Choreographer, writer, editor, dramaturge, director and my friend Carla Blank has just written this obituary in Dance Magazine.
But it came two years late as her longtime collaborator’s death had been kept secret by her family.
Japanese dancer and choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi is the heroine of Robert Wilson’s homage performance piece, “KOOL: Dancing in My Mind,” which debuted in 2009 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Hanayagi collaborated with Wilson for his major works from the 1980s through 1999, helping define the stark movement vocabulary that became trademark Wilson.
Suzushi was trained in the Hanayagi and Inoue dance schools, but also studied under Takehara Han.
Mixing schools was unknown and abhorred in Japanese tradition.
But Hanayagi was already a modern dancer as well and knew what she wanted.
She went to New York, at the invitation of Martha Graham, and started performing her own works, including at the Judson Dance Theater, in experimental collaborations with Blank.
Their creation made for a stunningly unique statement, rooted in classical Kabuki dance that is abstracted and linked in approach, form and idea to American modern dance _ in the same way other forms of the Japanese art, craftsmanship and design, exemplified in pottery, woodblock prints, Noh music and rock gardens, have a definitive conceptual affinity to modern art.
Some of Blank and Hanayagi’s works _ as playful as they were at times political, but always unafraid, everyday yet unabashedly personal _ were recreated in “KOOL,” along with photos and video of Hanayagi, in past works and in recent years, ill with Alzheimer’s in an Osaka instition.
The most tragic thing about Suzushi’s remarkable life is that she is all but forgotten as a pioneer artist in her home country, especially when women of her generation are finally starting to win the recognition and respect they so deserve as inspiring role models for this nation’s still under-utilized but multi-talented women.
Now, Japan will have an opporutnity to learn more about Suzushi Hanayagi and her artistic vision in a documentary film, directed by Richard Rutkowski and produced by Hisami Kuroiwa, “The Space in Back of You,” in which Blank as well as Wilson, David Byrne and Anna Halprin also appear.
The film is being shown at Theater Image Forum in Shibuya, Tokyo, SAT Sept. 29, 2012, 9 p.m. and SAT Oct. 9, 2012, 9 p.m. as part of the Dance Triennale Tokyo festival.
Choreographer, writer, editor, dramaturge, director and my friend Carla Blank has just written this obituary in Dance Magazine.
ISHMAEL REED PUBLISHING COMPANY PRESENTS A BOOK PARTY for
“The New and Selected Yuri,” poetry and stories by YURI KAGEYAMA:
Bowery Poetry Club 308 Bowery (between Houston and Bleecker) New York City
Sunday, April 1, 2012 8 p.m.
Special Guests ISHMAEL REED and TENNESSEE REED.
A reading-performance of “STORY OF MIU,” written by Yuri Kageyama, directed by CARLA BLANK, featuring dancer YUKI KAWAHISA, with music by PHEEROAN AKLAFF, in a collage of words, sound and movement, a pan-Pacific tale of pain, love and survival that defies racism and sexism over moments and generations.
Ishmael Reed is the author of “Mumbo Jumbo,” “Juice,” “The Last Days of Louisiana Red,” “Japanese by Spring,” “Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down” and some 20 other books. He is a poet, publisher, satirist, playwright, pianist, TV producer and songwriter. He taught at the University of California Berkeley for more than 30 years. He founded the Before Columbus Foundation.
Carla Blank has been a performer, director, dramaturge and teacher of dance and theater for more than 40 years. Recently, she worked with Robert Wilson on “KOOL – Dancing in My Mind” inspired by Japanese choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi, a longtime collaborator. Since 2003 she has been dramaturge and director of the two-act play “The Domestic Crusaders” by Wajahat Ali. She has taught at the University of California Berkeley, Dartmouth College and the University of Washington.
Yuki Kawahisa, a native of Japan, is an actor and performance artist. Based in New York, Kawahisa has been performing her own works and others’ works internationally, including Canada, France, Germany, Austria, Japan, Indonesia and Australia. She has worked with internationally acclaimed theater directors Robert Wilson and Richard Forman, as well as with dancers, media artists, painters, vocal artists and musicians.
