Battery Dance Company and Dancing to Connect worked and performed here in July 2010.
The eight-member troupe performed and taught in Sendai and throughout the Kansai Region on an 18-day tour co-sponsored by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, U.S. Embassy Tokyo, Yuko Takahashi Dance Company and Peace Forest.
Yuko-san used her relationship with a monk from the Rinno-ji Temple to secure a beautiful wood-floored hall for BDC’s use for the workshops as well as rehearsals. BDC was distressed to see that YTDC normally rehearses in a studio tucked away on salvage land under a raised highway.
One of the strongest elements of Dancing to Connect Japan & U.S. was undoubtedly the element of cross-cultural collaboration. This bilateral internationalism was set in sharp relief throughout the tour but especially during BDC’s 8 days in Sendai in which BDC partnered with the Northeast region’s leading modern dance company, Yuko Takahashi Dance Company.
Yuko Takahashi is a choreographer and veteran teacher who has trained a generation of modern dancers in Sendai, capital of Miyagi Prefecture. Respected by the dance critics and taste-makers of Tokyo, several of whom attended the final performance at Tokyo Electron Hall, Takahashi fills large theaters several times a year for home seasons in Sendai.
The link between Takahashi and Battery Dance Company was forged by Mayuna Shimizu, a talented dancer and choreographer who moved from Japan to New York a decade ago to study with the Joffrey Ballet. Shimizu is also from the Northeastern region of Japan and met Takahashi through mutual colleagues. She became a member of Battery Dance Company in 2007 and has performed and taught in NYC, Asia, Middle East and Europe with BDC. Mayuna proposed Takahashi’s help in hosting BDC in Sendai, and promoted the idea of including the Yuko Takahashi Dance Company in BDC’s Downtown Dance Festival in NYC. Support from the Japan-US Friendship Commission and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo was forthcoming and permitted BDC to plan an 18-day program in Japan. Similarly, a travel grant from the Japan Foundation permitted Yuko Takahashi Dance Company to perform twice in BDC’s Downtown Dance Festival a few days after the Company’s return to the U.S.
The following day, an orientation and sight-seeing tour was arranged, giving the dancers from both companies a chance to bond, transcending the language barrier.
Over the next week, BDC teaching artists taught a series of 6 master classes that were attended by members of YTDC, students from Yuko-san’s school and other dancers from the community.
The grand finale of BDC’s Sendai stay was a performance at the magnificent 1,500-seat Tokyo Electron Hall. Having had no role to play in promoting the performance and hearing nothing in advance from Yuko’s staff about ticket sales, we were anxious that such a big hall would feel empty if just a few hundred people showed up. Not only that, but we learned that there had been a huge national modern dance convention in Japan just days before the show and this increased our concern that the audience for our show would be scant. Our worries were put to rest as we returned to the theater, after coffee and snacks, and saw a long line snaking out onto the sidewalk from the box office! Much to our delight, the theater was nearly full when the performance began.
Complementing works by YTDC, BDC presented its newest production, “Voice Hearers”, whose scenery is coincidentally reminiscent of Japanese shoji screens. Audience response was powerful and vociferous, approaching the approbation accorded the Shamizen maestro who accompanied one of Yuko-san’s works. This was one of the fascinating realizations BDC experienced in Japan – that dance fails to rouse audiences to the pitch that even a solo musician can count on.
On Friday, August 6, we had the honor of presenting a site-specific performance at the Hyogo Prefectural Art Museum, organized by Peace Forest NPO. The Museum itself, designed by Pritzker Award-winning architect Tadao Endo, was the venue, with its grand staircase, ramps and terraces facing the Kobe Riverfront serving as the very unusual stage. Our dancers had taught workshops on the 5th and 6th, with 50 Japanese dancers taking part. 32 of the dancers opted to participate in our performance piece entitled “Peace Phoenix”, subtitled ‘The Day After’. This title was inspired by the fact that our performance took place on Hiroshima Day. By coincidence, the Obama Administration sent US Ambassador Roos to Hiroshima yesterday — the first time that a US diplomat had attended the memorial service there.
Our event was enlivened by the music created and performed for us by Japanese jazz/rock percussionist Tetsuya Kajiwara and Taiko drummer and shamisen player Nobuhito Tomo-oka. They were amazingly resourceful and flexible given the complexity of our scenario and the brief time allowed to prepare (and the brutal heat during our afternoon outdoor rehearsals!) We were amazed to find out that our performance was the first such event ever produced by the Museum. We were very grateful to Michiko Abe, Professor Akira Fukuchi and the dedicated team of volunteers from Peace Forest who had the imagination to conceive of this event and the stamina to counteract all of the bureaucratic barriers and reversals that occurred in the planning phase.
Following the two-day residency at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in Kobe, BDC teaching artists fanned out to 4 different locations to lead Dancing to Connect workshops with groups of 20 – 30 students each. Mayuna traveled to Shikokuchūō in Ehime Prefecture where she worked with dance students from a local ballet school. Bafana went to Nara, to work with the dance students at Tenri University. Robin and Sean commuted to Takarazuka to work with a large group of students at Takarazuka High School, and Carmen worked with dance students of Masaka Toka, a well-respected dance teacher in Ashiya City. The workshops went on for 4 days with intensive schedules of 9 – 12 noon and 1 – 4 p.m. each day. Jonathan Hollander, artistic director, visited each workshop, traveling from one venue to the next, encouraging the students and supporting the teaching artists. The dance pieces that resulted were unique – each in its own way -- and as emotionally and thematically powerful as they were poetic and riveting to watch.
Comparing the Japanese experience of DtC with others that BDC has led (in NYC, Germany, Taiwan and elsewhere), the general feeling was that the Japanese participants who had self-selected, came to the experience with far more dance training than usual. They were rich with imaginative ideas and worked very well in groups, with certain individuals standing out for their special abilities or quality. While in Shikokuo, Jonathan Hollander had met with the Mayor, an ambitious young politician with big aspirations for the building of a new performing arts center that he hopes will be a major attraction for the region. The Mayor told Hollander, “it is my impression that Japanese youth are short on creativity.” Hollander replied that perhaps it is the lack of opportunity to exercise and display their creativity, rather than an innate short-coming – based on the evidence of the DtC workshops.
Similar to the experience in Sendai, BDC was very anxious about the technical elements of such an elaborate joint performance including two Japanese dance companies, four student DtC groups and BDC itself on one evening. Close cooperation between BDC’s technical director David Bengali and local dance producer Masako Toka (who had been the dean of dance at Mukogawa Women’s University in 2006 when BDC last visited), ensured great results. Perhaps the novelty of having an American dance company performing coupled with the strong participation by local dancers accounted for the nearly full-house! Acting Consul General Gregory Kay gave a warm welcome (in Japanese) to the audience on behalf of the US Consulate General Osaka, and Jonathan Hollander delivered a short speech praising the Japanese dancers and thanking all of the participants and sponsors for their support. Otherwise, the evening was entirely given over to the dancers and the audience responded with tremendous appreciation.