Journeys End

Poet and Tokaido Road librettist Nancy Gaffield reflects on her recent visit to Japan…

Objects and spaces bear trace evidence that tell their own stories. How does a poet negotiate the borders between fact and fiction, history and the imagination? These questions have occupied me since I first began writing Tokaido Road in 2008. At that time, the objects were the individual prints of Hiroshige Utagawa titled “The 53 Stations of the Tokaido” or Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi). The space was Japan—the Japan I experienced between the years 1979-84, and on subsequent visits, but also Japan as a historical space, a place of myth and legend. Though I did not know the term yet, it was a work based in psychogeography, where the effects of the geographical environment collide with the imagination of the individual poet. The ‘stories’ in the poems are based on historical material, research and observation, but they are also imagined accounts that cross the boundaries of time and place, building a bridge between worlds.

Brocken spectre is the term for the phenomenon of the shadow of an observer cast against mist or cloud. Clearing and concealment—a paradoxical and ancient struggle according to Heidegger. This phenomenon, like Japan itself, has always bedazzled me. Ghost-must, strange-henge, crow knows. Tokaido Road has had a remarkably long life for a little book of poems. Through it, I have met so many remarkable people from whom I have learned so much. In all those involved with the opera, it continues to live and breathe. I will never again be able to think of the Hiro of my poems without hearing Jeremy Huw Williams singing Nicola’s haunting musical rendering of the line: “How shall we remember them?” There is an acoustic of landscape, just as there is in music. Or Tomoko Komura’s interpretation of “Travellers on the Tokaido meander between centuries. Fuji doesn’t change”, as she gestures for the background to change from the modern-day photograph to the print of Kawasaki, and she begins to ferry Hiro across the river into his past and to Kikuyo, Mariko.

From the very beginning, the work was as much about journey as it was about art. And in every work, there is the seed of something new. Each project has a way of segueing into the next. The journey will continue in new forms, new locations. On my last visit to Japan, I kept seeing small frogs—the Japanese word for frog is ‘kaeru’, which also means to return. Somehow there will be a return—a little frog told me so.

Nancy Gaffield

November 2015

The End of the Road? Not quite….

On 28th October in York, we gave the final UK performance of Tokaido Road. What a fitting end to our touring schedule. York is the home of Tokaido Road composer Nicola LeFanu, and the Jack Lyons Concert Hall presented us with a beautiful acoustic combined with a theatrical space and a wonderful appreciative audience.

Time for some reflection now: we have, I think, succeeded in creating and touring a unique, bold and very special work. It was ambitious in its aims – I have spoken many times of the burning questions I had after playing for more than 10 years in Okeanos. Questions about what happens when we collaborate, when we put art forms together in the same space, and – especially – what happens when we bring Western and Eastern cultures together. Tokaido Road was a framework for these questions, but it was also an entertainment – a ‘world between cultures‘, a ‘window into another place’ (I am quoting from audience comments) ….I love to tell stories, I love to make worlds, I love to wonder and (as a friend pointed out the other day) I suspect I am still a bit of child at heart with a healthy dose of naivety which makes me think that projects like Tokaido Road can really happen with enough hard work and good will. And happen it did, thanks to some generous grants and to my fantastic team and their dedication, ideas, creativity, willingness and hard work.

Tokaido Road was a catalyst for change: for non-labelling (how I loathe that ‘fusion’ tag….), for new partnerships, collaborations. Tokaido Road was a project which generated more art – that’s really important to me, that art inspires art and its legacy is not merely data and reports. Tokaido Road hosted a touring photography exhibition of Wynn’s photographs in 3 galleries. Thanks to Dan Harding and the Kent team, it inspired local community art groups to respond to the idea of journeying and travel. The libretto has been published as an independent book. It has generated talks, workshops on poetry and music, study days and taught content in HE institutions in the UK and Japan. It has resulted in paintings and poems as a direct response to the opera. It has a sister-project in the travelling Kamishibai Story-telling version, brought so beautifully to life by Tomoko and Melissa. Kamishibai Tokaido Road premiered at Beth Cuenco’s magical WiseWords Festival to great acclaim and is now touring schools. Last week we linked up with the Wolverhampton Art Gallery for a Japan Family Day. Wolverhampton are currently showing an exhibition of some of the 53 Stations: they are incredibly high quality prints on loan from the Ashmolean and I had to admit to feeling rather emotional looking at such a large collection of them ‘in the flesh’. (I was admittedly a bit tired too!) As part of wider outreach and community projects, our Tokaido Road images have been projected onto a huge helium-filled balloon which hung over the night sky of Canterbury like a huge moon, whilst 300 floating candles sailed down the river in a Toro Nagashi (Wish for Peace), remembering historic events in Japan (2015 marks 70 years since Hiroshima) and throughout the world. Nicola, Nancy and I have given many talks on the opera and the ideas behind it. An invitation to speak about the opera at Kogakkan University in Ise means that Nancy and I will travel to Japan later this month. The trip to Japan for me is probably the greatest and most unexpected reward that could ever have come out of the project and I’ll be blogging from Japan.

Will I miss Tokaido Road? I will miss the music and the words which I love, I will miss the people that I see less regularly and I will miss the nurturing of ‘my’ opera. Despite the fact that I didn’t compose it, direct it or design it, I have always felt a sort of parental love and responsibility towards Tokaido Road which never waned even in the toughest times (and believe me – they were many!) But now its all grown up and ready to move on – as am I, to more projects and challenges. Its been a joy, a pleasure and one heck of a life-changing learning curve for me. It has also been an affirmation that even in the most challenging climate for the Arts, things are still possible and that is something I shall certainly carry forwards. So I won’t conclude by saying this is the ‘end of the road’ because you never know…there may one day be a chance to revive it – I hope so. For now, its the end of one phase of a journey and I’d like to thank all my team and everyone who has helped make it happen for being a part of it.

Kate Romano