The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Kunsten Festival des Arts, making Brussels a center generating new trends in contemporary art
Next I would like to ask you about the collaborative works you undertake for KFDA. Why does KFDA focus on collaborative works like it does? Could you tell us something about the meaning of such collaborations and what the philosophy behind this festival’s focus on collaboration is?
  First of all, I believe that there are basically two ways to do a festival. The first is to get a shopping bag and go around the world looking for interesting works to choose, and then introduce them to your audience within the framework of your festival. That is a wonderful thing in itself, and in fact we select a certain part of our programme at KFDA in that way. On the other hand, I believe that the role of a festival should also be to support artists in the creation of new works and provide them with a venue for presenting those works to the public. That is why KFDA has a strong dedication to giving that kind of support and means to artists who don’t normally have sufficient opportunities to create and present new works. For example, Forsythe and Rosas are outstanding artists who have presented works numerous times at KFDA with great interest to us. However, these are the artists who are at a level where they don’t necessarily need our festival’s support in creating works. On the other hand, using collaboration as an indirect form of support to help younger artists who are not yet at that level of fame to undertake the challenge of create works can give our festival great meaning and justify its existence.
  There are two aspects to collaborative work. The first is the purely financial aspect. In other words, the festival makes a financial outlay (investment). The second aspect involves contents; the festival supports the project or the work by providing some kinds of contents. When we do a collaborative, the first prerequisite is that it be an artist we have met with several times, whose works we have seen and whom we have built a relationship of trust with. It must be an artist in whom we believe and whose creative work we really want to support. Within this relationship of trust, much communication is born between us and the artists. The artists may consult us about their present state or their futures, and we may be invited to their rehearsals sometimes and be asked for our opinions. It may also lead to a situation where they ask us for our advice concerning possible collaborations with other artists. Therefore, collaboration is not simply financial support but can also include content support in terms of artistic and intellectual aspects.
  Since participating in a collaborative work often means that we will be presenting to our audience a new work that we have not seen before, it requires a considerable amount of courage and acceptance of the unpredictable aspect, and it also requires accountability on our part with regard to our audience. There is risk involved too, and we need to share that risk with our audience. The audience should understand that risk and a collaborative should spark a sense of curiosity, and I believe that they can discover the enjoyment of expectation involved in an unknown work. And I feel that, since the artists doing our collaborative works are ones whose works have appeared several times in past KFDA festivals, there is also an added sense of curiosity for the audience to see these works in the context of the continuity with their past works.

Doing collaborative works first of all requires tie-ups with the other festivals or theaters you will be collaborating with, and I also believe that there are a number of ways that the actual work process can proceed. For example, who approaches the artist about a possible collaboration and at what point in the project.
  Of course we need other partners. There is a limit to how much KFDA alone can offer in terms of financial support for a collaborative work, and it isn’t enough to finance the entire work. In the case of artists who already have an organized network such as companies or production companies that they are working with internationally on an ongoing basis, they are able to find their own collaboration partners. But, with artists who are still young and don’t have a strong organizational base or network, our festival can help them find international partners. In the case of Toshiki Okada, his next work after the one he did for KFDA was one with a collaboration partner that I introduced him to. There are also cases where the artist has no production functions at all and the festival provides all of the production capability and resources. In other words, the festival directly makes contracts with all the necessary actors and technical staff for the production and also takes charge of the production management. In this case the festival becomes the producer and may seek out other collaborative partners later. This usually happens in the case of works commissioned by the festival. For example, in the last festival we commissioned The Wooster Group to do the production for an opera and since the festival was the original producer, we sought out other European partners to help finance the production. The Christoph Marthaler work we presented in the 2006 festival was also produced in this way.
  Even within the KFDA, however, we are divided over the question of whether or not the festival should function as producers. Doing production work requires a suitable infrastructure, but KFDA has nothing but its own office space. We have no theater or rehearsal studio. If you start doing production work, you need a place for the artists and the team to meet and work. It requires different know-how from that of simply running a festival. For example, when KFDA did the production of Christoph Marthaler’s new work for the 2006 festival, we also planned a tour for it afterward and we ended up doing the contracts with the theaters and festivals that the production toured to. In that sense, production work is a big load for a small festival organization like ours that has, as I mentioned earlier, a permanent staff of only six.

I fully appreciate that feeling. Fortunately, in the Tokyo International Festival (TIF) I work on, we have affiliated studio, theater and other facilities, but even so it is we find it very difficult to manage these facilities and do production work in addition to running our festival.
  With such a supportive philosophy as you have talked about thus far, what does it mean for young artists to be presented at KFDA? I heard, for example, that after his debut at KFDA Toshiki Okada got lots of proposals from around the world.

  It is a very sensitive thing (laughs). It is true that KFDA has won a reputation as a festival that discovers talented young artists. One of our roles is to introduce artists that have not won a reputation yet and artists who have not performed in Europe before. But, the most important thing for me is always our audience. For example, I chose Okada’s work for our programme because I thought it was wonderful work, but even before that there is the desire to share his work with our audience. It is also true that many foreign professionals come to KFDA and today it has become a reference source for today’s contemporary art world. For example, for professional who can’t spend as much time as me traveling all over the world to see local artists’ works, coming to KFDA gives them a chance to see a selection of good work from all over the world at one time.
  But, this role that KFDA has come to serve today also brings with it a big responsibility. In other words, there is always the risk that our influence can produce negative results. There are cases where works that we present at our festival in front of professionals from all over the world are not received as well as we had hoped. So, we have to avoid being impetuous or reckless in our choices.
  Speaking honestly, I never expected Okada to receive such an exceptional number of offers after he appeared in KFDA. Of course, receiving a number of proposals is a wonderful thing for him, but at the same time I think it is a frightening situation as well. That’s because there is the important question of how Okada’s works will be received in countries outside of Japan. His work is about the lives of young people in Japan and it is written in their contemporary slang, so even if it is considered only from the problem of translation, it is by no means a simple task to present his work well. In fact, I was scared when we introduced his work for the first time outside of Japan, and I knew that if the works he presented after that didn’t live up to the success of the first one, there would be people who would quickly turn their backs on him. Of course, I believe that Okada’s work has the strength substance to endure in the long run and that it is continuing to mature. And, for that very reason, I want to take the time necessary to see that his works are introduced we and not rush things. In Okada’s case I decided to invite him to our festival after seeing just one work, but that is actually an exception. In many cases we will see four or five works by an artist and finally decide to invite them after seeing the sixth. This is where we have to be very careful. If the work we present is a success, that is fine, but if it fails it can be a brutal blow for the artist. A lot of attention gets focused on the festival, so a work that fails is immediately labeled as no good worldwide. That doesn’t mean that we are going to introduce only artists who have already won a good reputation, but it is the reason why we must avoid bringing in artists who are still too young and fragile. We have to be very careful in our evaluation and decide which has already reached a level today where he or she will be able to stand up to international critique and criticism.
  Ever since Okada’s success at KFDA, Japanese artists look at me as if I am the savior of his career (laughs), but it is an illusion to think that if you are successfully introduced at KFDA you will be an international success. There may have been one artist for whom that happened, but it may not be true for others. That’s why it is very difficult and we must be very careful.
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