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Preview: Project Godie at Newcastle All Saints' Church
A new project is drawing on global influences to bring to life the shared industrial, military and cultural heritage of the North East and Japan.
Nicole Vivien Watson
Project Godieis a multi platform heritage programme that 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.
The programme will launch in Newcastle on Friday 12 August with a performance that places the dark Japanese art of butoh at its heart - which is why producers went straight to the heart of butoh to inform their work.
Commissioning critically-acclaimed butoh artist, Vangeline ("Captivating" New York Times), and having had the opportunity to spend time with late butoh co-founder, Kazuo Ohno, Nicole Vivien Watson, Creative Director of Newcastle-based Surface Area Dance Theatre Company (SADTC) has prepared a solid training ground for her company's first butoh performance.
Alongside co-producer Adam Denton (who will also be providing the audio aspect through sonic performance duo Trans/Human), Nicole is giving focus to the political dimension of butoh. Originally inspired by the Hiroshima tragedy that made the 'unimaginable imaginable', butoh will now be used as a vehicle to delve into a forgotten chapter of industrial history on Tyneside and its contribution to international military action.
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 through its shipbuilding heritage. And the legacy we see today is the region's strong business relations with Japan".
In fact, as Nicole and Adam discovered, the Japanese legacy is also captured in stone - as the graves of five Japanese nationals still lie today in St John's cemetery in Newcastle.
Nicole continued: "Through our research, we also discovered that it wasn't just those working in the shipbuilding industry who experienced life in the region during that time. Tannaker's Japanese was an acrobatic troupe who brought their version of Japanese culture to the North East in the 1870s - so these cultural, industrial and military exchanges were happening simultaneously, which is why we wanted to bring that history to life through performance."
Tannaker's Japanese and their tour of the North East was in fact the inspiration for 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."
Funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Project Godie will take a multi-disciplinary approach, opening with a butoh performance, improv sonic performance, archive exhibits, writing and an interactive website to encourage community engagement. Additionally, 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 ScotswoodNaturalCommunityGarden.
The performances will take place on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th August at All Saints' Church on Lower Pilgrim Street in Newcastle. Tickets cost £8 (full) and £6 (concession). For further information and details of how to book, visit http://projectgodie.eventbrite.co.uk