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.

“We’re not trying to present an answer or a solution….We’re trying to give the audience a way in, and then leave them in a place where they think more about it,” Chavez said when he and I and Kawano spoke last week in his apartment in Southeast Portland.

Suspended Moment is “the bridge linking the past, the present and future.” It’s “the space between us, it’s the relationship moment,” he said. “This project has a heartbeat, and a life, and I think it really wants to live right now, especially in this climate, and time that we are in. It’s all of a sudden really, really relevant again.”

For Kawano this project began in graduate school at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she was getting her MFA. She was studying deconstruction theory and was encouraged to consider the materials she was using and to move away from working in a two-dimensional way. Interested in being able to touch and hold an object, she considered her grandmother’s hand-stitched kimonos.

Tearing a family heirloom apart may seem like a difficult thing to do, but to Kawano it was actually an interesting process. “I know that my grandma made those kimonos. So I was ripping my grandma’s hand stitch…it was really poetic and when I was doing it, I was kind of seeing stories of horror and the environment she was in at the time. And then I had to think about my history, my family history, and also the city. A lot of images came up.”

In thinking more deeply about the kinds of materials she was using and how they expressed her voice, the image of hair came to mind. “Using my hair was something really significant because a lot of kids brought up in Hiroshima had to go through all this grotesque image of the bomb survivors. The one that I think is really a horrific image is the Japanese lady with really long black hair, when she tried to brush her hair the hair comes off. It was an interesting time. I was going through my graduate school, and I just stopped worrying about my hair and my hair was growing like crazy. So when I was taking a shower and brushing my hair, the hair comes out and I could see it on the floor everywhere—it’s just a grotesque image. I had to negotiate where this feeling is coming from. I could link to the image of the woman losing her hair because of the radiation sickness. So immediately there is a connection that this is a material that I have to deal with. And at the same time I was dealing with the kimono, so combining the two was something natural.”

The piece has gone through many renditions since Kawano and Chavez were introduced to each other by Joaquin Lopez at Milagro Theatre in 2014. They found that they worked well together and had similar sensibilities about their work.

Most recently the Suspend Moment creative team—which also includes poet Allison Cobb, composer Lisa DeGrace, and photographer Stephen Miller—toured as a group to two of the three sites that were important in the making of the atomic bombs and collected research for the piece along the way.

The first was Hanford, Washington, home to Reactor B, which produced the plutonium used in Fat Man that was detonated over Nagasaki. On the tour of the reactor the team was confronted with the popular US narrative that the bombs were necessary to end WWII and that the lives lost were a necessary casualty of war. The people working at the reactor and living in the town were also very proud of their accomplishments and involvement in assisting with the end of the war, according to Kawano and Chavez. All of this was said by the guide on the tour without once looking at Kawano’s face they said laughing.

The American narrative about the rationale behind dropping the bombs wasn’t limited to America. “The American propaganda was introduced to the Japanese government, [which was] heavily promoting that narrative, too. I grew up in that narrative and a lot of people in Hiroshima believe in it.”

The second site they toured and performed in was Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bombs were developed in the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Los Alamos was also the birthplace of poet and collaborator Allison Cobb, whose father was a scientist at the lab.

For Chavez, performing in Los Alamos was particularly powerful. A native woman from the local pueblos got really impassioned during the talkback after the performance “tearing up, and crying, and thanking us for our courage in doing the piece,” he said. “The people of Los Alamos took the native people’s land to make this happen. She was saying ‘We don’t have a voice,’ but “somehow in our piece she got the courage to have her voice and felt like we were giving her people a voice. That blew me away.”

In developing the movement for the piece Chavez said he became “interested in getting away from being just a ghostly character and trying to step more into being a human character, trying to figure out how to bring more humanity to the piece.”

“I have moments of what I call humanness,” he said. “Brushing my hair, going fishing, children playing hopscotch—I was thinking all of these things were happening when the bomb was dropped. They’re really daily, human activities. But in the context of the piece, with the bomb, then they become something even more.”

Performances this week!

Suspended Moment
Meshi Chavez, Yukiyo Kawano, Allison Cobb, Lisa DeGrace, and Stephen Miller
7 pm August 9
University of Oregon, Light Court Commons, 70 NW Couch Street
See above.

Flamenco Fridays
Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland and Bar Vivant
Performances by singer Diana Bright and dancers Montserrat Andreys, Lillie Last, and Nela McGuire
7 pm August 11
Bar Vivant, 2225 E Burnside St.

