Graphic: response to performance at The Gulbenkian

The team at WiseWords collected responses from the audience at our performance at The Gulbenkian last Saturday, and we here present them as a graphic: some lovely responses.

Click to view

Click to view

Private View at Beach Creative

Fabulous evening at Beach Creative in Herne Bay last night, at which Nancy Gaffield and Wynn White were In Conversation, talking about their individual as well as their collaborative processes on Tokaido Road.

Wynn’s photographs are currently being exhibited at Beach Creative as one of several events leading up to tomorrow’s performance at The Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury, and last night was the opportunity to get up close and personal with both Wynn and his images, as he took the assembled crowd through his creative process, interspersed with Nancy reading from her cycle of poems.

Thank you to Beach Creative for hosting Wynn’s exhibition, and for last night’s In Conversation; it all builds up to tomorrow night’s performance – see you there!

Exhibition of Wynn White’s photographs at Beach Creative

As the build-up to the performance of Tokaido Road at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury on Sat 23 May, we’re delighted that the satellite exhibition of Wynn White’s photographs is now open at Beach Creative in Herne Bay.

American-born now living in Japan, Wynn is a hands-on photographer using several historic printing techniques that are becoming increasingly rare; several of Wynn’s mesmerising photos are projected onto the stage during the opera; the exhibition at Beach Creative sets Wynn’s photos within the context of his work, and allows a wider appreciation of his creativity.

beach_creative_logoThe exhibition runs until 23 May; admission is free, find out more about Beach Creative here.


Five Questions: Kate Romano (producer)


1. What first attracted you to the idea of the Tokaido Road project?

I’ve been a founder member of Okeanos since 2000. I became more and more curious about our mix of Western and Japanese instruments and our collaborations with other art forms. What’s really happening when you put two cultures together, or a mix of art forms into the same space? When do such meetings become successful and meaningful (or not)? Do disparate elements amalgamate (ugh – that word ‘fusion’ which I don’t like) or can they retain their own identity and still add meaning to the whole?
I was looking for a project in which to explore these questions, but at that time (2012) I didn’t know we’d be creating an opera! Quite by chance, we came across Nancy Gaffield’s wonderful book of poems called Tokaido Road. I was excited by Hiroshige’s pictures (the ‘53 Stations of the Tokaido Road’) which inspired Nancy’s poems, the drama of the journey, the vibrancy of the Edo period. And I was captivated by this structural idea of art commenting on art commenting on art etc Maybe this was something we could translate into the concert hall? It started to feel less like a song cycle (the original plan!) and more like a drama, a narrative, a theatrical and musical journey. Paintings, poetry, music, photography, mime….all maintaining their own identity but pursuing one end – to tell the story of Hiroshige’s travels in their own language whilst ‘commenting on’ the other arts forms around them. I later found out that this process has a name – Tokaido Road is an exercise in ‘ekphrasis’ – one art form adding meaning to another. I’m incredibly proud of Tokaido Road – I think my team have told a wonderful timeless story and created a beautiful, elegant piece of music theatre out of my initial ponderings…

2. Tell us about your involvement in Tokaido Road.

I am the producer. Two years ago, I didn’t know what a producer did – or even that I was becoming one. I suspect that the definition of ‘producer’ is different for everyone who makes things happen, but I found it to be a (surprisingly) creative role and one I relished. Firstly, I had the challenge of wrapping up and summarising what we were setting out to do, then building the team to enable it all to happen. With Nancy as librettist, the next (obvious) choice was Nicola LeFanu as composer. I love her music and I felt she’d be the right person for this opera. We’ve got some incredible people working on Tokaido Road in every capacity – too many to list here – but they have all contributed so much. I organised all 8 touring performances, coordinated schedules, created the outreach projects, calculated the budget and then raised the money to make it all happen. It was a huge job, I won’t lie! It involved getting up at 4am for many months. It gave me many sleepless nights as well as moments of immense pride and pleasure. Oh, and I also perform in the opera – clarinet and bass clarinet. I am in the very strange position of being a producer who has never seen my opera live! Fortunately we’ve got a terrific film of it.
3. What excites you about contemporary arts?

Its an incredible time to be involved in making art. Last week I saw three breathtakingly good events: ENO ‘s Between Worlds, a children’s theatre production by Punchdrunk and Rioji Ikeda’s Supersymmetry. Each confirmed the staggering variety, imagination and quality of work being produced right now. And the 2015 Proms Programme… Wow! On the other hand, there are huge challenges facing everyone working in the arts. Its really tough and restrictive sometimes, but it certainly makes you think in very creative ways. Every penny has to work hard – producing the highest quality art, reaching as many people as possible in as as many ways as we can think of. I love highly engaging immersive theatre, I’m exploring more site-specific work and I really enjoy making education projects which usually involve a lot of home-made recycled props. I am constantly inspired by innovative museum and exhibition curators- especially those who bring everyday things into question. I love being part of an industry which is so responsive to the times we live in – we can make art anywhere out of anything. We can engage people in a hundred different ways. I don’t think art is there just to please everyone. I think art should enable you to ask questions and see the world in different ways.

4. What has the project taught you / shown you / made you aware of?

Where to start? It has taught me how to produce an opera – the practical and the personal matters. I have a far keener awareness of the challenges facing the arts industry. It has taught me more about myself – my motivation, my ambitions, my determination. It has enabled me to think in new ways about collaborative arts which I will take forwards. It has made me realise how much I love to tell a story and create worlds of wonder and curiosity. I’m like a big kid really – I just enjoy making stuff. It has resulted in friendships with extraordinarily talented people that will last a lifetime.

