Vol.36 December 2010
- 2010 Foreign Minister's Commendation
- Seiji Ozawa to Take the Conductor’s Podium at Carnegie Hall
- New Yorkers Discover the Charms of Ishikawa
- INSIDE THE ARMOR
- The Art of Cut Paper in Philadelphia
- Visit Japan - Faster and Further on the Bullet Train
- Culture Connection - THE JAPANESE PROGRAM AT HUNTER COLLEGE
- From the Ambassador's Desk
- Contemporary Dance 101: What exactly is Contemporary Dance?
- Isamu Noguchi and his Friends
- Event Calendar
On November 5, the Northeast Council of Teachers of Japanese (NECTJ) was honored with the 2010 Foreign Minister's Commendation for its contribution to the promotion of mutual understanding and cultural exchange between Japan and United States of America through Japanese language education.
During a conferment ceremony at Ambassador Shinichi Nishimiya's residence, the Ambassador presented a Certificate of Commendation on behalf of the Foreign Minister of Japan to Mr. Kazuo Tsuda, President of NECTJ.
Ambassador Nishimiya expressed his sincere appreciation to the NECTJ for its tireless efforts in broadening Japanese education, promoting mutual understanding and encouraging cultural exchange between the two countries. He said, "The NECTJ had succeeded in elevating the level of mutual understanding and friendship shared by the people of Japan and the United States. It is not an exaggeration to say that Japanese language education simply would not have been the same, nor have developed so dramatically, without the NECTJ."
The NECTJ was founded in 1992 as a non-profit organization of Japanese teachers, with the mission of promoting K-12 Japanese language education in the Northeastern United States. Since that time, the NECTJ has made important strides broadening Japanese education by assisting educators in their professional work teaching Japanese language and culture. NECTJ also provides teachers with opportunities to participate in annual conferences and workshops, where instructors can improve their teaching skills through discussions of current issues in Japanese language education and teaching methodology. Additionally, the NECTJ encourages students to study Japanese through the administration of Japanese speech contests and by offering opportunities to study in Japan as short-term exchange students. After 18 years of outstanding effort, the NECTJ continues to make important contributions to cultural exchange between the people of Japan and the United States.
Seiji Ozawa to Take the Conductor’s Podium at Carnegie Hall
For its upcoming concert season Carnegie Hall will host JapanNYC, a citywide Japanese music festival in two parts that kicks off in December 2010 and returns in March and April, 2011. On opening day, December 14th, JapanNYC's artistic director, the legendary Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, will take the baton for his concert since last September.
Seiji Ozawa's storied career has seen him headline concert halls around the world and made him one of the most recognized faces in classical music. His start was more modest, however. In his twenties Mr. Ozawa travelled by cargo boat to Europe, touring the continent on a scooter emblazoned with a Japanese flag. A staff member at the US Embassy in Paris was so impressed by the unknown yet enthusiastic Ozawa that she helped him enter the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France (despite having missed the application deadline). Ozawa won first prize.
The young conductor later flew to the US, attended the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood and won the prestigious Koussevitzuky Prize. Ozawa was soon under the tutelage of major figures like Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, and only two and a half years after his fateful trip to Europe, he was named assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
Ozawa later went on to become music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where he conducted for more than twenty years, and later principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera. He has also conducted both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic many times, and was the first Japanese person to lead the Vienna Philharmonic famous New Year's concert. In November of this year, Ozawa was named an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
There is great excitement that Ozawa is back in New York at Carnegie Hall as the artistic director of JapanNYC, a festival that celebrates the rich cultural ties shared by Japan and New York City. After all, Ozawa's success owes much to his first prize at Besançon and the help of an American supporter, and his early career bloomed at Carnegie Hall as assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic.
JapanNYC will feature performances by world renowned Japanese musicians: Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Mirodi Goto (violin), the Bach Collegium Japan (conducted by Masaaki Suzuki), the NHK Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Andre Previn), Toshiko Akiyoshi (piano), Oyama & Nitta Duet (shamisen), Aimi Kobayashi (piano), a Tribute to Toru Takemitsu Concert, and much more.
