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A Young Director Supporting Young Arts
A Young Director Supporting Young Arts
Interviewer : Jooyoung KOH _ Korea Arts Management Service 2012.02.07 Asia > Japan

A Young Director Supporting Young Arts
[Who&Work] Ogura Yukako _ Director of AI Hall in Japan


The city of Itami in Hyogo prefecture where AI Hall is located is a medium-sized satellite city of the number 2 city in Japan, Osaka, and also Kobe which is the capital of Hyogo prefecture. Although this is a featureless city that is an hour drive from cities like Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, the cultural center of this city has been getting much attention from performing arts community for a very long time.

The AI Hall has various meanings of pursuit such as 'Art Idealize' and 'Art Identify' with Chinese character as '藹' within the name which refers to beauty and fruitful efforts. Although it opened in 1988, it received attention for running unique programs starting in 2000 that are hard to find in regional cultural centers, and in 2005, it even received the first Regional Creation Award given by Regional Creation which is an organization that supports regional cultural arts.

I talked with Ogura Yukako traveling on trains and in theaters, who has been in charge of the AI Hall programming for five years since she was chosen as the director of dance genre at a young age of 33.

Ogura Yukako

The First Public Theater to Introduce the Producer System

Q: Recently, I've been hearing the name AI Hall very often. In particular, I heard it creates young and experimental works. Does it have to do with the environment of the city?

A: I do not think so. The city of Itami is rather featureless compare to big cities in Kansai such as Kyoto with strong traditional culture, very developed Kobe that had opened to Western civilization early, and the large city Osaka with developed entertainment industry. This performance hall was built following the boom of cultural centers being built in such cities, and I've heard that people began to agree that this cultural center needs more distinct planning and operation because the city lacks special features. And for this, it created the first 'producer' position in the regional cultural centers in Japan. The person who created this is the current general director Tsumura of Kitakushu Performing Arts Centre. I think that was when the AI Hall programs began to see some light.

Q: Can you tell me about the theater?

A: Unlike general cultural centers that consist of a large theater and a small theater for operas or ballets, the AI Hall only has a small black box theater. Although it depends on the way the seats are positioned because it is a flexible seating system, it is a very small theater that cannot accommodate more than 200 people. When I think about it now, it is so perfectly sized and equipped with good facilities that it gets me thinking, maybe the theater's building plan was made by a person with a special purpose and designed by someone with good knowledge of performance halls.

General director oversees the whole operation where the planning and programs are operated by me and one other director. I am in charge of contemporary dance and the other director is in charge of contemporary theatre. We both create programs based on contemporary arts, but in the case of theatre, it gives a lot of opportunities to regional theatre companies in Kansai. Because it is a regional cultural center, there are obviously many community activities and performances for the whole family.

                       AI Hall

The Need for 'Context' in International Exchanges As Well

Q: When did your ties with the AI Hall begin?

A: I was born and raised in Kyoto. After graduation, I began working part-time at the AI Hall since the year 2000. Then, I was hired as part of the staff and worked as an assistant to the dance producer. Because I got the proposal to be the director of dance genre after I had quit from AI Hall and was working as a freelancer, it has been 13 years since my ties began with the AI Hall.

Q: What came to your mind when you received the proposal to be a director at the age of 33? It is not easy to be appointed as a director in public theaters at such young age in Japan as well as in Korea and in Asia for that matter.

A: At first, I thought I wouldn't be able to do the job. But, I knew about the job because I had been working as a producer assistant, knew about the AI Hall and the workings of the AI Hall well next to the producer, how the producer had been working, and what the Itami city was like. I really like the programs of my former producer and also respected him as a senior of mine. I didn't think that I needed to completely change the direction of planning because he had left and I became the new director. In addition, as the scale of TPAM grew and became diverse, the network with young producers and staff had also become larger. With the thought that it will be good to further develop in the same direction of the former producer by getting such help, I began to think that it will be better for me take the job as a director than someone else as I knew about the region and the theatre.

Q: Could you tell me about the direction of the theatre's program?

A: 'Take a Chance', which discovers and nurtures young artists can said to be the program that best represents the AI Hall. 'Take a Chance' means all or nothing. With the notion of all or nothing, this program supports the young artists to do the works they please, and also show the audience these works without a set value so they see the performance with the same notion. With this program, an artist (group) creates one work every year for three years at the AI Hall. The number of teams changes depending on the budget, but usually we pick 2 to 3 artists per year. We also take the works that have been produced for three years through the 'Take a Chance' program at the AI Hall and perform them at Kyoto International Performing Arts Festival within Kansai region, performance halls at other regions, and festivals. Currently, through this program, the Contact Gonzo is preparing a theater performance for the first time.

