At the beginning of 2022, I started to reach out to many Japanese female dance artists in the United States. Because, over these 7 years of staying in the U.S., I realized how important to understand my upbringing in terms of refining a relationship with my cultural identity and dance-making. Therefore, I looked for someone who shares a similar background as me and is able to tell the struggles and success stories with me.
When I came to the undergraduate program in Oklahoma, I was the only international student, Asian student in the department. I was super visible and aware of my skin, body, and how I move. Regardless of the visibility of my ethnicity, I had never met anybody who immigrated from Japan and pursued a career as a dance maker. I also started to figure out that I have the ability to sense and understand the choreographer’s mind. For me, dancing to someone’s choreography is some kind of translation and also a transformation of myself to be their voice. On the other hand, dance-making is embodying my own creative voice. It was more difficult to process than translation. I felt I needed some assistance in understanding what is my creative voice, and how to polish it.
The generous artists named, Ayako Kato (Chicago IL) and Nami Yamamoto (NYC, NY) are willing to share the stories of their careers in dance-making in the United States. They are born and raised in Japan, and at some point in their life, they came to the U.S. and decided to stay here in the U.S. to pursue dance-making. Their decision itself is super brave to me but also they have been actively making work. Nami is awarded by Bessie Award in 2017 for her work, “Headless wolf” and Ayako just completed her performance series Ethos started in October 2022.
Photo: Nami Yamamoto (Left) and Ayako Kato (Right)
I communicated with them over 5 months about the idea of hosting a workshop to connect us as well as share their story in a public space. We named as “Space Making Workshop” to invite people to experience Nami and Ayako’s dance practice and have a conversation with them.
I organized the “Space Making Workshop” in November 2022 at the Ohio State University. Both artists traveled to Columbus for the first time on November 17th. The workshop was at the Barnett Theater from 3 to 5 PM. Nami started to make us move. She brings us to a circle and shifts weight from one leg to the other. Looking at each other, sensing each other’s weight. Naturally, we were smiling at each other. Nami incorporates puppetry in her work. She and I made the puppet on the site, and we offer participants to try puppetry. In Japanese puppetry, Bunraku is usually three puppeteer move one puppet. It’s coordination, communication, and storytelling. Next, following Ayako telling Japanese philosophy, Furyu (Wind and flow). Back to the circle, opened both arms, and breathe together. Found a partner and slowly improvised with music.
After all the movement sessions, we formed the circle at the Barnett Theater. I asked them prior to the workshop, What events/What things/who did shape them. It was so interesting to hear about their upbringing; what was important and affected them being who they are. As I write above, I felt my cultural identity always come forward more than myself. I was always grappling with authenticity and cultural representation. What does it mean to be an “Asian”, “East Asian”, or “Japanese” woman? I was curious to hear about their journey to think about the intersection between cultural identity and dance-making. Ayako is externally expressive about her choreographic inspiration which is based on the Japanese philosophy, Furyu while Nami doesn’t mention “Japanese culture” in her work. However, the way Nami communicated with dancers and how she utilized the space between dancers and movement phrases are informed by her college time in Ehime, Japan. No matter how much explicit their Japanese upbringing, both said “I am proudly being a Japanese woman making a dance work in the United States.”
During these intense two days, I spent a wonderful time sharing my and their story of struggles and successes. Moved and shared the space. Even though we were born and raised in different times and places, this workshop made a space for us to gather here, in Columbus, Ohio. Currently, we were working on a solo collaboration that I am going to share at the MFA thesis project showing on February 16th-18th 2023. Each artist oversees my work and creates the solo together with me over zoom and in-person studio rehearsal. I am excited to share our work at the end of my journey in the MFA program at Ohio State University.
Performance information is here -> https://dance.osu.edu/events/mfa-concert-0