The UK and Japan share a love of the theatre that, in both countries, has a long history and plays an important role in the lives of their people.
To celebrate this cultural morsel and the great year that Britain is enjoying—just ask Olympic and royalty enthusiasts—the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) will open their 2012–2013 season with the British Performing Arts Festival 2012.
This will feature three major UK performances: Benjamin Britten’s 1945 opera Peter Grimes, Léo Delibes’ 1876 ballet Silvia, and William Shakespeare’s Richard III, written around 1591. The programme runs throughout October, with Silvia continuing into November.
The NNTT’s collaboration with the British Council Japan fits in well with the UK’s worldwide GREAT campaign. Over the next four years, it will promote the UK abroad, shaping international perceptions about the nation and helping draw long-term trade and tourism benefits to the UK.
Part of the plan is to bring UK performing arts to Japanese audiences, to further inform them about British culture and to promote the Tokyo theatre.
Sir David Warren KCMG, British ambassador to Japan, said during a special presentation at the British Embassy Tokyo: “Japan and the United Kingdom have enjoyed a very strong bilateral relationship for many years. Culture and art add an invaluable dimension to that partnership”.
Through this collaboration, he added, it is hoped that bilateral cultural ties will continue to deepen, providing an opportunity for UK artists to engage a broader spectrum of the Japanese public.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this month, the NNTT is Japan’s first national centre for the performing arts, including opera, ballet, contemporary dance and drama. The theatre is known as one of the great venues for the performing arts not only in Asia, but also worldwide.
Jeff Streeter, director of the British Council Japan, the UK’s leading cultural relations organisation, believes that culture plays a vital role in bringing together people from different countries, backgrounds and beliefs.
“Culture and the arts can make a difference not only to institutions, but particularly it can transform individual lives”, he explained.
One challenge that Japan and the UK are facing is how to reach out to new audiences beyond the traditional domain of the theatre.
To this end, many UK institutions are using new technologies and collaborating across art forms to increase public engagement with the arts.
Through their collaboration with the NNTT, the British Council hopes to showcase to Japanese audiences some of these new approaches.
“Although this is a celebration of British culture, Silvia is actually a French ballet”, NNTT Artistic Director, Ballet and Dance, David Bintley told those attending the NNTT presentation. The festival will open with Bintley’s 1993 production of the ballet.
As a great admirer of Japanese art and culture, Bintley believes that “Peter Grimes is the single most important opera ever written in Britain”.
The opera had 21 premieres worldwide in its first three years following the 1945 opening, and the centenary of its highly acclaimed composer will be celebrated next year.
In addition to the UK’s latest opera and ballet productions, photographs will be displayed featuring UK performances of other famous works over the past 15 years.
Discussions about the performances and the UK’s gardening culture will be held at the NNTT as part of the festival, and a special display of Shakespeare’s works and life will be exhibited at the theatre into November.
Thus far, 2012 has been a significant year for the UK and, it seems, it promises to get even better.
1:00pm (20, 21 October)
6:30pm (19 October)
2:00pm (27, 28 October; 1, 3 November)
7:00pm (28, 31 October; 2 November)
(Above) David Bintley (fourth from left), NNTT artistic director, Ballet and Dance, and
Jeff Streeter (fifth from left), director of the British Council Japan, with dancers from Léo Delibes’ ballet Silvia.