There will also be various festival-related events taking place outside Carnegie Hall: Kodo at Lincoln Center; Hakuin, Kashu-Juku Noh Theater and Bye Bye Kitty at the Japan Society; a Yoshitomo Nara Exhibition at the Asia Society; Peter and the Wolf (with art by Takashi Murakami) at the Guggenheim Museum, and other events.
When the great conductor Leonard Bernstein visited Japan he was moved by the scenery at a beach along the Tokaido road. He asked Ozawa why he had left such a beautiful place to live in New York City. Ozawa's reply was simple, "It is not that I don't think Japan is beautiful. I was just eager to know more about western music. In the end, I found the beauty of western music and the beauty of Japan." Embracing that same spirit of discovery, Carnegie Hall's JapanNYC festival is a unique celebration of music performed by Japanese artists and the riches of traditional and contemporary art and culture from Japan.
- To learn more, please visit:
Reference: Seiji Ozawa [Samurai Music Trip], Tokyo, Sincho Bunko, 1980
From October 4th to 9th, the Consulate co-hosted a traditional crafts exhibition, "Ishikawa Style" with Ishikawa prefecture at Manhattan's Nippon Club. Located along the coast of the Sea of Japan, Ishikawa is known and blessed with natural beauty as one of Japan's most prominent origins of high-quality traditional crafts.
Almost 300 objects from the region, representing famous handcrafted industrial arts such as Wajima lacquerware, Kutani porcelain, Kanazawa gold leaf, Kaga Yuzen silk, and Kaga embroidery, were on display. The show also included three expertly arranged table settings of fine lacquerware, porcelain and other objects.
More than 200 guests gathered for the opening reception on October 4th. Mr. Masanori Tanimoto, Ishikawa's Governor, provided welcoming remarks and Ambassador Nishimiya mentioned the special beauty of Ishikawa and the allure of its unique, centuries-old craftsmanship. He also praised the prefecture's efforts promoting its wares outside Japan. Experts from Ishikawa were on hand to answer questions, and by all counts the night's attendees were delighted by their chance to discover the finely made wares – and to sample the traditional Japanese sweets that were served.
The celebration of all things Ishikawa did not end then, however. The next evening, Governor and Mrs. Tanimoto and Ambassador and Mrs. Nishimiya invited ten prominent guests including Ms. Emily Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Chef Michael Romano of Union Square Cafe to an intimate taste of Ishikawa cuisine. In his remarks, in addition to stressing Ishikawa's well-earned reputation for gastronomy, the ambassador pointed to the Japanese Government's goal of promoting domestic agricultural and fishery exports. He noted that, as Japan's second largest trading partner, the United States should be a key market for Japanese food products. Yet in reality the total amount of such exports from Japan to the United States is less than that to the single city of Hong Kong while Japan provided the largest market for the U.S. agricultural products in 2009. Clearly there is room for improvement and Ishikawa is doing its part to introduce Americans to the many products of the region.
While sitting down to their spectacular multi-course meal, the guests were serenaded by traditional koto and Japanese flute. The dishes were expertly prepared by Mr. Shinichiro Takagi, one of Ishikawa – and Japan's – most eminent chefs, using typical ingredients and techniques from the prefecture. In a bit of Ishikawa-New York fusion, the entree, wagyu steaks seasoned with fermented miso, was made in collaboration with a chef at New York's famous Restaurant Daniel. Perfectly accompanying the feast, was a selection of fine regional sakes such as Kagatobi and Tengumai.
In recent years, New Yorkers are said to have acquired a sophisticated taste for Japanese food and culture. Today Ishikawa prefecture is ready to help them step up to the next level by introducing them to some of Japan's best loved regional gems. It seems to be working; as one of the diners announced, "Next time, I look forward to experiencing this myself in Ishikawa!!"
INSIDE THE ARMOR
- By Jesse Taylor, Public Relations Coordinator
- Japan Information Center
"The flower of flowers is the Sakura - Cherry Blossom.
The Samurai is the man among men."
- Japanese proverb
I had almost forgotten what was to happen the day the box arrived. For weeks prior to its delivery, I had exercised both my body and mind, in preparation for the journey ahead of me. Finding new and interesting ways to promote Japan and its culture is what I do. Some techniques work out well; others have to be abandoned almost immediately. As I signed for the boxes, my confidence about the success of their contents grew.
