Nicole Vivien Watson is the creative director of Surface Area Dance Theatre CIC, and expresses various social issues through performance. She is currently studying an MA in Japanese society and culture at SOAS. She held a dance workshop with deaf people in Suzuka City during her stay.

The workshop with local deaf people was a very happy time

I am a choreographer and performer, and I am also the creative director of Surface Area Dance Theatre CIC in Newcastle upon Tyne in the north east of England. I hold workshops with hearing-impaired people using sign language. I am also currently studying Japanese society and culture at SOAS in London. My first visit to Japan was in 2007 and since then I've had an on-going fascination with Japanese society and culture. This is my sixth visit to Japan, but my first to Ise. I took part because I thought this was an opportunity for me to study Japanese culture even more deeply.

My experiences in Ise have been both holistic and informative and also very inspiring. As an outsider coming to Ise the approach from the get-go is one of observation. But through this residency, we have been welcomed into the Ise community and have been able to share time together and learn from each other, rather than observing from the outside. I feel that these exchanges, have been very important because they were not limited to the arts community.

One of the things at the top of my wish list for my time in Ise was to hold a workshop with local deaf people. This has been one of the highlights of my visit. I held a two-hour workshop for the Mie Deaf Dragons, a dance team made up of diverse members aged between five and their forties. We spent a very happy time together – we couldn’t stop smiling.

Usually on a residency like this, I start by comparing the culture with my own and explore it from points of difference, but as soon as I arrived in Ise,there was this sense of wonder. The centre point of Ise is Ise Jingu, which has been worshipped for over two thousand years. To physically orient myself around such a sacred central part of Ise community felt like a big task to begin with. But through the workshops and sessions, I became closer and closer to Ise Jingu and got to understand more of the harmony between the shrine and the city. I was surprised at how the various rituals at Ise Jingu have been incorporated into the day-to-day lives of the city’s residents, so that they harmonize perfectly. After meeting many people and having conversations with them, I feel as though I have got closer to the spirit of Ise.

I need to figure out more about the periodic rebuilding of Ise Jingu. One thing that struck me was the willingness to replicate the minutiae, not just rebuild the shrine as a whole. And I was also struck by the line of symmetry that's reflected between the old and the new. That's something that I will certainly take back with me to think over.

My next challenge to myself is to communicate to the dancers, musicians, and set designers I work with all of the wonderful experiences I've had here. So I think I'm going to start with the symmetry of Ise Jingu, the rebuilding of the shrines and the various rituals surrounding this, and the bond between Ise Jingu and the community as a whole and the roles that people play. The beauty that we see in the shrine has been preserved thanks to the workmanship and the dedication of the community, and this is very moving to see.

If we want to know about another culture, we can get a certain degree of information from television or the Internet and then imagine the rest. Residencies like this one not only inform and inspire, but also instigate a sense of confidence. Although my first visit to Japan was in 2007, I feel a sense of reassurance from this experience. My awareness and understanding come from an immersion in Ise’s culture; they’re rooted in the warmth of the Ise community. The confidence I gained will stay with me for a very long time.

I feel as though we have been a group of companions each going on our own individual journeys. I have noticed a lot of things while in Ise, but I think we also made discoveries by being here together. I don't think any of us will return to the UK and then switch off entirely from this experience in Ise. I think it's going to take quite a long time to fully grasp our experiences, the people that we've met, the Ise community as a whole, Shinto, and everything else here.

A woman looking at sake barrels dedicated at the shrine

 Ise City, British Council Photo by Anne Siegel

Profile: Nicole Vivien Watson

Director of Surface Area Dance Theatre, and for over twelve years, she has contributed to the artistic community by presenting a vibrant, repertoire of engagement, that encompasses performance and socially concerned activities. She is presently working toward an MA in Japanese Studies, from the School of African and Asian Studies, University of London.

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