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Artists Open Doors: Japan/UK    
5. Community Arts Practice Panel:

Ken Bartlett
Norikazu Sato
Natsuko Tezuka
Rosemary Lee
Chisato Minamimura

Chisato Minamimura is a Japanese deaf dancer, tutor and choreographer. She trained at the Laban Centre in London before doing an MA at Yokohama National University. She also received a BA in Japanese Painting. She has been involved in a number of dance projects which have included creating and presenting dance performances and workshops in over thirty-five locations in fourteen countries. She worked with CandoCo Dance Company 2003-2006 and presented her choreography Scot at The Place in London in January 2007 after leaving CandoCo. Her next work, The Canon for Duet, a work in progress, was shown at the Feedback Forum at Siobhan Davies Studios in London in November 2007. The aim of both works is to ask ‘what is visual sound/music from a deaf perspective?’ Minamimura has been commissioned to create work for The Place Prize 2008, sponsored by Bloomberg and will show Canon for Duet at First 2008 at the Royal Opera House in November. From January to March 2009, she will be involved in a dance project in Sweden.

I have been asked today about how I believe we can promote meaningful engagements in community dance for agencies, artists and participants. I am going to approach that question by firstly describing how I came to dance. My dance life began during my college years when I participated in a workshop intended for both people with and without disabilities, led by Wolfgang Stange and hosted by the Muse Company. Subsequently, I participated in workshops by Toru Iwashita of Sankaijuku and Adam Benjamin.

In 1998, I went abroad to study community dance at the Laban Centre in London. During my time there, I had the opportunity of observing Banquet Dances, a dance project by my fellow panelist, choreographer Rosemary Lee, at the Greenwich and Docklands International Dance Festival. It was performed in the grand and beautiful Painted Hall within the Royal Naval College. The audience were seated on two sides and the cross-generational cast of dancers, from children to seniors, used all the space between for the dance. I was impressed by how the dancers and audience shared time and space in this work and was inspired to develop similar projects in Japan.

After returning to Japan, I enrolled in a graduate program for community dance at Yokohama National College and led community dance events in both Japan and Hong Kong. My work included a collaborative project with the poet Shuntaro Tanigawa named Poems and Dance and Kids (art Link Ueno-Taninaka, 2001), the ‘Chiba University Kemigawa Art Project 2001 + 2002’, the ‘Chiba Art Network Project 2003’, and a project at Tokyo University of the Arts Department of Inter Media Art. I am currently not based in Japan, but when I do return I plan to continue developing work of this kind.

In 2003, I joined CandoCo Dance Company and, besides performing, was involved in dance education and outreach. After leaving CandoCo in 2006, I began choreographing works with the themes of ‘sound which can be seen’ and ‘what is music?’ drawing on my experiences of not being able to hear. I create Scot (The Place, Resolution! 2007) and The Canon for Duet (The Place Prize, 2008). The Canon for Duet will be performed again at ‘Firsts 2008’ at the Royal Opera House. In addition, I will be participating in a dance project in Sweden January to March 2009.

In these ways, my dance career has expanded in range, from participating in dance workshops, studying community dance and performing and choreographing professionally. I value all these experiences as interconnected and inseparable facets to my life. If I return now to the question to the panel, about promoting meaningful engagements in community dance, from these experiences of having worked in fourteen countries and thirty-five cities in Asia, Africa, and the West, I believe that three concepts are amongst those that are key to meaningful engagement in community arts practice:

1. Acceptance of difference (whether due to nationality, disability, gender or age)
2. Access
3. Education and arts culture

I will comment on each of these points in turn, illustrated by an example from my experiences of community dance. The first point, with respect to accepting difference, I can discuss through an experience of visiting Kenya in 2004 to perform and lead workshops with CandoCo. In one workshop, which I co-led with a colleague, all but four of the participants had a visual impairment. Usually, our workshops start with an exercise in which we create gestural names for ourselves in sign language. Since most of the participants were visually impaired, we changed the exercise to creating names with sounds. Through this exercise, I learned more possibilities of how to explain myself with sound. I discovered that their ways of explaining were beautiful and easy to understand. For example one man said, ‘please place the palms of your hands together in front of your chest; then, take your hands a little way apart; take the tension out of your fingers; round your palms so there is a small space in the palms of your hands; and clap your hands together’. It was a valuable experience for me to explore dance approaches that are appropriate for people with a visual impairment.

My second point, about access, and third, about connecting education and arts culture, I can comment on through what happened during the ‘Chiba Art Network 2003’, a project organised by Chiba University in partnership with NGOs, individuals, and curators, was concerned with connecting art and society. As one of the project artists, I led a workshop in a primary school with schoolchildren and with college students from Chiba University that culminated in the making of a piece. The piece was performed at the Chiba City Museum of Art on the site of a former bank from the Meiji era. Unfortunately, Chiba City Museum of Art, home to many outstanding exhibits, was poorly accessible by public transport. In spite of the difficulties of access, however, connections between education and art culture were developed creatively by this project. Children and young people brought their families and friends to visit the museum to enjoy both the dance performance and the exhibitions. For many, this was a first opportunity to see a dance performance and to discover the museum.

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