The confluence of more than 1,000 years traditions and contemporary art - EU・ジャパンフェスト日本委員会

The confluence of more than 1,000 years traditions and contemporary art

Emilija Šakalienė|Festival Director of the Japan Days in Kaunas WA, MB Japonistė

Kaunas is the city situated at the confluence of two largest Lithuanian rivers – Nemunas and Neris. Just like their waters merge together, Japanese traditional culture embraced the contemporary arts at the festival “Japan Days in Kaunas WA” held in May 2023, continuing the tradition of “Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022” programme.

After almost a year of preparations for the Festival on May 3rd the subtle moves of Japanese dancer Ayano Honda enchanted the audience of more than 700 people, who gathered at the Opening Concert. Her unforgettable appearance was followed by the unique performance created by Nakastugawa Ji-Kabuki Theatre actors, who taught the Lithuanian audience how to enjoy the show like real Japanese and throw the ohineri on stage as a sign of gratitude for the impressive play. And this was only the beginning of the beautiful friendship celebration evening, which continued with gentle sounds of songs for peace concert by Utako Toyama and her accompanying musicians. The culmination of the concert was the joint appearance of Yonago City Youth Choir “Little Phoenix”, Kaunas A. Kačanauskas Music School choir “Perpetuum mobile” and Utako Toyama group performing the song “We Declare Peace” with all the spectators singing together. This event was like a bridge joining our nations together, united by friendship and vision for world peace.

Festival Opening Concert – Utako Toyama with her band, Yonago City Youth Choir “Little Phoenix” and A. Kacanauskas School Choir “Perpetuum Mobile” ©︎ Martynas Plepys

While the audience was enjoying the opening concert the final rehearsals and preparations were held all day at Kaunas Dance Theater “Aura”, which was preparing for the digital art and dance performance “Garden 4.12” premiere. Inspired by the installations of the Japanese audiovisual artist Tatsuru Arai, choreographer Birutė Letukaitė has created a choreography in which the experiences of humanity unfold through floral ornamentation. The nebulas turn into planets, the stage into cosmic expanses, and the garden blossoms with the dancers’ bodies and digital visualisations. The event held at the historical Art Deco style building of Kaunas Cinema Center “Romuva” amazed the audience by the synergy audiovisual solutions developed by Tatsuru Arai and outstanding performance of Kaunas “Aura” Dance Theater dancers. The collaboration between the Lithuanian and Japanese artists born at the festival “Japan Days in Kaunas WA” will flourish in further projects combining these two forms of art complementing one another.

Hiroaki Umeda performance “Intensional Particle” ©︎ Evaldas Virketis

“Japan Days in Kaunas WA” was especially honored to present to the audience a choreographer and a multidisciplinary artist Hiroaki Umeda now recognized as one of the leading figures of the Japanese avant-garde art scene. Since the launch of his company “S20”, his subtle yet violent dance pieces have toured around the world to audience and critical acclaim. His work is acknowledged for the highly holistic artistic methodology with strong digital background, which considers not only physical elements as dance, but also optical, sonal, sensorial and, above all, spatiotemporal components as part of the choreography. Based on his profound interest in choreographing time and space, Umeda has spread his talent not only as a choreographer and dancer, but also as a composer, lighting designer, scenographer and visual artist. At his performance “Intensional Particle” the audience experienced a digital reality saturated with “unstable stability”, with a spectacular lighting architecture, choreography, and dance by the artist himself. On stage, the temporal forms of the digital particles, evoking images of melting solids, sublimation of liquids and heat transfer algorithms, synchronised and synthesised with Umeda’s movements, creating a whole universe that danced like a living organism.

The Japanese idiom “HIKA-KOUGAI (悲歌慷慨)”, meaning sadness-filled inner anger at the evils of the times and one’s own failures became the symbol of the Japanese artist’s Keisuke Sugawara unconventional drama and dance performance analysing suppressed human emotions, which was presented on the stage of Kaunas Artists’ House. In Japanese culture, modesty and protecting other people’s feelings is the highest value, instilled from an early age, but how much unspilled emotions is buried inside us to protect others? How do we experience anger in the society? Those were the question raised by the actors.

Between the evening performances, which gathered the audience of more than 1,500 people, days were filled by Japanese cultural lectures, movie screenings and other events allowing to learn more about various aspects of Japanese lifestyle and traditions. Photographer Hiroshi Seo arrived especially from Tokyo to present his exhibition “Oiemoto (family foundation)” dedicated to the cherishing the 1,200 years old oiemoto tradition of mastering various Japanese artistic creations. Gentle brushstrokes of Tosen Iwasaki represented her unconventional calligraphy at the exhibition “The Sense of Wonder” accompanied by her poems. People walking at the city center could enjoy the Hiratsuka City photo exhibition and May 3rd was brightened by the flash-mob of more than 1000 Kaunas pupils dancing Japanese traditional dance “Tanabata-Odori”.

Tanabata-Odori dance flash mob by Kaunas Pupils ©︎ Vilmantas Raupelis

The 4 days of the festival were running fast like water in the river and the time for the final concert has come. An unexpected surprise was waiting for the audience, which at the end of the night learned and sang together with Tsugaru Shamisen performer Hibiki Ichikawa and singer Akari Mochizuki the traditional Japanese songs, followed by vibrant taiko drums rhythm of Luke Burns. The confluence of two nations, different cultural perspectives brought us closer together and enriched us again filling our memories with unforgettable sense of Japan.