featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Report, 5-28: Spirits in the Contracting World
Yuriko Feted

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2004 Peggy H. Cheng

New! Sponsor a Flash!

NEW YORK -- The evening was called "Tribute to Yuriko: Boundless Talent." It was a fitting title for the remarkable life and career of Yuriko -- past, present, and future. Not only is Yuriko known for her longtime association with the Martha Graham Dance Company, as dancer and, still, stager of Graham works, but she also performed on Broadway and founded her own company. Introducing the May 17 tribute at the Japan Society, Emiko Tokunaga, the artist's biographer, described Yuriko as a person who had "much to her surprise, moved boundaries." Through three video excerpts and two performances, as well as a conversation between Yuriko and Janet Eilber (director of Martha Graham Resources) moderated by New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff, the audience was treated to a recounting of several highlights of Yuriko's career, as well as a few personal anecdotes and demonstrations of the irrepressible spirit of this already legendary woman.

Yuriko in Martha Graham's "Primitive Mysteries." Photo courtesy Martha Graham Resources.

Tokunaga, a dance artist with an impressive career biography of her own, gave a fairly detailed biographical summary, including slide projections from Yuriko's time interned at the Gila River Reservation Center in Arizona, where 13,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. It was at this prison camp in Lot 60 that Yuriko started a dance school for the prisoners and began her career as a teacher.

The introduction was followed by three video excerpts: Yuriko's debut principal role with the Graham company, as the Virgin Mary in "Primitive Mysteries"; a clip from Peter Giushanok's 1957 "Dancer's World" featuring Yuriko and Bertram Ross in "Canticle for Innocent Comedians," a duet which inspired Graham to create "Embattled Garden" for Yuriko and Ross in 1958; and a clip of Yuriko on Broadway as Eliza in "The King and I."

The video presentation was followed by more anecdotes from Yuriko, displaying the spunk and practicality of a dance artist who combines an incredible lightness with a steel core. At one point during the conversation, an audience member asked the dancer to recall her most embarrassing moment. Susan Kikuchi, Yuriko's daughter, prompted her re-telling of a moment of forgetfulness onstage. Yuriko disposed of the microphone and got up to demonstrate, skipping back and forth in a most sprightly manner belying her 84 years. Later, when asked about how she teaches a contraction and also passes on those qualities that go beyond technique, she replied, "A contraction is a contraction -- spirit comes after the contraction."

Miki Orihara, a current Graham dancer and teacher who has often assisted Yuriko in class, reconstruction, and choreography, performed Yuriko'S "Cry," choreographed for the Yuriko Dance Company between 1967 AND 1974. The piece, to music by Andre Jolivet, seems to draw us into the sadness of a woman alone. The movement was Graham, but with a lightness and gesture of its own.

The grand finale was a performance by LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts students in Graham's "Chronicle/Steps in the Street," reconstructed by Yuriko on the students as part of her Arigato Project.* This group of young women, demonstrating a timeless intensity and drive, offered the perfect testament to Yuriko's ability to pass on her passion and contagious spirit. It was truly an honor to be present for this evening that gave voice to Yuriko's vitality as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and above all, living legend.

*To read more about The Arigato Project, please click here.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home