The Japan Foundation in Los Angeles loaned us, the Consulate General of Japan in New York, two suits of traditional Japanese armor. The armor was to be worn for two specific events and any other occasions that we felt were appropriate to promote Japan. The arrival of the armor was especially timely because this year is the 150th anniversary of Japan - New York City ties. In June of 1860, a group of about 70 samurai sent by the Tokugawa Shogunate, visited New York initiating the first cultural exchange between the two countries. During their visit, the samurai were seen by hundreds of thousands of people. I probably would not see that many people, or be as popular as the delegation's translator/teenaged heart throb, Tateishi Onojiro ("Tommy"), but I was definitely going to give it my best shot!
There was not much time to learn how to suit up because the first event was only a few days away. My first "battle" was to take place at the 92nd Street Y Street Festival on September 26th. But with the help of a couple of very talented (and very patient) co-workers, putting on the armor or rather, having the armor "put on" me was relatively easy. As with most things, the more we did it, the easier and faster the process became. Once I had it on, the armor made me feel as if I could defend the virtues of bushido, even though I did not know all of them at that point. I had just begun studying the history of samurai and the significance of the armor. The armor, which fit well, made me feel powerful and according to my coworkers, also made me look "intimidating". I feel almost guilty admitting - I enjoyed that. As I looked at my reflection in the window, the only part of "me" that was visible was my smile. I imagined samurai to be relatively stoic so I tried not to smile. I just kept thinking to myself, this is going to be fun for me and everyone who sees me.
At the 92nd Street Y Street Fair, there were lots of different booths with food, free information, hand-outs and activities. We decided that any guests to our booth who wanted to try on the 2nd suit of armor could do so and take pictures. As people walked by I could see their reaction as they looked at my suit. Some laughed, some pointed and stared, and others whipped out their camera-phones and took pictures as they walked by. Taking pictures with those who tried on the second suit of armor was fun because most people wanted to strike a pose as if they were fighting or hugging me. From what I read, samurai were fierce warriors as well as highly cultured men of peace, so either was fine for me. Many people asked questions about the armor, samurai and Japanese history. As I answered questions, took hundreds of photos and directed people towards our booth for more information, I was overwhelmed with satisfaction that we had found another successful means to draw to people to Japanese culture. Ambassador Nishimiya, who also dressed as a samurai on Japan Day earlier this year, stopped by the booth to help encourage people to try on the armor and take pictures.
As I expected, the reactions from children were the most precious. Some kids were afraid while others actually punched me to see how hard the armor really was. I happened to take a very short pause from handing out flyers for the Samurai in New York exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. A little boy walked by with his mother and he did not, or would not, take his eyes off of me. I could not see him at first because he was so small and my line-of-sight in the helmet was limited. When I noticed him, I turned and bent down to hand him one of the kabuto origami that we had folded for the event. As I leaned over, he jumped back into his mother's arms and yelled, "Mommy, it moves!"
The New York Comic Con/Anime Festival at Jacob Javits Center was next on my agenda. At the 92nd Street Y Street Festival, I was one of only a few people who dressed in traditional garb. At the Anime Festival, I was one of many costumed characters in a building that was filled with fans dressed as characters from manga, anime, and video games (cosplayers). I laughed at myself as I recalled telling a good friend that I would NEVER, EVER don a costume and participate in this type of role playing except on Halloween. Yet, here I was faking hand-to-hand fights; striking poses and yelling "KAKUGO" (prepare to die)!
I posed for numerous pictures with costumed men and women, survived punches from curious, armor-testing kiddies, all the while doing my best to promote Japanese culture by answering questions about Japan and why I was dressed in armor. The challenge was convincing people that I was actually "working" and not just another cosplayer. There were other samurai who crossed my path as well. The amount of "sword envy" was ridiculous. Armed only with a "wakizashi", the shorter of the two swords a samurai carries; most other samurai at the festival carried their full length swords. However, my armor was high quality and well received by everyone. It allowed me the opportunity to meet and direct those who were interested over to the booth we shared with the Japan National Tourist Organization.
It felt good to remove and return the armor back to its box. But then I began feeling a bit strange, almost like I was missing something, which I have to admit, it took a few minutes to get used to. The suit had served its purpose and I had come to embrace the role of a samurai, if only for a few days and now it was over. As I looked down into the box, I took comfort in remembering that real samurai wore the armor for protection and identification. Their virtues remained with them even after the armor was removed. Perhaps I was not a cosplayer after all.
