A Bridge Between East and West ; Kate Romano


Two weeks ago, I gave a paper at Kogakkan University, Ise (Japan) called ‘Tokaido Road, a Bridge Between East and West’. It was a timely invitation to reflect on three remarkable years and to lay to rest some of the thorny questions about the mix of arts and two cultures which had been keeping me awake at night. I was reasonably content with my conclusions which I share with you here: yet even as I ended my talk, I felt the tingling of a new line of thought… To begin, here is an extract from the end of my paper:

And whilst we certainly didn’t set out to create a Curlew River in Tokaido Road, I think that I can say we share with Britten, a tourist’s fascination with Japanese culture and a desire to get beyond the merely superficial Japonaiserie. Like Britten, Nicola LeFanu adapts the sounds of traditional Japanese music to her own purposes. Echoes of Japan are ever present in Tokaido Road but imaginatively bent to new creative purposes. Perhaps it is no coincidence that, like Curlew River, at the heart of Tokaido Road is the river, always present in each picture and in the words of the libretto. The drama is played out against the backdrop of water from the humour of the bathing scene to the tragedy of Kikuyo’s drowning. Here is a river that must be crossed. Perhaps both works – Curlew River and Tokaido Road – are a place between two kingdoms (the West and East) but also life and death, darkness and light, despair and hope. I hope this is what we have created; a place or perhaps even a bridge between worlds.

 How many of us in our creative industry live between worlds! How many there are of us doubling up careers as performers, scholars, composers, conductors, educators, artistic directors… I know actor-musicians, singer-pianists, producer-directors, composer-conductors …..all achieving these double-professions to incredibly high standards. But this is not new behaviour for artists. It is not a reflection of challenging times. This is, I think, where creativity often lies: in the ambiguity and the ambivalence of being in different states, different places and spaces where ideas start to fly and connections start to buzz. It is no coincidence that so many definitions of ‘creativity’ include some form of bringing two – or more – things together:

 ‘….that moment of insight becomes the creative act as a joining of two previously incompatible ideas’ (Lyall Watson, Biologist)

‘I’m interested in the moment when two objects collide and generate a third. The third object is where the interesting work is.’ (Bruce Mau, Designer)

‘…apparently unrelated things become interesting when we start fitting them together’. (John Kouwenhoven, Mathematician)

‘……creativity seems to be something which links things together…within a new whole, which didn’t exist before.’ (Rupert Sheldrake, Biochemist)

Tokaido Road began life as a catalyst for change; to show how art forms and cultures, no matter how seemingly diverse, could work together on a stage. I envisaged not a fusion, not a smudging, blurring or blending of these distinct components, but an exciting synergy where art forms and cultures could hang on to their identities yet work together. I theorized. I stayed up late and pondered complex models. Whilst all along there was a far more simple explanation staring me in the face. I was a musician, composer, scholar, art lover…now a producer…creating an opera… Tokaido Road itself was born out of coexisting in different worlds, out of ambiguity and ambivalence, from my own highly varied background plus a deep curiosity. And you know what? Audiences got it far quicker than I did. They weren’t terribly interested in being presented with answers to thorny questions about a mix of art form and cultures. No, they were drawn to ‘the magical window between two worlds’… a ‘world very unlike our own’, the ‘emphatic intimacy, honesty and beauty of a new place somewhere between East and West, but not belonging quite in either’…’a space between two places’. Most seemed to effortlessly and willingly step into our new world with a great sense of adventure and spirit; why? Because this is where ideas start to fly and the connections start to buzz. Their ideas – not ours! ‘Step into the picture’ says Hiro in the Prologue and how prophetic that turned out to be. Audiences constantly surprise and delight me with their curiosity and hunger for new experiences. Perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt from Tokaido Road is to leave space for audiences to be creative too. We don’t have to answer all our questions no matter how worthy they may seem: art provides a nurturing space for further creativity and ideas to flourish. What better legacy for a project?