Tuesday, May 6, 2014

6 Questions: Yoshiko Chuma - La MaMa Moves Dance Festival

Choreographer and performer Yoshiko Chuma brings a new iteration of her piece Π = 3.14…Endless Peripheral Border Cont… to The La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival May 15-18, 2014. Here, she answers our 6 questions.


1. What are your influences as an artist?
I grew up in Japan the 1960’s, twenty years after World War II, which influenced me then and still does now. I spent my first twenty years in Japan, then moved to New York and have worked here as a choreographer and performer since 1979. When I was little the the Cold War was, and there was always one war underway; in Korea, Indochina, and Vietnam… I am keenly aware that we are always losing witnesses to history. I want to explore what my mother’s generation witnessed; the conversion to modernism in Japan, the War, the post-war period, the growth of Japan after the Tokyo Olympics in the sixties. My generation saw quite a lot of that change. Young people in Japan, 25-40 years old, have not seen that much dramatic change. It is different for them than for young people in Eastern Europe, Mideast, and South America, who have seen enormous changes in the past 15 years.

I am also interested in how the United States influences the Third World. As a teenager in Japan, I watched Perry MasonTo Tell The Truth, and I Love Lucy on the TV in my living room. Now, I fly to Colombia on (Colombian airline) Avianca and watch reruns of Mad Men on the plane. I was a young adult during the Vietnam War, and now I see the US in Afghanistan. It has been over 60 years since WWII, but Japan still smells of occupation, as though it is a US colony. The United States is my home, but the country’s aggressive influence over the world intrigues me artistically.

In the sixties and early seventies there was a growing number of anti-American and anti-war demonstrations in Japan. I was swept up in this sentiment and attended and ultimately led a number of demonstrations. A demonstration is like a “production”, and this was truly where I received my artistic training. I was not the type to stand in front of the microphone and rally the crowd, so I did the publicity papers for the demonstrations. I was a silent agitator. I am still an agitator, both silent and not so silent. Art can be revolutionary, but it isn't inherently so. Art must be guided, and there are limits. I can organize people in space, but it’s hard to organize people in life.

I am attracted to the ordinary existence of humanity, how it transcends culture and how it is impervious to the threat of annihilation. The images of conflict from my youth left an indelible impression on my psyche and are a recurring theme in my work, but I am always seeking intellectual and sensorial interaction through integration.

My work has been called “choreographed chaos”. I have intentionally avoided presenting an ordered universe in my work because I don’t see an ordered universe in my own life. I don’t usually think of myself as a choreographer. Sometimes I think of myself as a counterpoint composer, pitting note against note, placing several singular voices in parallel motion, creating a new harmony. Sometimes I still consider myself a journalist because my work tends to begin with an outside point of view. I’m interested in the little personal issues of everyday life and how they can affect survival. It is a struggle for me to expand my concepts into something larger that an audience can share. I am always looking for a twist or a variance. Some people have called my work “spectacle”, but I don’t think in these terms. “Organized happening” is a term that might better suit me.

2. How has Π = 3.14…Endless Peripheral Border Cont… changed since it was presented at La Galleria?
It is totally different, though some of the audience from La Galleria may find that the essence has not changed because it is a creation by the same artist. 

I want to continue to develop and expand the piece into a “snowball” series of works about the pre-formulated cultural issues that make up an individual identity and agenda. There is a basic structure to the show which uses local language and folklore as metaphors for one’s relation to culture. With each incarnation, I take an element and a dancer with me, and slowly the work is amassing a multi-cultural cast and aesthetic.

3. Is your work received differently in different countries?
Yes, especially when presenting works in isolated parts of the world, where borders present complications.  My pieces are in abstract forms but they are understood and received immediately in these regions.

When I perform in a foreign community, I incorporate professional and non-professional local artists into my company. The benefit for the local performer is obvious, but my company members are enriched as well because a local voice transforms the performance experience significantly. As an example, in Π = 3.14…Endless Peripheral Border Cont…, my collaborators from Ramallah, Palestine, Fukushima, Japan, and Bogota, Colombia are onstage. This is vital to this project. How can their mere presence alter the construction of the work? Without them, we are trying to learn in a cultural and historical vacuum. I place cultural context literally in my work. I place it onstage in front of the audience.

4. What inspired you to name your piece Π = 3.14…Endless Peripheral Border Cont…?
All my life, since childhood, I have been inspired by the parabolic form and π =3.14, which I find beautiful.

5. Which artist(s) in the festival are you most excited to see?
Exciting performance is always a sudden encounter. So I don't know who that will be.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
My performing art history in New York since 1979. 


La MaMa presents

Shared Program: Yoshiko Chuma & Rebecca Lazier


May 15 – May 18, 2014


Yoshiko Chuma presents How To Deliver An Afghan Hat & Π = 3.14…Endless Peripheral Border Cont… alongside Rebecca Lazier's There Might Be Others.

Tickets: $15 - $20; ten $10 tickets are available, in advance only via web, phone or box office as part of La MaMa's 10@$10 ticketing program. 10@$10 tickets not available day of show.

For complete schedule and tickets: CLICK HERE