The Art of Cut Paper in Philadelphia
Shu Kubo, an artist widely-known in Japan for his unique creations that explore traditional culture through the art of kirie, or paper-cutting, gave a lecture and demonstration at Philadelphia's Drexel University on November 3rd. Using colorfully dyed washi (Japanese paper) Mr. Kubo skillfully cuts delicate lines with his knife, creating unforgettable works of art that not only express Japanese seasonal traditions and foods but capture life's moments in paper.
The well-attended opening for Mr. Kubo's exhibition "Paper Japonism" was held at Stein Auditorium. The event got underway following introductions by Drexel professor Shushi Yoshinaga and Yasuhisa Kawamura, Director of the Japan Information Center at the Consulate General. Mr. Kawamura praised Mr. Kubo's untiring efforts to reach out the grass roots in the region as a Special Advisor for Cultural Exchange appointed by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs and revealed Mr. Kubo is the creator of the logo commemorating this year's 150th anniversary of the first Japanese Delegation to the United States in 1860.
Mr. Kubo talked humorously about his background, the history of kirie, and how he became attracted to the art form. His lively demonstration was a chance for participants to experience the fun and beauty of Japanese paper cutting firsthand -- and audience members were clearly awed by Mr. Kubo's amazing technique. During a lively question and answer session many in attendance expressed their interest in learning more about kirie and the Japan's arts and culture in general. Many also expressed the hope that Mr. Kubo would be invited back, as the evening's introduction to this unique aspect of Japanese culture was a great success.
Faster and Further on the Bullet Train
Despite that Japan only has the size of the state of California, the country's high tech engineering focuses on the fastest public transportation running the north-south stretch of the main islands. In the next few months, the worldly known Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, is extending the line both to north and south, opening more destinations to foreign visitors with faster accessibility.
To the North
Shinkansen's Tohoku line, which was first implemented in 2002, is going to be extended to more northern in Honshu Island, the main island of the Japanese archipelago. Beginning on December 4, 2010, the line opens to Shin-Aomori, a new train hub in Aomori prefecture, the home of Fuji apple. The new Shinkansen takes travelers to the beautiful northern country from Tokyo just in 3 hours and 20 minutes. The JR is also going to start service with a brand-new model train from March 2011, named Hayabusa (Falcon), which will connect Tokyo and Shin-Aomori only in 3 hours and 5 minutes at the top speed of 200mph.
With many coastal areas and the harsh winter weather, Aomori's culture is illustrated with Japan's unique hospitality that is applied more to winter weather. Maybe because of harsh winter, Aomori celebrates summer big: Nebuta Festival (http://www.nebuta.jp/english/index_e.htm) is Japan's one of the most culturally significant festivals that takes places in Aomori City, attracting 3 million people between August 2 and 7 every year. Along with energetic chants, thousands of people carry traditional magnificent lantern floats as tall as 16+ feet, made of rice paper in traditional samurai designs.
To the South
In addition to the northern region, the bullet train will be available on the southern island of Kyushu from March 12, 2011. This new line connects Hakata, the very end of the original bullet train from Tokyo, and the existing service in southern half of the island. The complete line will be 159.7 mile long between Hakata and the southern most city Kagoshima. The new extension of the line enables travelers to experience south western Japan with rich history, potteries and culinary culture. From Shin-Osaka to the final stop of Kagoshima-Chuo, the traveling time will be 3 hours and 45 minutes, 77 minutes shorter than the current service.
The new connecting line makes Kyushu's historic landmarks and nature within an easier reach: Kumamoto Castle, built in the 15th century has very unique ninja-proof walls. Enjoy the 360 degree panorama of Mt. Aso, one of the largest active volcanoes in the world: With 75 miles in diameter, the summit crater is one of the largest in the world as well, and the mountain is as green as the surrounding nature. Kagoshima, at the end of the line, is the gateway to Japan's traditional sand bath in Ibusuki.
