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Report, 5-28: Spirits in the Contracting World
By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2004 Peggy H. Cheng
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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.
in Martha Graham's "Primitive Mysteries." Photo courtesy Martha
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
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.
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