Perspectives on the contemporary dance performance 'Aomori Project'

The Aomori Project began in 2008 and is an ongoing international collaboration involving contemporary and Japanese dance and music traditions from the North of Japan. In this article we hear about this year's activities from Project Director Sioned Huws; James Tyson, Theatre Programmer from the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff (until 2011); and Interim Artistic Director from Greenwich Dance, Kat Bridge.

Aomori, Aomori, Climate, Body and Soul: Collaboration 2013
by Sioned Huws (Choreographer and Project Director)

Aomori Project is an on going performance project since 2008. It has existed in various forms, with a wide range of artists and performers. Each year a new narrative is formally composed and made adaptable to diverse casts, contexts and architecture.
‘Aomori, Aomori’ continues a collaborative process from a core compositional rigour, developed with dancers, musicians and a singer from Aomori, North Japan. Between the Tsugaru shamisen instrument, minyo song and teodori dance, you see no direct co-relation, one over rides the other, all three seem to exist independently and one sets the other free. Our continuing interest is this co-existence and independence - how between us, we are developing a new movement language, adding to an accumulative dance vocabulary over time, by each new collaborative phase. In this next stage at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and Greenwich Dance, London, two dancers based in the UK join the core company and through programmed workshops and collaborative exchange events our working processes are opened further to welcome local gust performers.

Aomori Project - Sioned Huws
The aim is to create a work of emotive containment, where sound, voice and movement become multi-dimensional, leading to a touring performance in 2014. Our pragmatic approach is to elucidate the livingness of every mo(ve)ment of dance through our commitment to an on going working process that can be compared to the long lasting collaborative aesthetic of Merce Cunningham and John Cage. This year, the project extends to involve Italian partners, with performances in Naples and Florence.

Aomori Project 2008 – 2013

by James Tyson (Chapter Arts Centre Theatre Programmer 1999-2011)
James is Co-Director of the Intangible Studio and an independent artist and producer making new performances and collaborative works in diverse contexts and locations.

It is a coincidence that the Aomori Project is taking place in Wales. Rehearsals take place in a studio in Chapter Arts Centre, a converted school building in a district of Cardiff. The project found its way to Cardiff through a long developed period of time and a context in which the nurturing and promotion of innovative performing arts, including the presentation of several artists and companies from Japan, has built-up since the centre’s opening in 1971.

This included the presentations of the early work of choreographer Sioned Huws in the early 1990s. 1991 was also the first UK-wide Japan Festival, a major nation-wide programme celebrating and presenting the work of many artists from Japan of which Chapter and South Wales was a leading regional hub. This festival brought to Chapter alongside several visual artists the first UK visit of the pioneering Kyoto-based performance collective Dumbtype.

This ongoing link continued through the 1990s and 2000s with the presentation of other Japanese performing arts programmes with groups such as Gekidan Kaitaisha and Yubiwa Hotel, and which led me (as Theatre Programmer at Chapter) to make a research visit to Japan in 2006 to update myself on the current performing arts scene in Japan, particularly taking account of different regional centres. The Aomori Project has become perhaps the most lasting exchange to have developed from the resulting season of performances and collaborative projects in 2008 that followed this visit.

Performance at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
This was possible through the invitation and willingness of Aomori Contemporary Arts Centre, the independent artists’ collective ARTizan also in Aomori, Chapter and most of all the rigor and vision of Sioned Huws. Since 2008, the project has repeated with visits, developments, tours and performances in Wales, London (Greenwich Dance Agency), Singapore and across Japan, involving different groups of local participants and artists, as well as the core Japanese artists including Tsugaru teodori dancer Yoshiya Ishikawa, the Tsugaru shamisen music group Hasegawa Sangen-kai led by Yuji Hasegawa, Tsugaru minyo song of Kiyoko Goto and contemporary dancer Reina Kimura. These artists’ and Sioned Huws’ knowledge and perception of traditional folk forms, as integral to an experience of every day life has been intrinsic to the evolving dialogue, which continues to inspire this remarkable work.
The Aomori Project is demanding, not least because it continually requires such a complete faith in a process of translation and understanding, and the negotiation of this to other and changing contexts in Wales and internationally. And yet the continuing evolution of these layers of perception and form that step-by-step come through such labour, speaks beyond languages with a bracing, encompassing movement and gentle humour.



Aomori Project: the perspective from Greenwich
by Kat Bridge, Interim Artistic Director, Greenwich Dance

Greenwich Dance has supported the Aomori Project for the last five years and Sioned Huws recently became a Resident Artist. We are delighted that this stage of the Aomori Project will form part of the organization’s 20th anniversary celebrations and 'Greenwich Dances', our six week summer festival of dance.

Welcoming guest artists from Japan to work alongside dancers and non-dancers from this corner of London feels very special. Sioned’s approach to people and place supports Greenwich Dance’s practice of engaging the local community whilst celebrating our home, The Borough Hall. Built in the 1930s, its architectural details evoke its maritime location. This sense of water and journey is emphasized by the maze of routes you can explore around the building which have been a great source of inspiration for Sioned.

Performance at Greenwich Dance

Greenwich Dance has supported the Aomori Project for the last five years

Investing in Sioned as an artist remains a priority for Greenwich Dance. Her rigour and compassion mean that the process of working is genuinely open as well as choreographically interesting. The people in the room really do shape the work; their memories, movements and feelings all influence and personify the performance. A range of people have been part of this project in recent years from children aged 1 to dynamic dancers in their 80s and we are hoping that this latest phase will encourage even more new audiences and participants to visit us for the first time.