TRAVEL WITH THE RAIL PASS
Operated by the Japan Railway Co., Ltd. (JR), Tohoku Shinkansen is available for travelers with the popular JR Rail Pass. Since JR operates the majority of train systems in Japan, the pass allows you to get around smoother and the more you ride trains, the more you save. Tohoku Shinkansen is part of their system, and Aomori is easy to include in your itinerary. You must purchase the pass within the United States. Go to http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en001.html to find where to purchase and more.
Shinkansen Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcCTDClFmLo
THE JAPANESE PROGRAM AT HUNTER COLLEGE
- By Masao Donahue
- Japanese Program Assistant
Photo : Jessi James
Hunter College, located on the Upper East Side of New York City, is home to the largest Japanese Division within the CUNY (City University of New York) system. Offering language courses in Japanese since 1986, the college established the Japanese program in 2002 and it has since shown no signs of slowing down. On the 14th floor of the Hunter West building on 68th Street and Lexington Avenue, the Japanese Division – part of the Department of Classical and Oriental Studies – offers eight sections of language courses and one half of a two-part culture course each semester.
The success of the division can be attributed to many factors – the ever-growing popularity of Japanese culture within the United States, the ability of the courses to attract students from any academic discipline, and last but not least, the energy and enthusiasm brought by both the professors and students.
Professor Sue Kawashima, the program head, has taught at Hunter College since 1988 and for much of that time, has guided the Japanese courses. Joined in the past four years by language professors Maayan Barkan and Kazue Kurahara, and most recently this fall by Akiyo Furukawa, they all work together towards presenting fun and engaging ways to tackle the challenges of learning a difficult language.
Photo : Jessi James
Throughout the three levels of study – beginners, intermediate, and advanced – special emphasis is placed on ensuring that the complex and subtle nuances that permeate the Japanese language are understood. From distinguishing between similar sounds, to enunciation, tone, and alterations necessary for specific social situations, the professors explore the ways the language evolves in everyday conversation. As the students become more comfortable with Japanese, they begin working on their own compositions to share with their classmates, uncovering common mistakes and grammar points that would otherwise go unaddressed.
The highlight of the language courses is unquestionably the midterm presentations that students take part in each semester. Forming small groups, they create, memorize, and perform increasingly complex dialogues using the vocabulary and grammar they have learned. Seizing the opportunity, the results are often spectacular – limited only to the students' imaginations. Costumes, music, props, and anything and everything can play a role in these productions.
Photo : Jessi James
In addition to the language courses, Hunter offers two Japanese culture courses – Japanese Culture Before 1600 and Japanese Culture Since 1600 – which take students on a journey from the time people first migrated to the islands of Japan and follow the emergence and evolution of various customs and beliefs. Covering topics from the arts, the existence of multiple belief systems, literature, mythology, to the interactions with nearby countries that went on to greatly influence Japanese history – these courses go a long way in showcasing what makes Japan unique.
Towards the end of each semester, students are able to pursue their own interests, tying together themes from the course with a specific element of Japanese culture that interests them. This ties in to one of the course's primary goals, to offer students a glimpse of a country whose past and contemporary identity is vastly different from the American society that most of them grew up in – and in doing so, helps to nurture a greater global perspective.
The enthusiasm that students bring is not limited to the classroom – evidenced by the creation of several student clubs and organizations sprouting up at Hunter. One such body, the Japanese Media Club (JMC) – with about 70 members – promotes the exposure of non-mainstream animation, films, and music through weekly Friday meetings and special Japanese-themed events held throughout the year. The club, entering its fifth year, is designed to provide students with similar interests an outlet to discuss and share with one another.
In an effort to broaden the exposure of Japanese culture within the United States – through language and culture studies – the Japanese Division is hopeful that the program can continue its growth and offer a wider array of courses in the near future.
Photo : Jessi James
Photo : Jessi James
- For further information:
- Hunter College Japanese Division
- (212) 772-5064
Japanese language and culture course listings are located at the end of the Classics section of the Hunter College Undergraduate Catalog.
At this time, Hunter does not offer a specialized minor or major in Japanese studies, but the courses may be used towards the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies – a program that allows students to design their own course of study.
- CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies
- Japanese Media Club (JMC)
- A student organization at Hunter College that promotes the exposure of non-mainstream animation, films, and music.
