The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
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.
Norikazu Sato
How is Japanese contemporary dance being received overseas today?
There is a lot of attention focused on Japanese dance. Beginning with the butoh movement that showed the world a new type of bodily expression and building with the input from a lot of European and American dancers who have visited Japan since the 1980s, Japan is now producing dancers with a rich variety of styles and expressive language. That diversity is the focus of attention today, but in fact Japan’s dance moment still lacks depth in terms of the number of artists.

In May, a large-scale butoh festival was held in Seoul for the first time. And as part of that program a segment called “Contemporary Dance Exchange” was organized to introduce Japanese contemporary dance, under your direction.
I believe that we are definitely seeing the emergence of dance among young artists that could only be born in Japan. This time we selected eight artists and groups (Ryohei Kondo & Erika Nowada, Zan Yamashita & Emi Naya, Maki Morishita, Shintai Hyogen Circle, Hiroyuki Miura, Ho Ho-Do, Mika Kurosawa and Shoko Kashima & Ryoko Sugimoto), all of whom have different styles.
In South Korea the universities have dance departments and dance is taught on a systematic basis. It is not like that in Japan, where contemporary dance is being born in a variety of places and completely different forms of expression are developing in parallel along the same line. And that is why I feel there is so much potential here. There may be no place in the world where such a rich variety of dance is being created at the same time.
Still, I feel that the next generation is not appearing that will carry on what has begun with this trend. Up until now, once a dancer joined a butoh company for example, there were people to put them through a process of serious training and teach them how to develop physical expression. But now, in Japan’s contemporary dance scene, even if a person may have something that people think is interesting at the idea stage, they don’t have the basic physical strength to take that to the next stage, which is to create a piece from that idea. This is because there are too few places where young dancers can seriously be trained. Looking to what should be done for the future, I think there is a danger of Japanese dance not continuing to develop if we don’t have some kind of specialized educational institution for training choreographers.
No matter how well we do in creating points of connection between dance and society, it will all be meaningless if we don’t have a good environment to encourage good artists continuously to perform there.

Don’t you think there is a next generation of artists among the people who have applied for the “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” program?
I hope so. If this level continues to grow in numbers, we may see new and different development in. In five years we may have 30 venues for “Odori ni Iku-ze!!” or maybe even venues in all 47 of Japan’s prefectures. If that happens there should be some new developments.

What are the issues that contemporary dance faces today?
Most of Japanese dance works today use existing music that has already been released on CD. This year we were finally able to release the first of our “JCDN Dance DVD Series” titled “Odori ni Iku-ze!! 2001” with featuring the performances from the 2001 tour. The reason that it took three years to get this edition out was the problems with the copyrights from the music. Choreographers in Japan still don’t have enough concern about issue of music copyrights. Right now I am thinking about creating a list of composers who can work with choreographers in collaborative works and creating a site where they can hook up with each other on line. If such a system can be created we might see more dance works using original music.

Do you plan to continue releasing DVDs?
If possible I want to continue making releases regularly. Even if we can’t get people to come to performances, if there are about ten collections in a DVD series in book stores for example, a lot more people will become conscious of contemporary dance. There will also be people who see the artists on DVD first and then come to the live performances. In other words, there is simply not information out there about dance. From here on, in order to build the base we must find ways to get the information out and in increased volume.
This is why we will launch a Website with the capacity to show streaming video of dance performances in November. Right now we have nearly 2,000 people registered for our ticket reservation site, but the ability of performers with unknown names to sell tickets is inevitably weak. But, I think that we can get more audience if we give them a chance to see video clips of the performers first.

How do you think things have progressed with regard to building more points of connection between dance and society?
We are now seeing workshops for the general public and for the physically challenged being held in various regions and projects for schools are being planned. So, in this sense the points of connection are being established. But, these points are still mostly one-time projects that are depending to a large degree on the energies of a few dedicated individuals. So, it’s like the flame of a candle: Once it goes out, it doesn’t relight itself. The issue for us today is; Do we have a methodology for increasing the number of points? Do we have methods to make these projects ongoing?
In terms of funding, most of it depends on grants that have to be applied for every year. If the grant doesn’t win approval the project can’t be continued. But, one positive trend is that we are coming to a point where people are recognizing the importance of dance and the need for it.
To strengthen this trend and make it firm, we have to establish a system where artists can earn money by holding workshops in local communities and schools. I think that we will see a very big change if we can reach a state where artists are not only creating works but also going out into the public and using their strength and talent in ways that directly benefits society. Ten years ago, the artists in Japan were not thinking in these terms at all—perhaps because society didn’t have those expectations for the arts—but today this concept is definitely taking root. I don’t know how far we can go but the seeds have been sown and buds are starting to appear. Since the start of JCDN there have definitely been some changes.
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