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Artists Open Doors: Japan/UK    
Keynote: The state of the art

Naomi Inata is the Artists Open Doors co-convenor and is a researcher at the Global Centre of Excellence, at the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University, as well as being a part time lecturer at Keio Gijuku University and a dance critic. She is the author of Tatsumi Hijikata – The Extreme Body, a critical biography of Tatsumi Hijikata, founder of Butoh. She is a judge of the National Arts Festival Grand Prize, a committee member of strategic programmes such as: Prioritised Support for Creative Artistic Activities of the Highest Calibre, and Ensuring Opportunities to View Authentic Stage Arts of Dance, by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of the Japanese Government.

To set a framework for the discussion to follow, in this keynote presentation I will offer some historical background and outline the current situation of Japanese art. Rather than attempt to cover all artforms in detail, it will be more valuable today if I keep the discussion focused on the situation for dance.

Historical Background: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts

The word dance was imported when Japan opened its doors to the western world and began to absorb western culture after the Edo era (1603-1867). Before 1867, the word dance in the western sense did not exist. In Japan, there had been two concepts called mai (舞) and odori (踊り). The English word 'dance' depicts an image of an extended body and energetic movement. However, in Japanese, mai refers to 'grounded and circular movement' and odori refers to 'springing and jumping'. It was Shouyou Tsubouchi (1859-1935), a writer and translator, who combined mai and odori and made a new word and concept called buyou (舞踊) which is a close equivalent to the concept of 'dance' in the western sense.

As you are aware, this year we are celebrating one hundred and fifty years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Britain. It was around this time that the western concept of 'dance' was also imported to Japan. For nearly 300 years prior to this, Japanese culture and arts had evolved without much influence from other countries. Mai and odori each had their own origins and traditions.

Movement of Noh is representative of mai. Noh developed sometime between the end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth century, and became established during the Edo era. Originally, Noh was a type of folkloric performing art and entertainment in local communities. It was gradually refined and developed to its current style through the support and patronage of the Shogun, or officials, and the upper class samurais, or warriors, who also enjoyed performing this form of dance. Reflecting the philosophies and beliefs of the samurai, Noh became an introspective art characterised by restraint and intensity.

On the other hand, folk dance and 'Kabuki dance' are representative of odori. The oldest form of folkloric performing art in Japan is Kagura which was originally a Shinto ritual and festival. Shinto, a pantheistic religious belief system which developed in farming communities, involved some eighty thousand deities and the worship of ancestral spirits, and was closely interwoven with people’s daily work. Bon odori, another form of folk dance, also originated in farmer’s beliefs. By contrast, Kabuki was mainly sponsored by wealthy merchants who were patrons of the dancers.

Japanese traditional performing arts and dance are highly diverse yet it is possible to summarise certain characteristics:

1) The style, technique and work of the performing arts and dance reflect the social class, lifestyle and intentions of their audiences, a feature that has continued into the present day.

2) The patrons of Noh were upper class samurai, while the patrons of Kabuki were merchants. In other words, these traditional performing arts developed and were sustained without state support (indeed, a nation-state, in the modern sense, did not then exist in Japan).

3) While Noh and Kabuki were performed by professional (that is, specialist) actors, samurais and wealthy merchants also learnt Noh and Kabuki (as well as being its audience). The situation was similar in Europe during the era of the court ballet, in which aristocrats learnt ballet and were also its spectators. In Japan, many people, not just aristocrats and samurai but merchants and farmers as well, engaged in cultural and arts education in the form of okeiko, or hobbies and pastimes. This okeiko tradition continues today when people learn mai and odori, or dance; utai, a form of chant; shamisen and koto which are traditional Japanese instruments; sado, or tea ceremony; kado, or flower arrangement; and shuuji, or calligraphy.

Dance in the Process of Modernisation: Dance as Art, Dance as Physical Education

As I mentioned previously, Japan opened its doors to the west one hundred and fifty years ago, and underwent modernisation and westernisation at once, integrating elements of western culture, arts, industry, and technology.

One example is the Imperial Theatre, a theatre with western architecture which opened its doors in 1911 (Meiji 44). Ballet, imported from the West, was performed there for the first time in Japan, and by Japanese dancers. Although named 'Imperial', the theatre was run by a private company, rather than by either a public corporation or by the state. It had an affiliated ballet and opera school, for singers, musicians and ballet dancers. However, some of the first cohort of dancers revolted against the classical ballet training and left their jobs, then some dancers went to study overseas at the schools of Emile Jacques Dalcroze and Mary Wigman. After the war, however, the modern dance of Martha Graham was introduced and spread throughout Japan, as part of American cultural policy. Modern dance in Japan today is a fusion of German Neuetanz and American modern dance.

