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Spotlight Japan festival a great opportunity to open up to new artforms and neighbours

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Haruka and Rika Fujii perform a marimba duet at the Spotlight Japan press conference (Soundstreams photo).

Five of Toronto’s prominent cultural curators are celebrating Japanese culture this spring in Spotlight Japan, bringing together so many art forms under a common cultural theme.

As an emerging artist and arts administrator, it’s encouraging to see collaborations like this happening with some of the bigger presenters in the city. It sends a positive message about Toronto arts organizations thinking across institutional boundaries and art forms.

Spotlight Japan speaks to the wonderful cultural capital of our proudly international city in the same way Caribana, Brazil Fest, and the handful of other festivals celebrate the ethnic traditions that weave the tapestry of our urban community.

While there is a myriad of culturally diverse art happening all of the time in Toronto, I see festivals as a fantastic way to raise public awareness and impact.

Besides being an excellent excuse to get off the couch and out of the house, I believe that festivals like this are pretty important in the grand scheme of modern society. These days we can really feel the global economy becoming ever more interconnected. As information speeds along freely across national boundaries, it makes sense to me that arts and culture should increasingly do so as well.

Besides, cultural reciprocity not only enriches our art, it’s also an invaluable catalyst for building lasting social and economic relationships on a personal and societal level.

By celebrating and exploring the artistic achievements of other cultures, we build ties and an understanding that has positive effects that reach far beyond arts and entertainment. And to me the best part is that in Toronto, where we are lucky to live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, not only do I get to learn about other nations, I also get to learn a little more about my neighbours.

I notice that the offerings from each Spotlight Japan presenter have a common thread in that they explore both the rich tradition and modern innovation of these forms by celebrating great past works alongside contemporary offerings. We’ll have the chance to see traditional Kabuki theatre (performed in a modern context) one evening, and a play by Hirata, Japan’s leading contemporary playwright the next week.

As the Metcalf Foundation Intern at Soundstreams, I’m thrilled that our Fujii Percussion and Voices concert is a part of Spotlight Japan. The festival is a collaboration between Canadian Stage, TIFF, Soundstreams, the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

I heard Haruka and Rika Fujii perform a marimba duet at the Spotlight Japan press conference, and let me say: you are in for a treat! The level of fluency and communication between them is astounding. The soundscape created by three marimbas, piano, and a rare Japanese percussion instrument that uses ancient sanukite stones is sure to envelop and transcend the concert hall.

Soundstreams is probably best known as a curator of new works by Canadian and international composers. In fact, in the last 30 years they’ve commissioned over 150 new works by Canadian composers alone. But I would say that from a vantage point on the leading edge of innovation, one can often understand the history of an art form most clearly.

On that note, I’ve noticed that Soundstreams’ programming pays close attention to pairing contemporary offerings thoughtfully with their historical counterparts. Context plays a big part in how we digest and interpret contemporary art, and it’s often quite powerful when presented alongside works that outline the origins of contemporary techniques.

Spotlight Japan is a great opportunity to take in a well-chosen smattering of the old and new, so don’t be afraid to pair up contrasting experiences!

In fact, the entire celebration is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to new art forms. If you’re an avid moviegoer and have a great time at Tokyo Drifters, why not take a chance and try one of the exciting plays from Canadian Stage (I must confess that I’m definitely curious about those robot actors!), or join us at the Soundstreams concert.

It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine for our personal culture fix. In fact, although I take in my fair share of music concerts, I think it’s somehow nearly been a year since I’ve been out to see a play!

I’m stuck deciding between the two Canadian Stage productions, but I plan on seeing at least one of them. So, I dare you to step outside your comfort zone and experience an art form that you wouldn’t normally choose. You’ll be glad you did.

All in all, Spotlight Japan reminds me how lucky we are to live in a time where we can enjoy incredible art from all corners of the world in our own backyard.

You can find all the festival details here.

Ben Dietschi
Metcalf Foundation Intern

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