Dance short explores the shadows of Little Tokyo’s history



The layers of Little Tokyo’s history and identity are explored in “Looking Through the Sails” by Marissa Osato. Osato is an award-winning dancer and choreographer. (Photo by Scott Oshima)

By SCOTT OSHIMA

A Japanese American wanders the peaceful nightlife of Little Tokyo, meets, dances with and embodies the shadows of history in JACCC Square. This is the opening of Marissa Osato’s captivating dance short “to peer through voiles”, produced by JACCC and Sustainable Little Tokyo and screened online until June 30.

The staging and the choreography of Marissa Osato reveal the layers of the history of Little Tokyo, in particular of Bronzeville. In 1942, President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 90066 forced more than 120,000 Japanese Americans into incarceration camps and emptied Little Tokyo of its Japanese American community. From 1942 to 1945, more than 80,000 black migrants, seeking employment in the war industry from Los Angeles, transformed vacant Little Tokyo into Bronzeville – a center for culture, jazz and community. black.

As Osato explains: “As I learned about the history of Bronzeville and the shared consequences of structural racism for Japanese American and black communities in Los Angeles, I wanted to use shadows to make connections, to embody ‘ghost towns’. Empty and also within oneself.

Osato is an award-winning choreographer and dancer, and is currently an Associate Professor in the Dance Department at Santa Monica College. She is not new to exploring Japanese-American identity and history through dance: her evening “The Spectacular Societyjuxtaposed calm reflections on her grandmother’s camp experiences during World War II and explosive parades of patriotic hysteria. JACCC was introduced to Osato’s engaging work through the production of the 2019 performance at NAVEL.

In the 10-minute short film, dancer Shiori Kamijo, herself a Japanese immigrant, guides us through this personal and collective experience with the past. Upon entering JACCC Plaza, Kamijo expresses her wonder and joy as she first encounters the shadow and music of Bronzeville’s vibrant jazz scene, which echoed in Sara Sithi-Amnuai’s expansive score.

Shiori Kamijo dances with his “shadow”, performed by Vickie Roan. (Photo by Scott Oshima)

At the end of the jazz scene, the shadow reveals itself as a separate and distinct being, interpreted with precision and remarkable expression by dancer Vickie Roan. Kamijo and Roan flaunt their versatility as they move from a celebration of the jazz era to the body tremors of fractured and lost hope for a post-war, American and black “Little Bronze Tokyo”.

Composer Sithi-Amnuai shared the film’s rating process. “One of the biggest challenges has been to give space to many types of experiences, themes and emotions – from taking into account Bronzeville’s past to the experiences of the people of the first generation immigrants. Issei. I wanted to recognize and tap into the rich sounds of the past, present and future of Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus’s Little Tokyo to the sounds of the city at different points in history.

Sithi-Amnuai, also a trombonist and sheng musician, is one of the musicians selected for the Nikkei Music Reclamation Project of JACCC and Sustainable Little Tokyo.

to look through the veils ”brought together new and old collaborators. Dancers Kamijo and Roan are longtime collaborators and active members of Invertigo Contemporary Dance, which Osato co-founded and co-directed. New collaborations include Sithi-Amnuai and Alex Laya, filmmaker and director of photography, whose camera work and graceful editing are in themselves a choreographic marvel. It was also the first collaboration of Osato and JACCC. Yet all artists were forced to navigate making a movie during the pandemic.

For Osato, “[This was] extremely difficult and extremely rewarding. Other than Sara and I accidentally met at JACCC while rehearsing for different projects, we had never officially met in person, and all of our collaborative correspondence was done remotely. I am amazed at how connected we have been and look forward to future collaborations! “

For Scott Oshima, Executive Producer and Program Director at JACCC, “This project was a respite from this pandemic and its many losses and limitations on our lives and creative practices. JACCC feels so grateful to have the opportunity to work with Marissa and all the collaborating artists to create a vision of the future through a dance with the past.

The film ends at the end of the night and at sunrise. Kamijo, in a surreal and magnificent ending, wakes up at the top of “To the Issei” by Isamu Noguchi sculpture on JACCC Plaza – itself a souvenir from first generation Japanese Americans. Kamijo appears in peace, lit and warmed by the rising sun and a future still unseen.

Osato says, “I hope viewers come to think about their own inner and outer layers of identity, and how these relate to other communities and stories. In the same way that this project piqued my curiosity for the socio-political history of Little Tokyo, I hope viewers feel curious about the places they inhabit and consider “scrutinizing” societal issues through different lenses. of theirs.

“to peer through veils” is screened online until June 30. Take part in the free roundtable on Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m. with Osato and Sithi-Amnuai, moderated by Oshima. Learn more, register and rent on www.jaccc.org/okagesama.

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