About Yoshiko Chuma and The School of Hard Knocks

Introduction by Elizabeth Zimmer
For more than three decades now, Yoshiko Chuma has been building unique structures in the liminal area between her native Japanese culture and her adopted American one. Using trained and pedestrian movers, virtuoso instrumentalists (whose playing she often conducts), film, video, and sculptural forms by collaborating artists, she develops unusual time-based art works that blend the live and the recorded, the flat and the three-dimensional, people and things.

Chuma’s multidisciplinary work tries to capture the contemporary world in all its complexity: speedy, multi-faceted, diverse, both conceptual and concrete. She has traveled and worked in countries around the globe, with international casts.

I have often thought that the natural instinct of young artists and audiences is to seek complex, even chaotic structures, to fill out their nascent personalities and careers with noise, clutter, and confusion. As they grow older, artists and audience seek tighter forms, calmer atmospheres, clarity, transparency, peace.

The work of Yoshiko Chuma began in wildness, in the School of Hard Knocks. As she matures, the structures grow more confident, but the impulse to embrace the universe, to include everything at once, is still present. She seems eternally young, preternaturally wise, always startling.

A Word from Jenneth Webster  
For over 30 years, Yoshiko Chuma has been a self made citizen of the world, intensely sophisticated, vibrantly herself, passionately concerned. Over many years as a spectator and sometime commissioner of Yoshiko’s work I marvel at the dances’ forthright cinema verité look, their simultaneous multiple realities and daring physicality, and try to puzzle out the hidden agenda, the code that drives her work. (remembering her Lincoln Center Out of Doors dance about Bimini atomic bomb tests: seemingly a happy beach party, the bombs displayed as spilt blue cocktails.)
Inspired by her concern for humanity her dances for POONARC are a sea of exploring, often lost, souls intersecting in tight places. Her unique international vision, first an exploration and fusing of Japanese and U.S. aesthetic and life, grew to include residencies and collaborations with dancers, filmmakers and musicians in 35 countries The results present human differences and similarities joining and isolated side by side.

As a Citizen of the World: Yoshiko knows the best cultural diplomacy is not international one night stands, but living, working, talking, cooking, dancing and walking together—building an understanding concern through mutual creation. Her human sympathy is her hidden artistic agenda, inevitably international, helping we who watch it realize what our worlds are made of.
—Jenneth Webster, Producer, Lincoln Center Out of Doors 1988 -2007 

Experpt from Dance Magagine December, 2006 
Chuma is a maverick, utterly unique, a "one-off," as the British say, on the stage of world dance. Her career has spanned almost 30 years and 35 countries. Her work is a mixture of play and seriousness, anarchy and reflection, and her hallmarks are collaboration and cultural exchange. Chuma cuts across categories. One might call her a postmodern choreographer, a movement designer, or a visual artist whose primary medium is human beings—dancers, musicians, pedestrians. She is unusually alive to space and landscape, indoors or outdoors. Gifted with great personal force and intelligence, at heart she is an experimentalist, a fierce explorer with a profound sense of structure.

Her company is called Yoshiko Chuma & The School of Hard Knocks named in 1980 when Chuma was still new to this country and intrigued by American idioms. A thousand dancers have appeared with her over the years. Early on, the work was large and antic. Five Car Pile-Up featured a hundred performers armed with newspapers, trench coats, and folding chairs. It was high energy and what some have called "choreographed chaos." Her work was anarchical: Without permit, her dancers performed in the subways. A whiz at site-specific work, Chuma was the first choreographer to require the dancers of the GROP Paris Opera Ballet's modern dance unit, to perform outdoors, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Her work is often community-based, where everyone is a collaborator, as in her 1993 commission to stage the opening of New York City's vast and giddy Halloween parade. For GAME/PLAY at New York's Asia Society in 2004, she gathered performers from several countries to recount stories about the games of their childhoods. Chuma shaped those tales and games into a charming and universal theatrical work.

Young choreographers and dancers are eager to work with her. The School of Hard Knocks has included talents as diverse as Sasha Waltz, now an internationally sought-after dance artist living in Germany, and downtown powerhouses like the British choreographer Sarah Michelson and Americans Vicky Shick, Dan Froot, and Christopher Williams. Chuma choreographed and directed Tan Dun's opera, Nine Songs, long before he scored Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 

"Fate and chance," she says, are what have been responsible for her remarkable career. As a young woman who had been active in political protests in her native Japan, Chuma came to America 30 years ago. She quickly settled in downtown Manhattan and found herself in the milieu of theater experimentalists Ellen Stewart, Robert Wilson, and Mabou Mines, and dance avant-gardists Steve Paxton, Simone Forti, Meredith Monk, and Pooh Kaye. She picked up on the creative vibe of downtown New York at that time. "It was so exciting just watching people on the street," she recalls of her beginnings.
In 1977, a year after her arrival in the U.S., she was influenced by minimalism and the loft and downtown scenes as well as the landmark Einstein on the Beach. From Japan she already had a passionate and innate sense of politics. She met poet Allen Ginsberg and took his philosophy of "First thought, best thought" and applied it to dance-making.

Smith, Amanda. “The Magic Pilgrim: Intuition, Humor, And A Unique Perspective Inspire Yoshiko Chuma's Work," Dance Magazine. December, 2006.
Amanda Smith, a longtime contributor to Dance Magazine, was on the faculties of Coe College and Hofstra University. © 2006 Dance Magazine, Inc. 

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