Statement by Yoshiko Chuma


Yoshiko Chuma grew up in Japan the 1960’s, twenty years after the second World War was an influence and still is now. She spent her first twenty years in Japan before coming to New York where she worked as a choreographer and performer since 1979. She says, “When I was little there was the Cold War emerging, and there was always one war underway; in Korea, Indochina, and Vietnam…We are losing so many witnesses. I want to explore what my mother’s generation has 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, 25-40 years old, have not seen that much dramatic change in Japan. 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.” 

Chuma wants to closely examine the experience of generations and then “zoom out” and take a wider version. She will explore the tragedy and the comedy of individuals, to relate the individual to space, country, politics, and economy. 

“I’ve always been interested in how the United States influences the third world. When I was a teenager, I watched Perry Mason, To Tell The Truth, and I Love Lucy on the TV in my living room. Now, I fly to Colombia on Avianca and see reruns of Mad Men. 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 is not always. 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.

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 Pi=3.14... Ramallah, Fukushima, Bogota, 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.

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. 

My artistic concerns are individuality, integration, and reinvention. 

I have never set movement on a body, or created dance by making choreography in advance that I ask a dancer to perform. I have never transformed movement from my body to another body. I have always allowed artists to retain their individual existence and ask them to look inside themselves and at their surroundings to find a different path of expression. Dance can be at any time and in any space, and anyone can do it. My work is not easy to understand and my process can seem haphazard. I am extremely demanding as a director. In my performances I want there to be an awareness of the audience within each performer. If I were in Ireland, Macedonia, United States, or Bogota, I want the artists to simply be aware of who they are and where they are. I am constantly reinventing my work because the artistic process is vital to me, and is more important to me than the product. I hope the process will come through in the final performance when it comes in front of an audience. If I am honest with myself, and with the artists, our process will show.

It is difficult for me to think it terms of goals or dreams. The systems for communication and sense of time have changed so rapidly in my lifetime, and reality is constantly shifting. Since September 11th it has become uncomfortable to cling to large ideas in the future. I can only be confident in my persistent curiosity and uncontrollable imagination. I am excited because I had two hundred underwater photos taken of some of my dancers. I would like to make a piece using slides of these photos as a moving image or as part of the choreography.

I want to continue to develop and expand Pi=3.14…Ramallah, Fukushima, Bogota, 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, including the use of local language and folklore and a metaphor for one’s relation to culture. With each incarnation of that work, I take an element and a dancer with me, and slowly the work is amassing a multi-cultural cast and aesthetic.”

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