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A Festival that is not a Festival
[Festivals] A Festival that is not a Festival
Writer : June Tan_Producer,Five Arts Centre Malaysia 2016.03.15 Asia > Japan

A Festival that is not a Festival
[Festivals/Markets] Performing Arts Meeting (TPAM) in Yokohama 2016

The Performing Arts Meeting (TPAM) in Yokohama 2016 often feels like a festival. There are curated performances (TPAM Direction); a range of shows that stretch the audience’s conceptions of time, money and personal context (TPAM Showcase); artists, producers and programmers breathlessly bumping into each other. It feels like and has all the trappings of a festival. TPAM, however, does not quite allow itself to be a festival. It hovers instead, a nebulous and eager swell of meetings, twin-anchored by interests in difference and in chance.

These meetings take place between artists, between producers, between the audience and the shows, between 717 participants in 18 networking programs. Eventually, these meetings become connections. This may be testimony to the flavor of the underlying platform, which emphasizes and forefronts difference and chance. How is this done?

The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2016 ©Hideto Maezawa

The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2016 ©Hideto Maezawa

Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2016
©Hideto Maezawa
Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2016
©Hideto Maezawa

The championing of chance is attested to in the TPAM Showcase, which has come together with a seeming absence of programming politics. I was told that TPAM Showcase is open to anybody who wishes to register, and that the shows were “programmed” based on schedules. This transfers the programming responsibility to the “accident” of timing. Any one of the 46 works performed by 36 companies in Yokohama and Tokyo around that time is something you, the audience, might be able to catch.

Before chance, there need to be potentialities suggested by understanding and information. In TPAM 2016 we have had an array of information to imbibe, from the Asian Artists Interview; from the Artist Presentations by Tara Transitory, Siren Eun Young Jung, Eko Supriyanto, Evan Webber and Ame Henderson; from SoftMachine: Expedition, an exhibition by Choy Ka Fai consisting of visual documentaries on contemporary dance in Asia; and from 14 meetings/ discussions in the Meeting Program that included special talks, artist presentations, discussion series and a symposium on dance as archiving.

The promotion of difference (and all festivals aim to generate different perspectives) is seen in the invitation of five different practitioners to select shows under TPAM Direction. It feels like a little army of curators, each clearly asking different questions. I get the impression that the role of festival director has been outsourced to five different offshore offices, to five differing perspectives.

And perhaps, this meta-direction is indicative of Festival Director Hiromi Maruoka’s objective for the TPAM 2016 programme, which has as advisors Oriza Hirata and Toshiki Okada, with the support of the Japan Foundation Asia Center, Yokohama Arts Foundation and Kanagawa Arts Foundation: to “facilitate liberation from narrow views of artistic values.”1) This looking-out strategy also turns us to the possibility of an inner liberation and education: “I know it’s difficult to make a balance between what can be boring or cute––for us and foreigners¬¬––but we try to introduce various genres in the same context so that the audience can create different ways of seeing; it is very important to leave room for chance, mistakes are part of it, because if you do not leave that space I think TPAM will not be healthy…”2)

1) Message from the Organizers, TPAM booklet.
2) Mariana Arteaga. In-Ha. 27 Jan 2016. Google translated from <http://in-ha.com/portfolio/hiromi-maruoka/

Perhaps Maruoka and her team under TPAM Direction are not just programming difference but also using difference to program chance. As if throwing spices into the performing broth with Tang Fu Kuen (Bangkok-based independent dramaturg), Jooyoung Koh (Korean producer), Yumina Kato (director of a performing arts space), Nanako Nakajima (dance dramaturg and researcher) and Aki Onda (sound artist and curator). And then from here, allowing the different possibilities to simmer, as noted by Maruoka: “I thought that TPAM’s role as a platform should be a place where the world’s presenters can meet and talk frankly, and a place they can go to before going to the theater and encounter a variety of new things, even if it turns out be a mix that includes both good and mediocre works. I also thought that I wanted it to be a platform where people could come and, as professionals, find things with potential to develop.”3)

3) The Japan Foundation. Presenter interview. 10 Feb 2014. Retrieved from <http://performingarts.jp/E/pre_interview/1401/1.html

The justification for consumption is perhaps not as important as the desire for reflection, as Maruoka goes on to note. “Presently, I have personally been choosing the directors and asking them to be conscious of the fact that their choices will be seen by people who don’t understand Japanese or the Japanese cultural contexts and to be conscious of our desire to do things that can only be done at TPAM.” 4)

4) Ibid.