Another thing, though it's about theatre genre, the AI Hall has been operating a playwright school since its opening. A playwright named Kitamura So has been in charge of the school for the past 20 years, and has produced many talented playwrights. Comparable to the Kishida Kunio Drama Award of Tokyo, the school has produced several playwrights that have received the OMS Play Award for the regional playwrights in Osaka or Kansai, including the year 2011. Based on this playwright school, we are conducting Japan-UK Contemporary Play Project since 3 or 4 years ago, and this is a program that the Traverse Theatre in Scotland and AI Hall exchanges and translates plays of each country and has reading performances.

Based on small theatres, dance lab and play lab are also being held, and provides opportunities to create works through over 30 workshops. Classes for people who are learning play or dance for the first time are also being prepared. This is a theatre that considers nurturing young artists its mission and concept.

Q: How is the international exchange of the theatre?

A: There isn't much since the opening, but several works are being invited every year. When choosing performances from overseas, it requires 'context' beyond simply being fun. I believe there needs to be a convincing reason why that work is being introduced at the AI Hall. To do this, we need to continuously take interest and research. In addition, the AI Hall also aims to give good inspiration to the young Japanese artists other than just showing good performances to the locals when inviting performances from overseas. Because the number of audiences at the most is only about 200, I think there needs to be a clear concept other than just worrying about the number of audiences. The performance doesn't have to be young, but I want to create international exchange that can be inspirational for artists and that can create connections. It is difficult to invite overseas performances by our theatre alone due to the budget, so we invite performances by collaborating with other theatres, but something that will be appropriate for our size. In 2010, we have invited Jan Fabre with Aichi Triennale, The Museum of Art Kochi, and 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Kanazawa. And in February of this year, Josef Nadj will tour Japan with joint invitation from the AI Hall and Setagaya Public Theatre, Cultural Centre of Fujimi City, KIRARI☆FUJIMI, Aichi Prefectural Arts Theater, and 21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art Kanazawa. We have also had two international collaborative works with Southeast Asia so far.

Q: I don't think there were any works with Korea.

A: Though I've heard that Korean contemporary dance is interesting, I was only able to see it in person not long ago through the Modern Table at Festival/Tokyo. I've also heard that Korean dancers are very skilled so as to always pass auditions held by famous European choreographers. I am definitely planning to visit PAMS and SIDance this October. I am hoping there can be exchanges with young Koreans and be stimulated by them, but actually it isn't easy to access the information. I wish to get more information and see the works to find the 'context' for a performance at the AI Hall.

Q: I heard the director position at the AI Hall is part-time. Are you pursuing other personal activities other than at AI Hall?

A: It is possible to do other activities in terms of the regulation, but being the director of the performance hall, it isn't easy to jump into any works.

In the case of Kyoto Experiment, the founder and director Hashimoto Yusuke was a colleague that I worked together sharing the same office when I was young. With such relationship, I am participating as one of the executive committee of to Experiment with the hopes to broaden the base of young art within the Kansai region.

I am participating as a director of TPAM in Yokohama (TPAMiY appoints 3 to 4 directors, and creates showcases by directing the works that the directors are trying to introduce). Though this work is labeled as personal work, I usually introduce works centering around the artists that I worked with at the AI Hall. Basically, the base is from the AI Hall. In last year's direction, I have introduced Yamashita Zan, Contact Gonzo, who does non-dance-like dance with theatrical structure and mixed-blood Butoh dancer Momotaro. But this year, I am going to introduce works of veteran choreographers who have continuously worked on contemporary dances. I feel that the contemporary dance in Japan had its temporary boom and currently have slowed down. There are so much more interesting works and artists in plays than dance that sometimes even I feel like I can be swept off to the other side. But come to think of it, there are no guarantees that such outstanding artists will appear every year. That's why this year, even though they can be a little plain, I was hoping to have choreographers who have been tirelessly and steadily working on their own work get the appreciation they deserve.

Other than those, I am managing a tour of co-produced work of AI Hall and other performance halls. As a director of AI Hall, I also work as a judge at the Toyota Choreography Award. The recent Toyota Choreography Award is moving away from the critics being the main judges, and it is now participated by producers and experts from arts, plays, and music, which is creating a lot of responsibility for the judges and carries a strong tendency to judge the contestants in the perspective of the general audience.

