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Artists Open Doors: Japan/UK    
1. Dance for All? Panel:

John Ashford
Norikazu Sato
Yuko Ijichi
Ken Bartlett
Ghislaine Boddington

Yuko Ijichi worked for ten years as an editor before founding Muse Company in 1990. Since that time, she has been a pioneer of community arts in Japan and has organised various participative art programmes which aim to revitalise people and communities. Especially active in the field of integrated art activities, she has established a number of participative programmes for people with and without disabilities, including a community dance/music training course, and collaborative community dance projects with Japanese and international artists and companies such as Kim Ito, Adam Benjamin, Un Yamada, Amici, Ryohei Kondo and CandoCo. Recently, she has focused more on projects aimed at connecting people and developing a wider sense of community. She is also is researching the concept and practice of community arts in the UK and Japan in order to publish a book. She is a member of the Creative Arts Executive Committee.

Dance for All?
How do agencies work with artists to develop the engagement of participants and audiences?

Muse Company, founded in 1990, has been consistently organizing various participative art programmes over the years, ranging from visual arts to performing arts. In our first 10 years, we have focused on integrated art activities that involve both disabled and able-bodied people, in order to encourage disable people to participate in the field of arts, and we believe our activities have introduced new possibility of arts to the Japanese people. In 2000, we began to provide our programmes to a wider range of people, including school children and elderly people in the local community. Since then, our work has developed to a community art project, in which those who have no experience in art activities can also participate. In addition, we have actively invited young dancers and choreographers to collaborate with diverse people in creating high quality performances.

I would now like to explain our past activities in chronological order, so you may have an idea of how we have aimed to involve diverse participants, and to introduce new art form possibilities.

●障害のある人達のアート活動(integrated arts work)への参加を促すワークショップを立ち上げる
Launching workshops that encourage disabled people to participate in integrated art works.

I had an opportunity to experience some part of British community art activities through Wolfgang Stange’s work with disable people, and this triggered myself to develop our integrated art work in Japan. When I observed his workshop for the first time in 1989, I was deeply moved and I thought that this must be the place where I can find new possibility of dance. In December the same year, we were able to organise his workshop in Japan. The workshop drew enthusiastic response from the public, and I realized that we rarely had artistic activities of such kind in Japan. I then looked for dancers and choreographers working with disable people in similar art activities in Japan. Although there were activities focusing on dance therapy or entertainment programmes at day-centres, I could not find any creative dance work that brings out the hidden creativity inside disabled people.

So, in 1990, which was the following year, we asked some of the participants from the first Wolfgang Stange workshop to gather, in order to carry out continuous workshops. These people were a Butoh dancer, drama educator, dance teacher at special school, or creative music teacher, including Toru IWASHITA, a Butoh dancer from Sankai-juku, and Fuminori WAKAGURI, the artistic director of Creative Sora, an integrated dance group. Later on, Natsu NAKAJIMA, a Butoh dancer, and Kei TAKEI, a post-modern dancer/choreographer who worked in New York from late 1960s to around 1990 were also invited to join the project as facilitators. These people still run their own integrated dance groups, or are involved in integrated art work of some sort.

Integrated activities led by artists from various countries created new dance groups in Japan

Since 1993, we have invited foreign musicians and dance artists and have held a number of integrated art workshops including visual arts, music, and dance. In the field of dance, artists including Wolfgang Stange, Adam Benjamin, Isabel Jones, and Jo Parkes have led various workshops in Tokyo and other cities throughout Japan. Dance groups such as Miyagi Dance in Sendai City, AB//:seeds in Matsuyama City (which was named after Adam Benjamin’s workshop, putting his initials in their group name), Creative Sora in Tokyo, and Best Place in Saitama Prefecture were born through these workshops, and have begun to develop their original activities. We have also worked with Japanese artists, such as Syuji ONODERA from a mime company called “Mizu to Abura” (meaning Water and Oil). We have asked him to collaborate with hearing impaired children using mime. As we also had an intention to encourage artists in Japan to become interested in this kind of art work, we invited young contemporary dancers/choreographers, such as Kim ITO, Un YAMADA, and Makoto MATSUSHIMA as guest performers in the integrated dance workshops led by foreign artists, and this led to collaborative dance performance projects, about which I will mention later.

Launching community artist training programmes to enable diverse people to access the arts

In order to develop these integrated art activities in local communities and to involve a large number of people, we realized that it is necessary to have facilitators who could lead the creative and integrated art works. This is why we launched the community dance & music training course in 1994. Chisato MINAMIMURA who is attending this symposium is one of the participants of the very first course.

The course has become almost an annual programme, and some of the graduates with excellent ability and enthusiasm have been able to continue their brilliant works. However, we must admit that most of the graduates have difficulty in developing their own activities in the community, for community arts is a notion still unfamiliar in the Japanese society, and there are little funding for arts activities other than performances and concerts.

Community dance and community music are aimed at people coming from different backgrounds without any experience in dance or music to explore their own creativity. Therefore, the facilitators are required to have higher facilitation and communication skills, along with their artistic ability, compared to when teaching people who have received professional artistic training. In order to acquire (such) necessary skills, one year training is far too insufficient, and they need to gain rich experience through actual practice. We are still exploring ways to solve this problem, and as one of our attempts, the community dance internship programme this year focuses on how one can develop his/her original community dance work in local communities. We are planning to encourage the local governments, relevant institutions, and theatres to seek for sustainable community dance activities. This is going to be a big challenge for us.
In addition, we are also considering a training programme in which our participants can attend various community dance projects that are actually carried out in local communities.