- President, Andrew Erb:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Vice President, Jessica Perez
- Email: email@example.com
After Thanksgiving the cold weather is finally here. So before another frigid New York winter arrives, I would like to take a moment to look back on this summer and fall's Samurai in New York exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York which closed in early November and was a tremendous popular success, thanks to your generous support. On a completely different note, I would like to sound the alarm concerning recent news of a severe decline in the number of the Japanese students in the US.
Samurai in New York kicked off on June 25th in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the US, which was dispatched by Japan's shogunate government in 1860. The exhibition opened in June, the same month as the mission's arrival in New York 150 years earlier. It was a great success, with the total number of visitors coming in at more than 81,000, or 630 per day. Unique objects such as a replica of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, a machine-turned screw brought back by the mission from the US to Japan, and a treasure trove of rare early photography from the 1860 visit were featured as part of the landmark show. Major news outlets such as The New York Times (June 17th and 26th) and Wall Street Journal (June 27th) reviewed the show. In addition, the Empire State Building joined in the celebrations of friendship between the people of Japan and New York by commemorating the date of the anniversary of the samurai delegation's grand arrival in Manhattan with an illumination of the iconic landmark in the colors of the Japanese flag: white-red-white on June 16th. Finally, the anniversary inspired a class of school kids at the Immaculate Conception Elementary School in Queens. They won the grand prize in an annual scarecrow competition held at Central Park by entering their version of "Tommy," or Tateishi Onojiro, the young, witty samurai interpreter who so captivated the American ladies and inspired music like the "Tommy Polka."
I sincerely thank everyone who participated in our celebrations of this fascinating anniversary. I am confident that the many wonderful events recognizing this special year contributed enormously to the enduring friendship shared between the people of Japan and New York City and the US.
Speaking of this, Prime Minister Kan and President Obama agreed in a summit meeting in November that Japan and the US will deepen and develop the Japan-U.S. Alliance with three pillars at its center: security, economy, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. It is very significant that both leaders confirmed the importance of cultural, intellectual and people-to-people exchanges. However, I would like to draw your attention to a serious ongoing issue with regard to exchanges: the declining number of Japanese students studying in the US. The Institute of International Education (IIE), an organization supported by the US Department of Education, recently released a report on the numbers of foreign students in the US. It highlighted a large decrease in Japanese students here, down 15 percent from last year, now number 6 in the ranking at a total of 25,000. I too am concerned by this figure which represents half of the peak number in 1997. The truth is that among Japanese students studying abroad only the number studying in the US has seen such a sharp drop. For their part, US students studying in Japan have gradually increased; the latest figure is 5,784 in 2008/09 compared to 5,710 in 2007/08, with Japan positioned as the number 11 destination of study abroad for Americans. I believe that there are many reasons, but one reason for the decline of Japanese students in the US might be that some organizations in Japan that offered scholarships have suspended them due to the economy. In any case, it is cause for concern if the level of exchange between the peoples of Japan and the US drops. I sincerely hope that this trend will reverse soon. The Government of Japan will continue to consider what steps it might take to improve this situation.
Lastly, I must share with you news that I have received my reassignment and will be leaving New York soon to return to Japan. I would like to sincerely thank you for your strong support over the last two years. With your help, I have made every effort to strengthen the foundation of Japan-US friendship and secure the well-being of Japanese citizens in my jurisdiction during my station here. I assure you that my successor will follow the same path. I wish you a Happy New Year in 2011.
Contemporary Dance 101: What exactly is Contemporary Dance?
© LG Arts
Many people are unfamiliar with contemporary dance. When the subject is raised, Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, famous for their compositions, might come to mind for many New Yorkers. Unlike ballet or classic ballroom dance, which employ highly orchestrated movements, flexible bodies and hips, with love and hate tension between partners, contemporary dance approaches movement and composition philosophically to guide performers' unchoreographed movement. As a result, it often has strange, unnatural, uncomfortable, and unexpected moves that one doesn't always know how to appreciate. As with Cubism in the art world, the viewer may not know if the work is good or bad. Because of this nature, many people have difficulty grasping contemporary dance.
© Takashi Ito
An exciting opportunity awaits those who enjoy challenging themselves with experiences outside the conventional in the highly anticipated program at Japan Society's 14th Annual Contemporary Dance Showcase: Japan + East Asia. The program will enable novice to mature audiences to see these upcoming stars in the contemporary dance scene. The four emerging dance groups scheduled to perform will showcase works never seen before in the West. This highly anticipated show is scheduled for Friday, January 7 and Saturday, January 8, 2011 at 7:30pm at Japan Society. Running annually since 1996, Japan Society's Annual Contemporary Dance Showcase has ventured beyond Japan, showcasing dancers from South Korea and Taiwan as well.
