Reflections on TPAM and American Visibility, by Carolelinda Dickey

1 Mar

 

I recently attended TPAM in Yokohama, Japan. I was eager to go as I had attended one of the early TPAMs. In 1996, TPAM was the Tokyo Performing Arts Market and I was part of an official delegation of 20+ American programmers, managers and funders. It was a prominent list of programmers from img_1613arts centers, universities, festivals, foundations and agencies. I was honored and thrilled to be part of the group.

At the time, Japan was the primary Asian focus for American presenters of contemporary work. As programmers, we were clamoring to jump on tours of Japanese artists. There was Dumb Type, H Art Chaos, Min Tanaka, Dairakudakan, Sankai Juku, and, of course, Kazuo Ohno. At one performance I sat directly behind Ohno and spent so much time watching him watching the performance that I have no memory of what company we saw.

It was an immersive and thought-provoking trip. We attended seminars at the Saison Foundation offices enlightening us about theater, dance, and music of Japan. It is likely that the trip in 1996 first imprinted on me the importance of “going” and understanding that one cannot create authentic cultural partnerships from behind one’s desk.

Fast-forward 22 years and I am at TPAM again, but it is now the Tokyo Performing Arts Meeting. Or, was it Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama 2017? Both names seemed to be used interchangeably. The bottom line is that there was no marketplace, whereas the market back in the 1990s was a destination to easily meet people. The current TPAM was a meeting packed full of TPAM-sponsored panels and equally interesting discussions self-identified by the attendees. Attendees came from over 40 countries.

Parallel meetings of the Asian Dramaturgs’ Network Meeting added to the quality of the programs. Without question, TPAM’s meetings were fascinating and informative. I felt more of an observer than a participant as the complexity and magnitude of Asian networks continue to grow. There is Arts Network Asia (ANA), which has been around for many years. There is early stage discussion about an Asian dance house center, similar to the European Dancehouse Network. Do we have a Dancehouse Network?

img_1617The organization of the performances in Yokohama and in Tokyo was extensive. The highlights for me were Host, an enthralling solo by Eisa Jocson that juxtaposed the images of female hosting across Asian cultures and Picnic in the Cemetery (presented by Point of View/Creative Links), a theatrical chamber music performance located in the subterranean level of a bar. There was also some terrific new circus and a re-envisioning of Wheat and Soldiers (1938), which celebrated the dance company of Takaya Eguchi and Misako Miya. Who knew of such contemporary work in Japan of the 1930s?

With my CityMaps2Go app on my iPhone and a spare power bank in my pocket, I traipsed around Yokohama and Tokyo to the studios, black boxes and concert halls to see mostly terrific performances. I was glad for my map app because I was alone most of the time. Alone time is not a bad thing, but it was a reminder for me that American dance remains largely absent at most international gatherings. Occasionally, there will be a handful of American presenters who are “invited,” a code word meaning that organizers are covering the cost of travel, lodging and/or registration. When feasible, American Dance Abroad hosts U.S. choreographers and managers to travel with us to major dance meetings, festival, and img_1619marketplaces as American Corner delegates. The importance of being there, meeting people, joining conversations, seeing work – it is critical for American dance and, more importantly, important for American choreographers.

By the end of my week in Yokohama, the few Americans who had attended had left and a deeper realization set in. American work and American artists were absent from virtually all of the discussions. We were invisible. This was not about politics. Those Americans in attendance were very welcomed, but we need to do more. We need to make international engagement a core value of our daily work. We talk about the decline or loss of international touring, but sitting there listening to others discuss their co-productions and new networks, I developed a new mantra, “Forget touring, go forth and network.” I wanted to shout “Learn, insert yourself, or we will be left behind.”

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