One of the presenters in TPAM Direction, Jooyoung Koh, is an exciting young independent Korean producer who has currently placed herself in the uncommon position of collaborating with Korean and Japanese artists. While Koh’s transnational position is not readily seen in her selection of two Korean pieces, her position on unbridled capitalism and the tragic severity of tradition is clear. As she states, “The artists in this program create works dealing with the ‘cracks’ in the increasingly ingenious system of domination, what with the mounting importance of capital and the regression of history in contemporary society.” 5)

5) Jooyoung Koh, TPAM Direction booklet

And such cracks were overt in Koh’s selection, Light of a Factory 2016 – A Protest in Theatre, performed at Kanagawa Arts Theatre (KAAT) Large Studio on February 13 and 14 as a program organized by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, PARC and TPAM. This performance was directed by Minjung Kim and based on Factory Lights, the 1978 production by prolific Korean folk musician and director Mingi Kim that created the then-new musical theatre form noraegeuk,. 

Light of a Factory 2016 is a 2014 revival by Movement Dang-Dang of the noraegeuk musical form and a re-examination of the motif of struggle by factory workers. In the beginning, the performers were dressed in old-fashioned costumes, evoking an earnestness that reminded us of less cynical times, when things were seen as black and white. The audience was soon wondering if this literalness was for effect, to demonstrate that not much has changed. Yet perhaps we in 2016 are too cynical to not suspect otherwise.

 <Light of a Factory 2016>by Movement Dang-Dang ©Hideto Maezawa

<Light of a Factory 2016>by Movement Dang-Dang ©Hideto Maezawa

<Light of a Factory 2016>by Movement Dang-Dang
©Hideto Maezawa
<Light of a Factory 2016>by Movement Dang-Dang
©Hideto Maezawa

There was slight confusion when the all-female cast reappeared, clutching their bare breasts, signaling perhaps a nod to the feminist movement. However, this had us swaying away from a deeper engagement with labor exploitation, the initial premise of the piece. I was told the 2014 performance had been performed in a different type of space and that the venue in Yokohama had contributed to a new direction for this piece. 

Raised fists, bare breasts, blood, sweat and tears––Koh’s selection provided an aggressive display of the critical questions. A conscious move on Koh’s part, a focal shift away from existentialist and abstract theater forms into more confrontational and direct approaches.6)

6) J. Koh, personal communication, 26 February 2016.

As for The way of storytelling, the way of singing-demo version, Koh’s other selection, here the aggression was palpable. Directed by Hansol Yoon, this show was performed at KAAT Middle Studio from February 10 to 14. Ten performers sat on their haunches for the 60-minute performance and proceeded to reconstruct the experience of learning the pansori, a traditional Korean musical folk art. The tight discipline of “the way” of learning consisted of vocalising a story repeatedly. With each repetition, an additional aspect was added (use of dialect and tone, change of speed). This was carried out against the backdrop of the song, a war tale––“The Song of the Red Wall.” However, the muted aggression of the structured rigidity was not as potent as the bold words written in yellow behind the performers: “If a mobile phone rings or vibrates during the show, the show will end immediately.” A warning that proved hardly frivolous. One show came to a halt within the first ten minutes because a phone had gone off. The undisciplined will be disciplined, even, or especially, if part of the audience. This is perhaps the most critical opinion of tradition, of regimes and of unmoving, rigid “ways.”

<The way of storytelling, the way of singing-demo version> by Hansol Yoon × green pig © Kazuomi Furuya

 <The way of storytelling, the way of singing-demo version> by Hansol Yoon × green pig © Kazuomi Furuya

<The way of storytelling, the way of singing-demo version> by Hansol Yoon × green pig © Kazuomi Furuya <The way of storytelling, the way of singing-demo version> by Hansol Yoon × green pig © Kazuomi Furuya

Koh’s direction provided much food for thought. She maintains her selections were based on what she instinctively liked, and on working with directors that she has worked with before.7) Hence suggesting a more personal approach, as opposed to working from a reasoned, curated theme. I think perhaps this is why I found her direction and vision uncluttered. From these initial instincts, perhaps, Koh had drawn the lines of “history,
“tradition” and “capitalism” and encapsulated them as “cracks.” These cracks could and would serve for a range of deeper breakaway discussions. With these cracks, I found in Koh’s direction––and this is important for any direction––a distinctive signature.

