A UK heritage project will take audiences on a journey through Anglo-Japanese history, celebrating the North East’s strong links with Japan through dance, music, film and literature.
Funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and produced by internationally-renowned Surface Area Dance Theatre Company (SADTC), in collaboration with researcher Adam Denton, Project Godie will bring to life the shared industrial, military and cultural heritage of the North East of England and Japan.
The idea for the project was conceived by SADTCs Creative Director, Nicole Vivien Watson, and Adam Denton, who were fascinated to discover that the North East’s links with Japan run deeper than first thought.
Nicole said: “It is widely acknowledged that the region has experienced cultural and commercial exchanges with Japan, the beginnings of which can be found geographically on the banks of the River Tyne in Elswick, Tyne and Wear through its shipbuilding heritage. And the legacy we see today is the region’s strong business relations with Japan.
“Yet five graves occupied by Japanese nationals lie in St John’s Cemetery in Newcastle Upon Tyne, showing us that their time here was more than simply a business exchange – they spent the rest of their lives here in North East England.”
And it wasn’t just those working in the shipbuilding industry who experienced life in the region during that time. An acrobatic troupe, Tannaker’s Japanese, brought their version of Japanese culture to the North East, and it is this little-known fact that influenced the project’s name.
Little Godie, the baby son of two of the performers who sadly passed away aged just 15 months, is buried just over ten miles away from the five Newcastle graves in neighbouring Sunderland.
Adam said: “The fact that there was so much cultural exchange taking place is something we want to share with audiences today, investigating a heritage that is relevant but sadly long-forgotten.”
Little exists about Tannaker’s Japanese and their tour of the region. Adam added: “We feel there is so much more to discover and our research activities will continue beyond the project’s launch and into the autumn, culminating with a presence within The Discovery Museum’s permanent exhibition space in Newcastle.”
Using a multi-disciplinary approach, and inspired by Japanese dance theatre, butoh, the programme will launch on Friday 12 August at All Saints’ Church in Newcastle. For two consecutive nights, the church will play host to a brand new performance by SADTC and commissioned artist, Vangeline, founder of the New York Butoh Institute. The collaboration also features sound and performance duo Trans/Human.
Community groups Search and St James Culture and Heritage Centre in the Elswick area of Newcastle will also take part in a range of events including writing and movement workshops, and activities at the local Scotswood Natural Community Garden.
A publication and website will also be produced, to encourage wider members of the community to share their own thoughts, knowledge and writings on the subject.
For further information, visit www.surfacearea.org.uk.