What is Project Godie?
It’s a Heritage Lottery-funded programme that celebrates the North East’s links with Japan, based on historical research into some of the Japanese people who visited the region during the 19th century. This research is being interpreted and disseminated through dance, music, film and literature.
Who is involved in the project?
The project was initiated by myself and Nicole Vivien Watson, Director of Surface Area Dance Theatre, based at Dance City in Newcastle. My background is in music and I am co-producing the project. We have also partnered with institutions such as the Discovery Museum and the Mining Institute in Newcastle, and we’ve also had support from Japan Local Government Centre in London.
How did the project come about?
Nicole from Surface Area and myself began discussing the project two years ago, after she told me about the discovery of some Japanese graves in Newcastle that dated back to the 19th century. She had been to Japan and was interested in a Japanese postwar avant-garde dance form called Butoh. Our idea was to conduct more research into Japan’s links with the North East and to develop multi-platform interpretations of this research.
What has your research uncovered?
As yet we have been unable to find much about the men in the original story – five Japanese naval servicemen buried in the west end of Newcastle. However, we are uncovering information about Japanese interaction with the North East, particularly around Lord Armstrong’s shipyards and armaments factories on the banks of the Tyne.
We also discovered the first Japanese monument to be erected in the UK, a grave for a 15-month child buried in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery in Sunderland, in 1873. The child, Godie, was the son of two Japanese acrobats who were part of a troupe of touring Japanese entertainers. We are finding a lot of evidence of Japanese entertainment in the North East during this time, which is fascinating.
How is this archival research being presented?
The project is launching with a dance performance on 12 and 13 August at All Saints Church on Lower Pilgrim Street, a unique space that hasn’t been used as a venue for some time. We have since found out that it was where Lord Armstrong was baptised. The hour-long dance is an intense production, choreographed by critically-acclaimed New York Butoh specialist Vangeline, featuring three dancers (including Nicole Vivien Watson) and two musicians (myself included).
We are also producing a documentary film and a written publication based around our research, which will be released towards the end of the year – the research process is still ongoing and there are also other events in the pipeline. There are also other events in the pipeline. We also have a website, on which we will be posting the material we are researching and generating, and which will be accessible for up to 10 years. There you can find out the latest news about the project and buy tickets for the dance performance.