Essay

Director’s Note [2013]

Do as you like

This year Kyoto Experiment marks its 4th festival. The Festival’s success is entirely due to the support of our audience. This success is especially remarkable considering that many of the artists and works we introduce are often completely unknown in Japan. This is indeed one of the aims of Kyoto Experiment. The way we see it our audience comes to see the performances not because “they already know” but because “they don’t know”. That is very inspiring in terms of where today’s Japanese society stands as well as in terms of the world of performing arts.

It feels like up until a decade ago there was a period of time when Japanese people wanted to believe that we had everything we needed right here rather than always pining for things from abroad. This way of thinking helped to motivate us too. As a result, everyone was going after famous brands and artists, both in the commercial world as well as in the art industry. That was working fine as long as the system could afford to support something unknown; when edgy ideas whose values were not yet determined still had a chance. But once that framework stopped functioning, the society, and we who make up the society, started to shift responsibility to others as if the flip side of a lack of confidence. In an effort to stem criticism people have decided that it is someone else’s fault if they don’t understand something. Furthermore, people stopped thinking about to the future; assuming that an accident or disaster which could completely change our lives will never happen to us (just because it hasn’t happened yet). We can no longer imagine that some people we don’t know have their own lives out there. We stopped doubting our own imaginations. It is a mere hope and not a proper recognition of the world. I was originally thinking of writing about how “forgetful” we are in relation to the festival’s program. But I have a slightly different idea now. I’ve come to think not that we are forgetful but we “pretend not to see” the reality we don’t want to face based on wishful thinking. And it is pretty irresponsible thinking to do. That kind of self-indulgent thinking helped to create today’s intolerant society. I’m not brave enough to declare a war on intolerance but I do want to fight back, otherwise art does not stand much of a chance in this society. This is especially true of a festival like ours, with its mission of being experimental. It is our strategy to link arms with the audience who are curious to see these unknown and adventurous artists, in order to pursue the counter act. The festival gives us a platform for this action. I strongly hope that our action triggers people’s awareness. Awareness in which people see something captivating is coming into being at somewhere “not here” and note how inattentive they might have been. I am very aware that it is necessary for the festival to be thrilling and flexible in order to be able to link with diverse people.

In addition to introducing finished works, Kyoto Experiment has developed various relationships with artists over the last 3 years. In order to sustain long term rather than one-time relationships with them, we have come up with programs in which artists can get something more out of their experience in Kyoto, interacting with the city and its people. As a result, 7 works out of 10 at this year’s festival are co-produced by us and the artists. For instance, Marcelo Evelin’s new work is the outcome of our exchange between Brazil and Japan. The work of Ryoji Ikeda and Tadasu Takamine is part of a new long-term project. We also collaborated on Billy Cowie’s production. We are delighted to see these projects reach fruition and be able to be performed at the festival. What this implies is that the festival has finally started to embody its mission to serve not only as a stage to perform but also as a place for creation. We are proud to be able to provide our audience with the exciting opportunity to see pieces that will be premiere not only in Japan but the world.

Kyoto Experiment has strived to introduce cross genre works in order to bring the allure of performing arts to a broader audience not just existing dance and theater fans. I’m not sure if that was the reason why, but our audience has steadily grown every year and I am overcome with gratitude. Now that I am confident that we have a mutual trust relationship with our curious audience, we wanted to be a little bit more challenging and feature works that revalidate the origin of “theater” as a medium for this year. chelfitsch broke new ground by its peculiar choreography and extremely colloquial language. She She Pop illustrates the division and re-unification of East-West Germany through the dialogue between East-born and West-born performers. Lola Arias portrays the modern history of Argentina through the diary of her own mother. Kinoshita-Kabuki rediscovers Kabuki Theater by exquisitely adding a fresh dimension. The language of artists, whether German, Spanish or Japanese, contains words possibly uncommon to the audience. Listening to their words can make for a theater experience somewhat difficult to ingest, but the hope is that the digestive process triggers in the audience thoughts on the role of language. And that thought can be a cue to reevaluate “theater” as a medium, while echoing to the theme of each work, “history” “memory” and “oblivion”.

Kyoto Experiment is ambitious for new encounters as well. There is great anticipation for the Kyoto debut of Niwagekidan Penino, a company that creates a very original world with breathtakingly artistic use of space. Baobab makes its debut in the official program after 3 years of participating in the Fringe program. I should mention that our related programs are as diverse as the official program. The Fringe program, which aims to introduce young Japanese artists, is being re-launched as a two pronged program: “The Useful Program” by Yoshiro Hatori, theater director and “Open Entry Performance” in which anyone can apply. There is also an exhibition by Soshi Matsunobe who made the visual theme work for this year’s festival. We co-host a symposium with Open Network for Performing Arts Management in order to examine and share the issues related to today’s performing arts. For this year’s residency program, we welcome David Wampach, a French choreographer and support his production process. As a pre-event, we have conducted art projects for children and an art coordinator training program since the spring, both aiming to foster human resources for next generation. Kyoto Experiment approaches performing arts from every possible angle to seek a place where performing arts can paint a vision of the future.

“Do as you like” was the favorite phrase of Sumiko Endo, the legendary Kyoto performing arts producer. It’s been 10 years now since she passed away. Many artists and producers who have been motivated by her words helped to build today’s performing arts scene. Are we able to encourage younger talents like she did? It is our hope for Kyoto Experiment to be a source of such inspiration.

Yusuke Hashimoto
Program Director, Kyoto Experiment and the festival Team