project beginning this year. The UK is a country that is investing a lot in dance. There is a government organization called the National Dance Agency that has nine branches around the country. These organizations work to nurture artists and foster dance activities in the communities. We are told that in all there are about 70,000 events being held at the community level each year, with programs such as workshops for the physically challenged and for young people who refuse to go to school. These are programs that can be of use as examples for Japan’s public halls and community centers, so we want to put together a book about the programs going on in Britain now.