Dance, Kobe – Dance!

This article was originally published in the Japan Times newspaper on Feb 12 2014.

Whatever springs to mind when you think of Kobe, it’s unlikely to be dance. Yet, from the fourth floor of a nondescript building in the port city’s multiethnic district of Shin-Nagata there shines forth a veritable beacon called Dance Box.

Founded in Osaka in 2003, Dance Box moved to its present home in 2009. Since then — led by producer Iku Otani and program director Fumi Yokobori — it has been showcasing and nurturing contemporary dancers and choreographers from Japan and beyond. The venue is split between two main sites, both in aging shopping arcades: Art Theater Dance Box, a 120-seat black-box space and Studio Dance Box, a rehearsal and tuition facility offering classes in ballet, jazz, hip-hop and the Israeli gaga style.

Similar eclecticism is a feature of most projects helmed by Dance Box. One, named About Dances in Shin-Nagata, began in 2009 and will appear as part of the TPAM Direction program in Yokohama on Feb. 13 and 14 (see last week’s Stage page). The premise is to create collaborations between professional artists and local enthusiasts, such as members of the Chingudul group, who practice North and South Korean styles, and Masanwin Kitano, a restaurant owner and dancer from Myanmar.

In addition, last year saw the launch of the Minna no Festival (Everybody’s Festival), which invites artists from disciplines such as film, fashion, song and dance to create participatory workshops/events around the area. The aim is both to discover new facets of Shin-Nagata and to connect artists based in western Japan with local audiences.

Meanwhile, through its national study course Dance Box is committed to nurturing new young choreographers, dancers and managers. Now in its second year, this leads seven participants toward final group pieces at the end of a nine-month study program — with their productions for 2014 on March 21 and 22 at Art Theater Dance Box.

In addition, in 2001 Dance Box started to run the Asia Contemporary Dance Festival — renamed the Kobe-Asia Contemporary Dance Festival (K-ACDF) in 2009 to signal its shift from Osaka to Kobe. This year, K-ACDF #3 — running until March 2 and titled “My Home is Shivering and Changing” — is directed by Yuya Tsukahara, a former volunteer at Dance Box who co-founded the performing arts company Contact Gonzo.

Twelve artists organized into two main groups, A and B, have been invited to present works that relate to the program theme, which is the relationship between technology and ideology.

One half of Group A (Feb. 15-17) includes Toshiki Okada, the founder director and writer of Chelfitsch Theatre Company; Osaka-based fabric artist Tomoko Soda; and Thai dancer and choreographer Pichet Klunchun, who combines traditional and contemporary elements. Through bodies, clothes and houses, these artists have been searching for expressions of our times. The other half of Group A, which focuses on interfaces between information and the body, consists of Contact Gonzo; a Filipino hard-rock band called Skychurch; and experimental photographer Yusuke Nishimitsu.

Artists in one half of Group B (Feb. 21-23) — who have focused on the sense of time and travel — include the dancer and co-founder of Contact Gonzo, Masaru Kakio; Vietnamese-Japanese artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba; and director Yukichi Matsumoto, founder of the theater group Ishinha. The other half of Group B, which is working with dance and music, includes Indonesian dance group Animal Pop Family; the Kyoto-based dancer Quick; and Osaka-based DJ $hin.

In parallel to all this, an exhibition at Art Area B1 under Naniwa-bashi Station in Osaka until March 2 will feature works by Kakio, Contact Gonzo, Hatsushiba, Soda and Nishimitsu — as well as Singaporean multi-media artist Choy Ka-fai and the Japanese art group dot architects.

In a city beset like most by brands and bling, Dance Box Kobe stands out as an intimate space for movement in its beguiling alterity. And if, as the modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis believed, dance is a means of communication between body and soul, used to express what is too deep to find for words — then dance, Kobe — dance!

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