Since the Meiji era (1868-1912), western dances in the form of ballet, modern dance, and Spanish dance have gradually taken root, and Japanese traditional dance in the form of Kabuki Buyo and Jiuta Mai (Kamigata Mai) has been sustained as well. It has been through ordinary Japanese people, as participants in classes or as spectators, that both the western and Japanese forms of dance have been sustained.

In today’s okeiko culture, the most popular after-school activities are swimming, baseball, and football, followed by learning western musical instruments such as piano and violin. The numbers of children learning ballet and hip-hop are increasing, as are the numbers of women learning ballet and Spanish dance, and of older women learning hula and ballroom dance. Across the generations, therefore, dance, music and sports imported from the West are at the centre of after-school activities and adult leisure. However, many children nowadays give priority to their studies. In metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, children frequently drop after school activities at around ten years old so as to study intensively for middle school entrance examinations.

In addition to dance as a form of okeiko, dance is practiced in schools. When school policy became newly established during the Meiji era, the Japanese government drew on educational models from the UK, Germany, US, and Holland. As a result, music and fine arts were incorporated into the curricula of elementary and middle schools, and music and visual arts colleges were established. However, dance was not included in the arts syllabus but was instead taught as part of girls' physical education. After World War II, school policy changed under American influence. Creative dance based on Neuetanz was introduced, although dance remained part of physical education only for girls.

It is of interest to this discussion that in 2011 the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology in Japan will revise the National School Curriculum to include dance as a required subject for health and physical education for both boys and girls in junior high school. The dance curriculum will include creative dance, as practised previously, and dance which incorporates contemporary rhythms, such as hip hop and jazz dance. However, as the majority of physical education teachers are currently not trained to teach these dance subjects, there will be difficulties implementing the new curriculum. Making dance a required subject for both boys and girls does not indicate that dance is now held in higher esteem. As I mentioned before, until recently, dance was taught only to girls. By comparison, martial arts, which included Kendo, Judo, or Kyudo, were taught only to boys. The idea of making martial arts a required subject for both boys and girls came first – and dance followed. Even so, this policy change may prompt people’s interest in dance.

Problems in the system of support for dance

I have been outlining some of the ways in which western forms of dance – ballet, modern dance, and Spanish dance – became established. What is it possible to observe about the kinds of policies that supported these new dance forms? Interestingly, the framework for these new dances forms remained the same as in Japanese traditional dance (putting new wine in old bottles). Ballet and modern dance became okeiko taught in studios by a single owner, as was the case for Japanese traditional dance and other traditional arts. A national dance school or university dance conservatoire has not yet to be established in Japan.

The National Theatre of Japan, established in 1966 and the first state subsidised theatre, specialised in traditional Japanese performing arts – Kabuki, Noh, Bunraku (Japanese puppet theater), and Kyogen (a comical play, often an interlude of Noh). The New National Theatre of Japan (a modern western-style theatre) was built only a decade ago in 1997 specialised in opera, ballet, contemporary dance, and modern theatre. The National Theatre of Japan runs training programmes for actors and presents productions, for traditional performing arts, while the New National Theatre of Japan runs training programmes for opera singers, ballet dancers and actors. All the programmes are two to three years in length.

Although there are many theatres in Japan, most are administered by local government or private business. Few of these theatres have attached ballet schools or resident ballet companies or other dance groups. Most professional dancers therefore have received their training at private studios.

It is the case, then, that most dancers have not received an adequate dance training and it is almost impossible to earn an income from dancing. Only dancers who receive financial support from their parents are able to continue their dance education, and only dancers who are able to subsidise their performances can continue to perform. To raise funds, it is common for dancers who own private dance studios to sell tickets to their pupils for their own performances. Dancers who do not own private studios have to make a living from part-time jobs, often unrelated to dance. Twenty years ago, the Japanese ballet audience comprised mostly girls and mothers who learned ballet as a hobby. Today, little has changed - and we see the same trend appearing in modern dance and Japanese traditional dance.

In other words, although the okeiko tradition provides opportunities for many people to have a variety of art experiences and builds audience for dance, it also increases amateurism. Currently, dancers make an income not from presenting work in performance, but from teaching students. Efforts made to attract new audiences from non-arts backgrounds are weak.

