YOKOHAMA - Summer is a time for dancing. Across the country there are countless local matsuri (festivals) in which a regionally specific odori (dance) is the main attraction and, of course, there are the many outdoor music festivals that allow people to let loose and move.
The city of Yokohama has taken its love of dance a step further in the past six years by holding the triannual Dance, Dance, Dance@Yokohama, a multivenue extravaganza that, this year, runs from Aug. 4 to Sept. 30 and is set to feature more than 230 performers — not including the people in the crowd who get into the spirit, naturally.
“The idea is to make the whole city a stage — not just the theaters or studios but the streets of the city,” says Shinji Ono, the secretary-general of the festival and a member of the Yokohama Arts Festival Executive Committee. “Yokohama has so much appeal and so many cultural sites, attracting many creative people, such as innovators and artists, over the years. We think it’s important to make the most of the city’s unique charm.”
That “unique charm” Ono is referring to partly comes from the city’s position in Japanese history: It was here that the country was forced to open to international trade starting in 1853 after more than 220 years of isolation. Its tourist sites include the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery and one of the largest Chinatowns in the world.
In keeping with this tradition of cross-cultural interaction, Dance, Dance, Dance@Yokohama will, for the first time, feature a bilateral collaboration with Yokohama’s French sister city, Lyon.
“Next year is the 60th anniversary of the Yokohama-Lyon partnership,” Ono says. “Also, since Dominique Hervieu became the artistic director of the Lyon Dance Biennale, more attention has been given to widening the diversity of dance.”
Hervieu acts as a co-director of Dance, Dance, Dance@Yokohama alongside Ryohei Kondo, who leads the all-male dance troupe Condors and has worked with the festival since its inception in 2012.
“They (both) have worked really hard to find dance that is appealing to all kinds of people in order to bring dance to a wide, diverse audience,” Ono says. “They really understand what we’re trying to do and have created a program to stage in Yokohama that is perfect for our festival.”
Hervieu says that as sister cities Lyon and Yokohama have been developing successful exchanges in many fields, and that the merging of their dance heritages was a bit of a no-brainer.
“Our two cities being ‘dance cities,’ it seemed relevant for our two festivals to be connected,” Hervieu says via email from France. “I hope the audience will understand the philosophy of our programming, which is aimed at (a broad) audience: fans of choreographic research, a young audience, the new generation of hip-hop artists and (those with) the openness to all sorts of movement disciplines, like circuses.”
A part of the programming will be a new work from Kondo’s Condors, which will debut Aug. 10. The 49-year-old dancer and choreographer has also focused his attention on a program called Yokohama Dance Paradise, which will be held every weekend during the festival. Its aim is to encourage amateur participation, giving those who aren’t dancers the chance to take the stage with professionals. Kondo created an original dance for the program based on the children’s song “Akai Kutsu” (“Red Shoes”) about a girl from Yokohama who is adopted by American missionaries.
“Almost all Japanese know the song since children learn it at school,” Kondo says. “It instantly evokes the history and international culture of Yokohama. I did a new arrangement of the song and made it into something I hope people will want to dance along to.”
Kondo will also lead the festival’s grand finale on Sept. 30 — a giant community dance event.
“We plan to gather in front of the Yokohama Museum and really open it up to everyone — those who love to dance and those who love to watch dancing — so there will be something for everyone,” he says. “We really hope people will come, not just to watch but to dance along with us.”
Other programs that are scheduled for the festival include an Aug. 4 performance from members of the Tokyo Ballet, who are adopting the name Yokohama Bayside Ballet for the event, led by principal dancer Mizuka Ueno. The show will feature a Maurice Bejart favorite, “Bolero,” as well as excerpts from the third act of Vladimir Vasilyv’s “Don Quixote,” among others.
The superstars of dance will make an appearance at Dance, Dance, Dance@Yokohama too, such as the award-winning Akram Khan Company (“Chotto Desh,” Aug. 22-25) and Ballet de Lorraine (Sept. 16 and 17). Attendees can also expect a staggering range of movement in the guise of cheerleading performances, belly dancing, hip-hop dance shows and ballroom.
“In 1989 there was a big dance festival in Yokohama that, at the time, was considered an exceptionally creative contemporary dance event, and many people, including Ryohei Kondo, went to see it,” Ono says, referring to the city’s rich artistic heritage. “It was the motivation for many dance artists to go into contemporary dance. After that there was the Yokohama Dance Collection and Yokohama gradually became known for contemporary dance. The Yokohama Triennale of contemporary art followed that success in 2001 and then came our dance festival.”
With the amount of performances taking place at Dance, Dance, Dance@Yokohama, who knows what future ballerinas and artists could be lurking in the crowd. At the very least, participants can benefit from the exposure to new and diverse forms of art.
“Exchanges between different countries, with contrasting work methods and cultures, pushes us to question our ways of working,” Hervieu says, a sentiment that Kondo agrees with.
“There will be a lot of different dances to see and experience at this festival,” he says. “We hope people will come to see and experience the type of dance they already love, but to experience other dance forms as well.”
Dance, Dance, Dance@Yokohama takes place at various locations in Yokohama from Aug. 4 to Sept. 30. For more information, visit www.dance-yokohama.jp.