Melody Cup _ dir. Takamine Tadasu
Co-production of Japna and South-East Asia
photo by Hiroto Takezaki

Me _ dir. kikikikikiki

Take A Chance program 

The Base of Japanese Art is Moving to the Regions

Q: What are the differences in the artistic environment of the Kanto area including Tokyo and the Kansai region?

A: It is very different in many ways such as conditions of artistic activities, rehearsal rooms, and just making a living. Kansai seems to be much better to work in. There is a huge difference in just the rent price itself, and spaces like Kyoto Arts Center are available for free. It is seemingly a utopia for young artists, but there are words that one shouldn't settle down there. I think it would be great if the environment can be livened up and lead to direct connections to overseas activities. There are no large public producing theatres in Kansai region. There are places like the Hyogo Performing Arts Center, but it does not create new works. Even though Osaka is the biggest city in Kansai, there are no well known theatres and the support itself is also inconsistent. On top of that, the new governor is announcing that he plans to cut down the budget for cultural funding. However, small but interesting art spaces are interspersed in cities like Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Itami. Small spaces like the Kyoto Art Village Center, Kyoto Art Center, Osaka's Wingfield, and performance spaces that utilize temples are what sustain the strength of the performances in Kansai. In this context, AI Hall is a special space. There is tendency for people to think of public theatres to show only the performances that are well made and is equally recognized by everyone. That’s because that is needed as an explanation to the city and government institutions. However, for the AI Hall in Itami, the city itself is aware that the theatre should perform works that are shown nowhere else.

Q: I have been hearing about the artists' move since the 3.11. Is Kansai region being affected by this as well?

A: In fact, I do occasionally hear news of artists moving. But most go as far as Kyushu rather than Kansai. Kansai is a bit awkward for moving. But, I do get the feeling that the base for arts activities are moving from Tokyo and Kanto to other areas. There are also expectations that budget for cultural funding from the central government is going to flow to other regions. If the talks of theatre policies or the introduction of artistic director system that was talked within the arts sector last and the year before last had been realized, the flow would have been clearer, but for now where such discussions have disappeared, we can only guess. I guess there's half-and-half expectation and people who submit to the idea that not much will change.

Good Works are the Ones that Doubt

Q: Even at a young age, you have been working at various positions and in various areas. Is there a special preference or taste that tie these aspects?

A: Because I am a director, there are many parts that I need to accept and lay down my personal preferences. But last year as I was in charge of directing at TPAM, I once again realized what kind of works I prefer by the works I had chosen. Especially, in 2010, I selected works that breaks the concept of 'choreography' in dance. The three works, though with different outcomes, were all common in terms of being created by artists that doubt and not just plainly accept the existing works, and tried to find their own methodology even though it's not something always new. Like the choreographer that started as an artist in visual arts, the works that I enjoyed personally were basically the ones that had the spirit of 'challenge.' And if I think of the AI Hall as the base, the one theatre that we have changes according to the 'use' of the theatre. I think I like the people who think such space to be interesting.

There is no special festival that I stay mindful of and visit every year. If I had to name one, I seldom check the lineup of works at the Kunsten Festival des Arts for no real special reason. I tend to get most of my overseas information from TPAM.

Q: You have become a director at a young age. Do you have any personal future careers or hopes in mind?

A: I don't really feel obligated to work in Kansai region, but I do feel that I might be needed here because I have been working here all along and know the situation here.

Upon completion of directing, I want to be general director in charge of a theatre. It doesn't have to be the AI Hall. Visualizing each program of the theatre is a fun work that connects to the actual place, but I came to realize after few years that it doesn't solve everything. With endless planning and production, it is difficult to create a work with fine detail and consideration. That's why I do think about being in charge of the overall direction of a theatre along with the working environment of the people here. Planning alone cannot connect the elements of a theatre. I am not sure if this is what you would call a career-up, but I want to work in the environment related to planning and creating.


Links

| AI Hall Go
| Kyoto Experiment Go
| TPAM in Yokohama Go
This Interview is supported by Visiting Fellow program 2011 of the Saison Foundation, Japan. 
 

Jooyoung KOH _ Korea Arts Management Service

Jooyoung KOH _ Manager, International Development Dept. / Knowledge & Information

Korea Arts Management Service

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