Good Company Artist Building Bridges in Japan

Visiting Japan for the first time since the onset of Covid-19, multi-media artist and Good Company Arts director Daniel Belton returned to reconnect with colleagues, foster new connections and present new work. In this article, he describes his 17 days in Tokyo, Nara and Kyoto and the inspiring people he met along the way. 

Arriving in Tokyo, we (I was accompanied by my wonderful wife Donnine Harrison) met with the renowned dance filmmaker and film festival director, Prof Iina Naoto, and his colleague Kuroda-san of Gecko Parade (Theater Company).

Over a traditional soba noodle lunch in bustling Koenji, we discussed our practices and initiated ideas for future partnership between our nations and tertiary institutions.

Koenji is a lively and very cool part of Tokyo, and its where we stayed for the first five days of the trip, in a small guest house near Koenji Station. Our space-organising skills were put to the test in this tiny accommodation, stacking suitcases to make room for fold out futons.

The next days were time to reconnect with my dear colleagues at IDIOT SAVANT Theater Co, to workshop and film, discuss future collaboration and hear about the company's plans.

It was fantastic to be in a professional theatre space again with Koh-Toh-Shi, Nao Akao, Chika Arai and Yasu Kondo. Others also joined at times, including jazz pioneer,Mark de Clive-Lowe who was in Tokyo on a US-funded scholarship. I had worked with Mark long distance when he created the score for our film TIGER (Silver-Lotus), so it was awesome to meet in person.

Daniel: "All these connections feel so full of potential to grow, and affirmed that there is much more to do here in Japan." Photo: Daniel Belton

On our fourth day in Tokyo, we travelled across city to Ginza, to meet with staff at the Konica Minolta Planetaria. They had invited Good Company Arts to prepare test clips for a session in their state-of-the-art 360 degree facility. We looked at two dome cinemas, and discussed options for screening/performing with them.

Later this day, Donnine and I spent several hours in the Sumida Hokusai Museum, studying examples of 19th century ukiyo-e (block print) artist Katsushika Hokusai's phenomenal work. 

From the optical sensation of seeing our dance film work in the planetarium, to the painterly and printed perspectives of Hokusai's images, something profound spoke to us - how we perceive space and time through our bodies, how we enter, register and inhabit or co-exist within synthetic and natural places. What do these thresholds offer as the margins of one reality overlap with another?

Daniel got to see what Ad Parnassum - Purapurawhetu would look like screened in 360 dome format at Konica Minolta Planetaria. Photo: Daniel Belton

The human presence in my work with Good Company Arts is always at the heart of the story telling – filmed dancers occupy digitally augmented environments and affect these malleable worlds spatially, which in turn responds to their movement.

In the Konica Minolta Planetaria dome, this dialogue between the physical and digital was heightened in a visceral way as the curve of the hemisphere brought an organic sentience to the cinematic journey of the work, almost porous.

Similarly, Hokusai's 2D images, the most famous of which is the Wave of Kanakawa, evoke depth perception and also play brilliantly with scale in their impeccable detail. His compositions are cinematic, and in my view, highly choreographic. This is why I love his work, and he is held high in Japanese culture as an icon - a sensei and master of his craft.

From Tokyo, we travelled south by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto then transferred to a small local line to make our way to the old cultural capital, Nara.

Nara has it's own special flavour as a city and the shift from the urban pulse of Tokyo, to the more rural feel of Nara was welcomed as the heat of summer intensified.

We stayed in a very traditional guest house, near to Gallery OUT of PLACE, where I would prepare to show my print art and the new film edit of Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū.

Welcomed by gallery director Mr Yoshinori Nomura, we installed film projection, sculptural objects and giclée paper ink works.

The opening of the exhibition titled "Kakusei" was a success, with prints selling and many people celebrating the work.

I gave a slideshow presentation about the process of collaboration with dancers and music composer Dame Gillian Whitehead. People loved it, and a lively Q&A followed.  We were joined by dancer Meri Otoshi, who helped with translation.

At the opening, which ran for two weeks, we made new connections with architects, painters, musicians, historians and other gallerists.

Daniel: "At the opening we made new connections with architects, painters, musicians, historians and other gallerists." Photo: Daniel Belton

Back in Kyoto, we met again with Meri Otoshi and were guided by her through several day trips with research to historic sites, and later a journey to Osaka to see Shochikuza Kabuki Theater live. Amazing! This was a rich indoctrination to Kabuki as an art form.

We also met with gallerist Katsuhiko Matsumura to begin plans for a future opening and to meet his family. At night we experienced the city preparing for Tanabata Day [also known as star festival] celebrations, and caught up with pianist Yatchi to discuss film scores and a new project.

All these connections feel so full of potential to grow and affirmed that there is much more to do here in Japan. These artists we connected with have great integrity and are deeply committed to their crafts in dance, music, theatre, fine arts and film.

I felt respected, and we were very honoured to be invited to show our work and be for a while in the heat of Honshu, relishing sounds, tastes, aromas and the sights of magnificent Japan, with her people.

For all artists, connection between nations and art forms becomes the life force of collaboration that cultivates foundation where we can develop our distinct praxis [the blending of theory and practice], living in the plural realm of co-creation. And in doing these things, we are living the dream, as bridge builders, cultural ambassadors carrying special responsibilities - people unite to appreciate and acknowledge one another, and support our future generations to do the same, leading by example.


About the Author:

Daniel is a multi-media arts trailblazer with three decades of working in and researching film, choreography, performing arts, digital arts, sound and design. He was the recipient of Creative New Zealand’s Choreographic Fellowship in 2010, and became a Te Tumu Toi Arts Laureate with the Arts Foundation of New Zealand in 2015. His work as director of Good Company Arts has seen the renowned group win numerous international awards including first place in the prestigious Sino x Niio Illumination Digital Art Prize, Hong Kong. 

**This article is originally published on the Asia New Zealand Foundation's website

-Asia Media Centre