7) J. Koh, personal communication 26 February 2016.

The effort to look for clarifying distinctions also appeared to be a topic of TPAM’s Meeting Program. One of the discussions I attended was the co-production discussion series. Baling, directed by Malaysian Mark Teh, is one of the co-production projects undertaken by TPAM for 2016. This is perhaps a significant development for TPAM, bearing in mind how its operational company PARC was established in 1990 as a way of contributing to international exchange in the performing arts.8)
The 2015 version of Baling was sparked by a commission for the Opening Festival of the ACC(AsianCultureCenter)Theatre in Gwangju by Festival Director Seonghee Kim, who was keen to spur the promotion of contemporary Asian artists: “Asians have never looked to each other. I want to know, what is your philosophy? What is your voice? I think there must be a lot of artists [with unique Asian perspectives], but they are difficult to find.”9) As Kim mentioned during the TPAM Meeting Program, two aspects were particularly urgent when looking at Asian contemporary work–– the lack of production infrastructure and the lack of circulation (touring).

8) http://performingarts.jp/E/pre_interview/1401/1.html
9) http://www.gwangjunewsgic.com/online/art-begins-with-asia/

Baling was eventually produced by Five Arts Centre, a collective of performing artists that Mark and I myself belong to. Additional co-producers came on board, including TPAM and Kyoto Experiment. Once it was showcased, Baling began to attract other festival programmers, who perhaps were being confronted by the same urgencies and questions posed by the piece, and is scheduled for touring in 2016. 

The other TPAM co-production, Dancing with Death, is from highly acclaimed Thai contemporary dancer/ choreographer Pichet Klunchun, whose work fuses Thai traditional dance (Khon) with the contemporary. Dancing with Death was initially commissioned by a venue in Singapore, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. The project eventually attracted another venue, Art Centre Melbourne, as a co-producer. Venues themselves have expanded their perspectives and are moving into producing, as noted by Faith Tan (The Esplanade Co. Ltd). This view was echoed by Stephen Armstrong (Arts Centre Melbourne), who noted the extended role of venue programmers, who see themselves also as cultural workers, investing in and engaged in a deeper promotion of artists.  

Distinctions in both co-production models could stem possibly from the makeup of the producers. Funding need not exist as just cold hard cash, but expectations of its utilization shape the lifecycle of a project. For Baling, the co-producers were all festival organizers, along with TPAM, and the piece is currently in the midst of its 2016 tour to festivals. For Dancing with Death, the co-producers were venues and TPAM.  Does this mean Baling will continue to cater just to the festival circuit and Dancing with Death be invited only by venue programmers? It is perhaps early to conclude, but it is an interesting claim of difference that could be useful for future co-producing bedfellows, both artists and presenters alike. It is also interesting that TPAM’s co-producing foray included participation in both models. With both co-production discussions effectively moderated by Low Kee Hong (West Kowloon Cultural District), urgencies and criticalities were reinforced, with culmination in the potent question raised by Maruoka––how do we invest in the performing arts?

To the merit of the panelists, speakers and the simultaneous translators with their honeyed tones, the discussions held from February 6 to 14 were thought-provoking and raised many interesting questions. And these questions were placed in context when Low located them within a timeframe––what can we do to ensure enough will be laid down for post 2020? Perhaps the discussion of durability could be the third anchor for the swell of TPAM 2017 (and beyond), with a little bit of help from the connections that have been made.



June Tan_Producer,Five Arts Centre Malaysia
June Tan is a biologist from Imperial College, London who has worked in finance, software product management, toxic waste management and renewable energy from 1997 to 2009. She is a member of the performing arts collective Five Arts Centre and, since 1998, has stage-managed and tour-managed theatre performances to Berlin, Singapore, Korea, India, Japan and UAE.  June’s creative producing begun in 2006 and she is interested in facilitating space for new and alternative discourse. June is also currently involved in producing and writing for TV and film. 
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