5. What relevance, for you, does the project have to today’s cultural environment?

Collaborative work is everywhere today. And there are fascinating groups who bring together more than one culture. I think that one of the most relevant and significant aspects of the opera was its ambition to ask how multiple art forms and cultures relate to each other in the same space. We thought long and hard about these relationships – ours with Japan, and those between the art forms. Regarding Japan, ultimately I have realised that we enjoy Japan like the ‘tourists’ we are: equally thrilled and fascinated by both similarities and differences. I think that in Tokaido Road we have created a new place – not Western, not Eastern, but somewhere unique to the story. I was very pleased that our Japanese audiences enjoyed Tokaido Road so much. On some ways, the artistic relationships were harder. There are moments in the opera where I think ‘oh, that was magical, we got that just right’ and others where the relationship between image, music and mime took much longer to balance and establish and we went round in circles before deciding on the final version. It was also vital to create a work which was malleable, portable and tourable. Like many projects today, we didn’t have the luxury of a run in a fixed venue so the opera had to be something that could adapt to all sorts of spaces. It has gone into theatres, a tiny church, the vast Great Hall in the British Museum. Its a model I’ll use again – flexible and simple stage design can still look incredibly beautiful. Finally, our outreach programme which is all starting this year aims to address all the different elements of the opera – story telling, travelling, music, poetry, Japan, music, mime…something for everyone!

Can I answer the question you didn’t ask? Would I do it all again? Yes – without a moment’s hesitation!

Five Questions: Jeremy Huw Williams (role of Hiroshige)

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Jeremy Huw Williams as Hiroshige in rehearsal (June 2014)

1. What first attracted you to the idea of the Tokaido Road project?

I have always admired the lyrical music of the composer Nicola LeFanu, in particular her operatic works, having created the role of Domenico in her seventh opera, Dream Hunter. It has been a great honour for me to create the central role of Hiroshige in her latest opera, Tokaido Road, and the musical and theatrical experiences have been most rewarding. In much the same way as I was drawn to portray the role of Chou En-lai in John Adams’s opera, Nixon in China, I was immediately fascinated by the character of Hiroshige, a whistle-blower who evaded the Japanese censors by using beauty to reveal a reality that was not always pleasant. I have always loved the colour blue and could readily translate Hiroshige’s woodblock prints into a series of emotional blues in my mind that I could bring to life on the operatic stage.

2. Tell us about your involvement in Tokaido Road

I began discussing the project with the composer Nicola LeFanu in April 2012 and subsequently had discussions with the producer Kate Romano in September 2012. The more I read about Hiroshige the more I empathised with the man and his great artistic achievement and the difficult choices that he had to make along the road. My role combines the artist as a young man and an old man looking back on his life until his demise, a multi-dimensional role for any actor and an interesting challenge, physically and vocally. I was delighted to receive the score in March 2014 in preparation for the rehearsal period in June 2014 and the world premiere at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2014. We shall be touring the opera until October 2015.

3. What excites you about contemporary arts?

I have always had an interest in contemporary arts of all kinds. My PhD is in the analysis of contemporary vocal music. I have collected contemporary visual art for many years and am a regular auctioneer for several charities. I am on the board of the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture, Ty Cerdd (incorporating the Welsh Music Information Centre), Welsh Music Guild, Music in Hospitals Cymru/Wales and Welsh Chamber Orchestra. I was a National Advisor to the Arts Council of Wales for ten years, and a board member of National Dance Company Wales (a major contemporary dance company), Walton Trust, La Mortella Trust and Incorporated Society of Musicians. During the past twenty years I have commissioned more than fifty musical compositions. Working with creators of any kind is a thrill for me. I have never created anything myself. I consider it an honour and a duty to serve the composer, poet and librettist.

4. What has the project taught you / shown you / made you aware of?

The opera invokes a special time and place through a beautiful combination of eastern and western instruments, coupled with western operatic singing, a fusion of cuisine for the eye and the ear. The projected images of Japan from the 1830s and the beautiful direction and design of the opera leave a lasting impression on both performers and audience alike. I am currently working in China, and am aware of the antecedents of many of these instruments and their music in the musical traditions of this great country. The concept of the alter ego is one that works beautifully in the opera, especially as we have such a talented Japanese actor in the cast who moves with such poise and grace.

5. What relevance, for you, does the project have to today’s cultural environment?

This opera, which combines western and eastern performers, collaborators and musical instruments, as well as compositional styles, is a reflection of the increasing diversity in the culture of the United Kingdom, and many other parts of the world today. We live in a cosmopolitan society, and the arts can play a very large role in the homogenisation of our people, languages and traditions as we strive for mutual understanding and enrichment.

WalkSwaleMedway response to ‘Tokaido Toad’

Last night the new Colyer-Fergusson Gallery at the University of Kent hosted a Private View of artist Hope Fitzgerald’s evocative exhibition, Walk Swale Medway. a response to Tokaido Road that embraces similar ideas of travel, of journey and landscape.

The exhibition, part of several ancillary events leading up to the next performance of the opera at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury on May 23, closes this weekend after a two-week run, and last night’s event was an opportunity to meet the artist and view her collection of images which respond to the area of Swale and Medway which Hope explored over a three-week period, photographing as she went.

The first of two uniquely-Kent-inspired responses to Tokaido Road which the gallery will host, Nancy Gaffield was also present last night to view the exhibition.

The second exhibition, Exploring the Saxon Shore Way: a response to Tokaido Road by Earthbound Women, runs at the gallery from 9 – 24 May; more details here.