Exploring new possibilities in dance art: Collaborative Dance Performance Project

I believe that Muse Company, in its first decade, has created programmes offering opportunities for anybody to express themselves through art. In other words, we have been providing high quality workshops where the participants become able to explore their individual and collective creativities. Our next natural step was to introduce the possible dance performance as a result of the integrated dance workshop activities, and the idea came to fruit when we invited CandoCo Dance Company in 1999, and the production caused sensational impact throughout Japan.

Since then, we have put our efforts in encouraging promising young dancers/choreographers to be involved in performances presented as the outcome of the integrated workshops. This is because, as I have mentioned earlier, we believe that integrated art works offer new possibilities in the field of arts, and therefore, we wanted young dancers and choreographers to be aware of it. At the same time, we thought that their experience in the performance would positively affect their own creative activities. It is also possible that the more popular contemporary dancers/choreographers get involved in such integrated dance works, the more influenced the future dancers in the younger generation would be, and most importantly, we need their contribution in order to pursue higher quality of the integrated dance works in Japan.

Our specific projects covering this area includes a collaborative dance performance by Adam Benjamin and Kim ITO, performed at Koshigaya Community Center in 2001. We asked Kim to create a work in which Mako KAWANO, a Japanese dancer and Tom Saint-Louis, a dancer in a wheelchair could be involved. Kim came out with a 15 minutes duet performance entitled “My Souvenir Entomologique(エントロモロジーク).” There was another project in 2004, which was a collaboration between Amici Dance Theatre Company and Un YAMADA. We commissioned Un to work with two dancers, Rosie Leak and Chrissie Kugele from Amici, and the production entitled “Water Garden” was put on stage by Fukuoka City Foundation for Arts and Cultural Promotion. Fukuoka City Foundation has also hosted the workshop performance by CandoCo Dance Company and Ryouhei KONDOU along with CandoCo’s tour production in 2006.

Launching art projects that encourage various people in local communities to get involved in arts

Since 2000, in addition to our usual integrated art works, we began to organise school projects, in which artists visit schools to do workshops with the children, and a 5 year community art project in Minato-ward, where our office is based. This 5 year project, “The Story of Me and My Town” was designed to bring about communication between different generations. The idea was to have young people interviewing the elderly people about their old photographs taken in Minato-ward, and eventually, there was an exhibition to show the completed works. In this project, we commissioned Un Yamada to create a dance piece that provides exchange opportunities for foreign and local children living in the ward, and this was called Azabu Dance Project. Being commissioned by Minato-ward, we have continued to organise art projects focusing on the local history and cultural recourses of the area. For example, we asked a theatre company Ku Na’uka to do a reading performance based on a novel written by a novelist who used to live in the area. The performance took place in a historical site within the ward. Through these activities that reach out to local communities, we have created opportunities for the local people without artistic experiences to become interested in arts through familiar subjects.


I have introduced major activities of Muse Company in chronological order. As you may have noticed, our mission was to make arts accessible to a wider range of people including the disabled, to provide a place where people can express their creativity, and to present new art forms. I always felt the joy of being involved in a form of art which is different from any known conventional art, when working with such diverse people.

The following is an example of a visual arts work. Visual arts is, of course, an artistic expression appealing to visual senses. In our activities with both visually impaired and sighted participants, sighted people were asked to wear eye masks to create visual arts work without sight. I believe we were able to introduce a new form of art work by visually impaired people to the sighted people. By wearing the eye masks, sighted people had an opportunity to explore their unknown possibilities by using their non-visual abilities, such as sense of touch or smell, and this must have inspired their own creativity.

In a similar way, disabled people have shown us unique and strong expressions beyond conventional way of expression in the performing arts field. I probably wouldn’t need to mention how able-bodied people can positively influence disabled people, so we have mainly focused to provide inspiring experience to the emerging dancers and choreographers by giving them a chance to work with diverse people who come up with stimulating expressions. That is why we keep inviting young artists to create performance works.

One of the most famous Japanese choreographer, Saburo TESHIGAWARA invited a British visually impaired dancer and created a performance called “Luminus.” I think that the idea of the piece derived from the education programmes at The Place and Sadllers Wells Theatre. Kim ITO also invited women over 60 to create “Flower History”, a performance commissioned by New National Theatre in Tokyo. I suppose our collaborative project in 2001 might have inspired him to create a new art piece based on diverse possibilities of human bodies, but I am not sure because I have never asked him about it.

Another important thing that I would like to point out is the fact that there are people who were involved in community art activities who have become professional artists. For example, we have continued the said visual arts workshop which goes beyond visual senses for 7 to 8 years, and two professional visually impaired artists were born through the work. Chisato MINAMIMURA who participated in Wolfgang Stange’s workshop in 1990 fell in love with dance. After graduating the community dance course at Laban Centre, she worked as a dancer in CandoCo Dance Company from 2003 to 2006. She now works internationally as an independent choreographer and educator. There are also new integrated dance groups as I have already mentioned.

What makes sustainable art activities possible?

The interest in community dance is finally growing in Japan today, yet when we think about what is necessary for sustainable art activities, we find ourselves bewildered. There are so many things we have to do.

However, I believe the most important thing is to keep providing high quality workshops and performances. These activities will help attract new participants and audiences. Needless to say, we also need to advocate our activities through visual presentations of the high quality workshops and projects, and school projects where we can engage children and students’ interest, while especially in Japan, we need to find a way to gain funding which is not for making up deficits. If regular funding without limitation of use is available for arts organisations including community art groups, it would greatly support their activities to be continued. Other necessary works would include networking and cooperating with relative institutions, but we need to understand that it requires a certain amount of time to realise these ideas.

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