Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2009

Courtesy of Tokyo Fringe Festival

Courtesy of Tokyo Fringe Festival


At a time when performing arts are struggling, the Tokyo Fringe Festival is prospering. Launched two years ago into crowded seas, the event this year ships off to Kyoto for the first time.

“It has grown not only bigger but stronger,” says Japanese-Indian dancer/choreographer Shakti, who created TFF with Australian dramatist Dwayne Lawler. “We have many enquiries from artists abroad who wish to come to share their art, and experience Japan at the same time.”

On this year’s lineup are twelve acts from four countries, ranging from performance art to traditional Japanese dance—including among them Shakti and Lawler themselves. “Our path has taken a different bend from the ‘usual’ fringe festival,” explains Shakti. “It is not only about performing and creating art. We look for those who wish to ‘create without fear.’ There is no jury or audition to enter TFF. The ‘ego’ of ‘come to see my show’ is replaced by ‘come to the festival to see us all.’”

A fixture of the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where she became notorious for erotic, contemporary adaptations of classical Indian dance, Shakti ran the freeform Garage International venues at the Fringe for a decade. Putting her experience to use, she and Lawler established the TFF in 2007 at her intimate Shakti Studio in the traditional shitamachi area of Katsushika-ku.

Among the acts of interest at TFF 2009 is New Yorker Marni Rice’s De Joux Musique production, Songs of an Immigrant: Tales of Paris. Rice (right) plays the accordion, sings and tells the “tragic-comic autobiographic tale of an American chanteuse who leaves her homeland with only an accordion and a handful of songs to discover the city of lights.”

Also promising something unusual is Fugofugoyumeji and Munenori’s Underground Wrestling. A sellout at this year’s Adelaide Fringe, the show combines extreme hardcore wrestling with martial arts.

Returning to the festival is award-winning classical Japanese dancer, Egiku Hanayagi. Born into a long line of dancers, Hanayagi uses traditional styles to choreograph new and startling pieces, in this case Homage to the Earth, which will be performed at the marquee Avignon Festival in July.

Shakti’s own entrant to the TFF brings an element of “meta” theater into the proceedings. In 1001 Nights, which she recently also performed in Adelaide, the audience is invited to bring any music they want, to which Shakti improvises. “We need to create a space where the boundary between artist and audiences ceases to exist,” Shakti says. “Are we not all players in this world?”

Shakti Studio, May 29-31. See stage listings for details.