This situation, in which individual dancers (not institutions) teach and put on stage productions, is the same for ballet, modern dance, Spanish dance and traditional Japanese dance. A similar trend is seen in theatre, which also lacks a training system and financial support. Aside from a handful of artists who are funded, we see a related situation in music as well. This is the reason that many people in Japan are calling for funding and training support. Various associations and groups exist for the individual dance genres but we have not yet seen a movement towards cross-genre networking to advocate common needs. We can observe here the blocks caused by what I might call, 'vertical segmentation' (others might term it over-compartmentalism or a 'silo mentality').

I would like to add one comment on Japan’s 'vertical segmentation'. Of late, the phrase 'contemporary dance' has become widely used. However, the concept of contemporary dance differs between Japan and the UK. In the UK, contemporary dance refers literally to 'the current dance of today', and includes modern dance techniques such as Graham and Cunningham, as well as post modern dance which followed modern dance; danse contemporaine or what we call 'nouvelle danse'; and even Butoh which originated in Japan.

By contrast, in Japan 'contemporary dance' is regarded as a distinct new genre; that is to say, it does not include ballet, modern dance, Butoh, or Japanese traditional dance. There are contemporary dance choreographers and dancers who have backgrounds in ballet, modern dance, and Butoh, but many have a visual arts or theatre background instead, or no prior dance training at all. This is explained by the fact that contemporary dance is free from existing dance techniques, patterns, and methods of creation, and is characterised by an attitude more so than by the formal qualities or attributes. Contemporary dance prospered from the 1990s with unprecedented increases in the numbers of choreographers, dancers and audiences. This dance 'boom' has now subsided and although the numbers of choreographers and dancers has increased, it has been noted that audiences have not.

Advantages of a Lack of Bureaucratic Support

Should we conclude that the lack of national dance training centres and of state financial support is entirely a negative factor? Evidently, for traditional dance genres such as ballet and traditional Japanese dance, proper training and the correct acquisition of skills is paramount. To create an optimal environment for the arts to evolve, a degree of financial security is necessary, in all forms of dance, for the dancers, dance companies, theatres, staff and agencies. If income becomes more regular, and if there is payment for performing and choreographing, dance artists may find a way out of amateurism and develop a higher professional status.

However, given that the traditional performing arts of Kabuki, Kagura, Bon Odori and so on, have developed in the private sector, is it possible for contemporary arts to be advanced without the financial support of the government? (Thereby removing the various restraints and limitations that are placed on the arts by government.) In that case, one solution might be to draw on the community networks of people interested in the arts that come from the okeiko culture. On the one hand, folkloric performing arts such as Kagura and Bon Odori can be seen as regionally-specific community dance traditions that were disrupted by modernisation and mass migration to urban areas after the Meiji Era. Yet recently, these folkloric performing arts are being revived. And so, on the other hand, in urban areas, there are groups of adults and young people with common regional origins who are reworking folk dances, for example the Awaodori and Yosakoi, adding contemporary music and dance steps. It may be possible then to make connections between these social dance practices and the enjoyment, support, and creation of dance as an art.

It is worth observing that students at dance institutions tend to have a 'standardised' technique, physicality, and approach to choreography. It is difficult for bodies that have been strongly disciplined to break away and develop an individual style. We might note that none of the Japanese dance artists participating in this seminar were educated in formal dance training institutions. Their diverse and individual dance styles, choreographic processes, and work are not dependent on training but were born out of accumulated individual experiences and effort. Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of Butoh, which developed after World War II, first studied Neuetanz-based modern dance, ballet and jazz, but soon abandoned them and established a new form of dance. His is a story of acquiring fundamental techniques and compositional methods, which are then abandoned so as to create a new dance form.

In Japan, dance is still viewed as a minor art. Cultural policies to support the arts, including dance, are under-developed compared to those in the UK. However, Japan has its own traditional arts with their supporting culture and communities. (And dance prodigies Tatsumi Hijikata and Saburo Teshigawara emerged in succession through a revolt against these traditions.) While there are plentiful skilled dancers in Japan, many leave the country to seek work and opportunities elsewhere. Our bodies and minds are tangled by the many strings of an accumulated traditional culture, a society changed by western modernisation and globalisation, and a society dependent on internet technologies.

In the coming discussions, we will be considering many of the issues that I have touched on here. How, for example, do we build a diverse and dynamic arts culture that communicates openly with society? How do we nurture the contemporary dance and art that lives today so that it does not confine itself to restricted genre borders? These are some of the issues and themes that I hope to explore during this seminar. Thank you for your attention.

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