Monday, January 23, 2012

Our 20th Anniversary in the Year of the Dragon

As we enter the year of the Dragon, I am reflecting on the last 20 years. As you know DTSB&Co celebrates a major milestone, not just for the company but also for the fields of dance, education and cultural equity. The company emerged out of a youth program in 1990. I was asked by the DC Mayor's Office to create a program that would support Asian American high school youth because the District had no arts programs for this community. It was a wonderful journey of learning, teaching and creating work. Fond memories include working with a Beijing Opera group and escalating from a small run down studio in the middle of the city to having the program enveloped for 3 years at the Kennedy Center. As the interest and need snowballed so did the talented dancers who came through the program as well as the new dancers who were attracted to the idea of an Asian American company. I launched Moving Forward:Contemporary Asian American Dance Co in 1992. This became our non-profit that eventually housed DTSB&Co, a branding name change a few years later. It was a very important moment for DC which had up until this point often looked at diversity as a black and white issue. The Latino community was given more visibility when the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood rioted and partially burned. Moving beyond the Asian American model minority myth has not been simple. The fact that Asian Americans, especially new American still struggle with language, social services representation and much more is often put to the side. I hope our work through dance has brought this issue to light.

The works that stand out for me over the last 2 decades that illuminate personal and historic displacement issues include: Tracings a recount of my own family's new American experiences in the Korean Hawaiian community of Oahu in the early 1900's, Island, the story of Chinese Immigrants trapped on Angel Island in midst of the Chinese Exclusionary Acts of the late 1800's, Hyphen which explores the reality of the hyphenated American identity with visuals by Nam June Paik, Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love, an autobiographic story about growing up as a Korean American in a Latino community and most recently Becoming American, the story of one of our dancers Katia Chupashko who is a Korean adoptee. My goal has always been to create works that are poetic, allow for empathy and understanding while presenting a strong message about inclusion. I am often asked how have you survived and continued to grow as an artist when the field of dance seems to be moving toward commercialism, pyrotechnics and a failing hierarchical management? I always respond by saying

"nurture your own unique aesthetic, don't follow the norm but follow your heart and never forget that one of the greatest goals of art is to build bridges of universal understanding. This path is not easy or simple but it is rewarding and heartfelt. If your art cannot transcend cultural boundaries then go back to the drawing board until someone in DC or Lima, NYC or Chennai, Beijing or Quito can understand the emotional core of your art."

My goal is to have each audience member feel that images in my work resonate with them personally and move them to be more empathetic to the larger human concepts of journey and the physical and emotional struggle to find a place to belong.

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