Three works cast a magic spell


The Tokyo International Arts Festival (TIF) this year presents an eclectic and fascinating program of dance and theater from Argentina, Switzerland and Belgium. Having admitting that the festival — in its current form since 2002 — is under financial constraints due to lack of arts funding and a flawed subsidy system, the organizers deserve credit for producing such a strong and diverse schedule.

The conspicuous absence of any Japanese performers due to the aforementioned funding trouble is, according to program director Chiaki Soma, “deeply regrettable.” She hopes, however, that the represented foreign contingent will be an inspiration to any Japanese artists who want to participate in future programs.

Executive director of TIF Sachio Ichimura takes solace and encouragement in the words of George Ibrahim from Palestinian group Al-Kasaba Theatre, who participated in TIF 2005: “I know that Japanese artists have suffered from a difficult financial situation, and the support from the government is very little. Then, why do the Japanese artists not raise a cry against it?”

Held in the Nishi-Sugamo Arts Factory, the former Asahi Junior High School, the organizers are utilizing as much of the space as they can, with classrooms transformed into rehearsal rooms and offices, and the school gym being used as a theater. It is a perfect example of how local councils, in this case Toshima Ward, are able to collaborate with various arts projects and NPOs to create a multifunctional space for both the local community and visiting artists.

For dance connoisseurs, the trio of performances under the title “Three Spells” serves up a duo and two solo pieces by some of Belgium’s best talent. According to Soma, the dance series represents “a new frontier and a new mode of expression with blending and synergy of different genres of arts that enrich body movement”.

The first piece, “Venus in Furs,” is choreographed by Damien Jalet (formerly of Belgium’s Les Ballets C. de la B.) and performed by Vietnamese- French dancer Alexandra Gilbert. Originally devised for the Luxembourg style event “dysfashional” in 2007, the costumes were designed by Japanese designer Jun (Jonio) Takahashi. The designer behind celebrated brand Under Cover, Takahashi is renowned for conceptually impressive fashion and for having played a pivotal role in Harajuku’s Ura-Hara fashion movement alongside Nigo of BAPE and fashion maverick Hiroshi Fujiwara.

“Venari,” the second piece, sees Jalet performing his own choreography in an intriguing collaboration with set and costume designer Alexandra Mein and lighting designer Enrico Bagnoli. The work is inspired by a Greek myth in which the hunter Actaeon accidentally sees the naked body of Zeus’ daughter Artemis and is subsequently killed by his own dogs.

The third performance, “Aleko,” performed by Jalet and Gilbert, pays homage to Marc Chagall’s 1942 backdrops for the ballet of the same name. Three of these stunning artworks are currently in the hands of the Aomori Museum of Art. Painted while he was in exile in America, they are the largest Chagall paintings held in Japan.

The piece is choreographed by dance pioneer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who sealed his legendary status in a 2005 performance of “Zero Degrees,” a widely acclaimed collaboration with leading British dancer Akram Khan, musician Nitin Sawhney and the 1994 Turner Prize winning sculptor Antony Gormley. “Aleko,” which premiered at Aomori Museum of Art in 2006, describes the lunatic passion of Aleko, who loved a girl so much that he killed her.

Besides the dancing, audiences have responded to the traditional Georgian songs that accompany the performance. All the music for “Three Spells” is composed and performed by electronic wizard Christian Fennesz, a sometime collaborator of Japanese avante-garde composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and American industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails.

Another TIF production, Stefan Kaegi and Rimini Protokoll’s documentary theater show, “Mnemopark,” (March 14-17) is a humorous tale about four Swiss trainspotters. They guide us through their lives and the history of Switzerland with the aid of a miniature electric train that has a tiny video camera attached. Performed in German with Japanese subtitles, the eccentric, quirky and humorous performance promises to be great visual theater. Its appearance as part of this year’s TIF comes on the back of some terrific reviews from the 2006 Avignon Festival.

“Three Spells” is at the Nishi-Sugamo Arts Factory, 4-9-1, Nishi-Sugamo, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, from March 21-23, and “Mnemopark” runs March 14-17 (for ticket prices, call (03) 5468-8113 or visit For more information call (03) 5961-5202 or visit