© Satoshi Watanabe
Originally from Tokyo, choreographer Ryohei Kondo who grew up in Peru, Chile, and Argentina, will bring his team of dynamic dancers to the New York stage. Kondo, founder and choreographer of the exceptionally popular contemporary dance company Condors, handpicked those young dancers for his new project series, Goats Block the Road, and invited a pop musician Miu Sakamoto, the daughter of famous composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, as a performer as well as a live-musician for the piece at Japan Society.
Her Solo Debut in the United States, Japanese dancer/choreographer Maki Morishita from Tokyo will present Tokyo Flat. With a narration in the background, she stands under a spotlight making funny gestures and mischievous moves that leave the audience with a light-hearted impression. She has performed internationally in more than seven countries and 20 cities.
From South Korea, the Ahn Ae-soon Dance Company will perform Bul-ssang, a satiric take on Buddhist rituals. The troop has built their reputation upon their unique choreography combined with Korean traditional culture and modern dance. Choreographer Ahn Ae-soon infuses different forms of Asian traditional dance from India, Korea, and Chinese martial arts with pop and street dance style in the piece.
© Yo-Wei Chen
Young, energetic Taiwanese choreographer Yu Yen-Fang from Ku & Dancers will present From Here... to the End of the Rainbow. Moving swiftly on the stage with a one-tone sound in the background, the couple traces their relationship from the getting-to-know-you stage to becoming more intimate.
The showcase will introduce audiences to what artists are exploring in today's dance scene and the creativity of people who use their bodies to express the state of culture and the world.
Isamu Noguchi and his Friends
It has been 25 years since The Noguchi Museum opened its doors in Long Island City. Comprising 10 indoor galleries and an outdoor sculpture garden, it showcases a comprehensive selection of Isamu Noguchi's works in stone, metal, wood, and clay, as well as his dance stage designs, models for public projects and his Akari Light Sculptures. Located among nondescript industrial buildings within view of the East River, the museum feels far-removed from the outside world, with the undisturbed quiet of its zen garden broken only by the gentle sounds of gurgling water and twittering birds.
From November 17, 2010 through April 24, 2011, The Noguchi Museum will celebrate this 25th anniversary milestone with an exhibition of work by Noguchi and his various collaborators; On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries, 1922 - 1960. Featured along with the work will be documentary materials including personal correspondence which sheds light on Noguchi's relationships with fellow artists, designers, inventors, architects, dancers and choreographers.
Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 to parents Leonie Gilmore, an American and Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet. He spent his childhood in Japan and returned to the U.S. for his high school education. Encouraged by his mother to study sculpture, he attended the Leonard da Vinci Art School on New York's Lower East Side, whose mission was to provide art education for immigrants. It was there that his artistic career as a sculptor began.
Noguchi's artistic talent blossomed when he went to Paris to work for Brancusi and other artists in 1927-28. Once back in New York City, he formed numerous close friendships with fellow artists and collaborated on a diverse array of projects. He not only produced sculptures and paintings but also collaborated on set designs for theater, as well as designing furniture, buildings, parks, and playgrounds.
One legendary collaboration of great longevity was with the choreographer Martha Graham. Their relationship lasted some four decades at the time of what is considered by many to be the high point in the history of modern dance. At the museum, a rocking chair from the set of Appalachian Spring, one of their most famous works, will be displayed along with photographs of the performance.
An exciting opportunity to see how Noguchi's vision came to life will take place in the form of a live performance produced by Paul Szilard Productions, Inc. at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on March 20, 2011 when the Martha Graham Dance Company will perform Appalachian Spring, Cave of Heart, and Embattled Garden, featuring his set designs. Appalachian Spring, composed by Aaron Copland and first performed in 1944, was set in a Pennsylvania farmhouse in 1800 at the time of the U.S. westward expansion and celebrated the optimism of the American pioneers' dreams. Graham, Noguchi, and Copland worked together to create this piece that is uniquely American in spirit.