Friday nights in August bring free Flamenco performances to Bar Vivant’s outdoor patio on East Burnside. Enjoy the sights and sounds and tastes of Spain practically in your own backyard with former Pink Martini singer Diana Bright and three fabulous dancers—Montserrat Andreys, Lillie Last, and Nela McGuire.

Thaw: a multidisciplinary art event
Hosted by Justin Bulava
7:30 pm August 12
13150 SW Weir Road, Beaverton

Combining live and recorded music, dance, painting, poetry, and the sounds of melting ice, “Thaw” explores “the interconnectivity of time and space, sound and sight, human beings and our relationship with the Earth.”

The program features composer Mike Sayre, dancer Matt Chichon, painter Phoebe Rivas, poet Bri Nelson, musicians Rebecca Olason, Alexis Mahler, Grayson Fiske and Justin Bulava, the event designer and composer.

Please note: The performance takes place at a private residence and RSVP is appreciated.

One Shy of Ten: The Intangible Dimension
A-WOL Dance Collective/Art in the Dark
August 4-13
Mary S. Young State Park, 19900 Willamette Drive, West Linn
A-WOL Dance Collective will be suspended in trees this weekend in their annual Art in the Dark production, this one called One Shy of Ten: The Intangible Dimension. The dance takes place at night, amongst the stars along the Willamette River in West Linn, at Mary S. Young park. A-WOL, an aerial dance company, will lead audiences on an eerie, mysterious, sci-fi fantasy that will leave everyone guessing about what’s real and what’s not.

JamBallah Northwest ’17
Hosted by JamBallah NW and Presented by Elise of Narcissa Productions LLC, partnered with the Marissa Mission, a 501(c)(3) organization.
August 11-13
At the Artists’ Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison

This three-day festival celebrates Middle Eastern dance and its American Fusion versions and includes performances by local legends (Ruby Beh) and such out-of-town masters as Rachel Brice and Ashley Lopez, Khadijah, Serena Spears, Mardi Love and Nazaneen. The festival also has an artisan vendor fair and three days of workshops encompassing the entire bellydance diaspora.

Critical Engagement Series: Eliza Larson/Mountain Empire Performance Collective
Hosted by Flock Dance Center and Mountain Empire Performance Collective
5 pm August 12
Flock Dance Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave. #4

Flock’s Critical Engagement Series curated by dance artist Tahni Holt, “brings together audiences and choreographers in hopes to reveal some of the mystery surrounding the languages around dance and the unique practices of individual choreographers. We start with the question: What does the choreographer need at this particular moment in their process and how might this also serve the wider community.”

This month we engage with Portland choreographer Eliza Larson and her long distance collaborators at Mountain Empire Performance Collective. The trio has created a solo score sourced from the same improvisational material that have been altered by each other’s feedback prompts on space, duration, transposition and focus. The “solo” Onus will be performed in real time with further alterations.

India Festival 2017
Hosted by the Indian Cultural Association of Portland
August 13
11 am – 9 pm
Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 SW Sixth Avenue

Celebrating India’s Independence and cultural diversity, the Portland’s Indian Cultural Association hosts a day of live music, dance and food from across India.

Broadway Rose Theatre Company
August 3-20
Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard

Continuing this weekend is Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of Gypsy, directed and choreographed by late great American choreographer Jerome Robbins, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The musical is loosely based on the memoirs of the American queen of striptease, Gypsy Rose Lee, and the aspirations of her stage mamma from hell.

Although Gypsy is not a dance-centric show, Robbins carefully re-created accurate depictions of the era’s vaudeville and burlesque dance styles for famous scenes such as “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” when three strippers tell Louise (Gypsy Rose Lee) that she doesn’t actually need talent, just an idea.


August 11-13, JamBallah Northwest ’17, Hosted by JamBallah NW
August 13, India Festival 2017, India Cultural Association of Portland
August 19, Laya-Bhavam: An amalgamation and importance of Rhythm in Dance, presented by Sarada Kala Nilayam
August 20, A Celebration of Classical Indian Arts: Dance, Music, and Poetry Honoring John Yeon’s Collection of Indian Paintings, hosted by New Expressive Works and the Portland Art Museum
August 24-September 6, Portland Dance Film Fest, Directed by Kailee McMurran, Tia Palomino, and Jess Evans
August 24-October 8, Kurios: Cabinet Of Curiosities, Cirque Du Soleil
August 25-September 3, Where To Wear What Hat, WolfBird Dance

September 7-17, TBA, Portland Institute For Contemporary Art

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