Lisa DeGrace

DanceWatch Weekly: The moment the bough breaks

"Suspended Moment" remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki with sculpture, music, poetry and dance

Seventy-two years ago this week, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan killing more than 220,000 people, some dying instantly, their bodies evaporating on the spot, and others dying later from burns, radiation sickness, and cancer. It was a horrific and hellish scene that merged the lands of the living and the dead.

The first bomb, called Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima at 8:16 am on August 6, early enough in the morning to catch people just waking up and going about their morning routines. The second bomb, Fat Man, was dropped at 11:02 am on August 9. The bombs obliterated the cities and everyone’s lives within them, then and for future generations.

In announcing the bombing of Hiroshima to the U.S. people on August 6, President Harry S. Truman warned Japan to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” A statement that sounds eerily similar to President Trump’s response to North Korea’s threats on Tuesday that “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen…”

Bringing the past into the present, updating the narrative around the atomic bombings, and creating a conversation around the legacy, responsibility, and dangers of nuclear power is as important and relevant today as it was 72 years ago.

Tonight visual artist Yukiyo Kawano, who is a third-generation hibakusha, or nuclear bomb survivor, who grew up in Hiroshima decades after the bombing, and Butoh dancer Meshi Chavez will be asking these questions in their performance Suspended Moment, along with collaborators Allison Cobb, Lisa DeGrace, and Stephen Miller. (Butoh is a contemporary dance form born from Japan as a reaction to the bombings.) The performance will follow an event to commemorate Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the Japanese American Historical Plaza from 6 to 7 pm. Their performance will take place at University of Oregon’s Light Court Commons at 70 NW Couch Street at 7pm.

The work revolves around Kawano’s sculpture—two hanging replicas of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—which she fabricated from her grandmother’s kimonos and stitched together with strands of her own hair.

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I love the silence that surrounds me when I stand in the middle of a heavy snowfall. It feels strange and exciting, magical and otherworldly, like time is standing still. It’s amazing to me that you can see so much movement in the falling snow, but not hear a sound. In this moment, my senses are heightened and I notice things I’ve never noticed before. The snow is beautiful and I feel happy, calm, and my mind it quiet and focused-which is difficult to do sometimes.

The only other experience that I can equate to this, for me, is dancing and watching dance. In these moments I am able to focus my mind and my body, transport myself, and block out everything that isn’t necessary for that moment. Right now I want this. I am exhausted from the election, the constant chatter on Facebook, the news, the atrocities in the world, the suffering, the anger, the fighting, everything.

I am not trying to encourage sticking your head in the sand but rather to encourage art making, doing and seeing. It seems like the best possible way to process what is going on around us, and it might even give us a feeling of empowerment over our circumstances.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving tradition of avowing what we are thankful for, I am most thankful for dance and dance makers and artists of all kinds, they transport me and help me see and feel things I might not have been able to on my own.

I am specifically thankful for the four performances that I witnessed and participated in post-election and the ideas they left behind: my own, The Kitchen Sink, Linda Austin’s The last bell rings for you, Reggie Wilson’s Moses(es), and Suspended Moment: Activating the Nuclear Past + Present by Meshi Chavez, Yukiyo Kawano, Allison Cobb and Lisa DeGrace.

The Kitchen Sink was a year-long project that I worked on with fellow dancers Celine Bouly and Abigail Nace, which culminated last weekend at BodyVox. You can read about my process creating the dance in a story I wrote for ArtsWatch.

What’s my take away from my own show? I love circles. Circles are not a choreographic trope that choreographers use when they run out of ideas.They are beautiful, timeless, natural and full of meaning. Life is circular, my joints move in circles, I will always use them.

The last bell rings for you seemed to say that every “body” is sacred with the ringing of bells by performers (as well as audience members) as a variety of bodies moved as humans do throughout the performance space at Shaking the Tree Theatre, creating a sacred, church like atmosphere. These 28 bodies explored the space and each other, sometimes moving together, and sometimes not, and often were moved by unseen forces. That made me think about what is in our control and what is not.

Moses(es), which was created across the country in Brooklyn, New York, was similar in structure in so many ways to The last bell rings for you, which is amazing to me given the distance between the two companies. It made me wonder about the power of collective thinking, the evolution of post-modern dance, cultural expectations and that maybe we are more similar than dissimilar.

Suspended Moment: Activating the Nuclear Past + Present, which was performed in the Littman Gallery at Portland State University this past Tuesday, was a scary and timely reminder of what can happen to power when it’s left unchecked. Visual artist Yukiyo Kawano decorated the gallery space with two hanging replicas of the A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 fabricated from her grandmother’s kimonos, stitched together with strands of her own hair. In addition she added hanging paper lanterns for the dead, a calligraphic tapestry on the wall with the famous work of Japanese poet Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to a Far Province, and a river of rice paper flowing down from the ceiling meandering through the space with the same writing on it.

Butoh dancer Chavez—dancing to Cobb’s poetry recited live by Kawano and Cobb, with music by Lisa DeGrace—animated the space, invoking the spirits of the dead and creating indelible images of death and suffering and remembrance as a reminder to us not to change the narrative.

This weekend offers us three wonderfully different respites from the world.

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