Pheeroan AkLaff is a New York-based drummer and composer, who has played with Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Henry Threadgill, Cecil Taylor, Yosuke Yamashita and Andrew Hill. He was a headliner at many festivals including Moers and Nurnberg. He led the Double Duo ensemble dedicated to the spiritual music of John Coltrane. He teaches at Wesleyan University.
Tennessee Reed is the author of five poetry collections and a memoir. She has read in the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany and Japan. Her sixth poetry collection “New and Selected Poetry 1982-2010” will be published by World Parade this year. She is managing editor of Konch Magazine. She has a B.A. from UC Berkeley, and an M.F.A. from Mills College.
Yuri Kageyama’s poetry, short stories and essays have been published in “Y’Bird,” “Pow Wow,” “Breaking Silence” “On a Bed of Rice,” Konch and “Pirene’s Fountain.” She reads with her band Yuricane, featuring Eric Kamau Gravatt, Isaku Kageyama, Winchester Nii Tete and other multicultural musicians. Japanese director Yoshiako Tago is documenting her readings on film, “Talking TAIKO.”
Film by Yoshiaki Tago
Film by Yoshiaki Tago.
Talking TAIKO Book party for “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling Till Now” at Yoshi’s in San Francisco MON Aug. 15, 2011.
An evening of poetry by Yuri Kageyama with music by The Yuricane:
Eric Kamau Gravatt (drums), Makoto Horiuchi (guitar, musical director), Isaku Kageyama (taiko, percussion), Hiroyuki Shido (bass), Glen Pearson (keyboards), Ashwut Rodriguez (guitar).
Special Guests: Ishmael Reed, Tennessee Reed and Carla Blank.
A firsthand report in Jazz Advance: Borderless Poetics: Taiko Meets Jazz at My Book Party.
I have a new book out: “The New and Selected Yuri _ Writing From Peeling till Now,” Ishmael Reed Publishing Co. ( Amazon US site hardcover, Amazon Japan hardcover, Amazon US paperback, Japan paperback, and ebooks.)
Reed’s partner Carla Blank, author, performer, director, dance instructor, edited the book and led me every step of the way.
Reed, an award-winning poet, novelist, playwright and professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley, where I was a student, published my first book of poems “Peeling” in 1988.
“The New and Selected Yuri” compiles the best of my writing _ poetry, fiction and essays _ from the 1970s, including my first poem to ever get published (also by Ishmael Reed) in iconic Berkeley literary magazine “Y’Bird” _ to today.
It is one of those strange happenings in life that has connected me to Reed over all these years.
I still don’t understand it at all.
Reed not only published my new book. He also wrote the Foreword:
They’ve called Yuri “cute” often during her life. She’s cute all right. Like a tornado is cute. Like a hurricane is cute. This Yuricane. I found that out when she was a student at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1970s. One of her poems about iconic white women became an underground hit on campus.
In 2009 the audience at New York City’s Bowery Poetry Club was also blown away by her poem, “Little YELLOW Slut,” a devastating look at the way Asian women are depicted in the media.
The New and Selected Yuri includes poems like this; the manner by which Japanese women are imprisoned behind a “Noh mask,” but Kageyama doesn’t leave it at that.
Unlike many American Gender First feminists,she is capable of understanding how men are also victims of outmoded customs, though they are not dismissed merely as “reproductive machines,” as one minister was caught saying in an unguarded moment. Women should be “quiet” and have bok choy ready when the men come home from
drinking with the boys.
It’s also the women, who bear the miscarriages, the abortions, the rapes, the beatings from a father, who, years later, can’t give an explanation for why he did it. In the United States, the white men who own the media and Hollywood blame the brutality against women on the poor and minority men. White middle class women, and their selected minority women, who want to remain on their payrolls in business,
politics and academia, have become surrogates in this effort.
Courageously, Yuri Kageyama debunks this myth and correctly calls out men of all backgrounds and classes as women abusers. The father who inflicts gratuitous punishment upon his daughter is a NASA scientist.
These poems are honest. Blunt. When she says that writing a poem is like taking “a bungee jump,” she means it.
Very few of the world poets have Yuri Kageyama’s range. Her poems critique Japanese as well as American society. The Chikan. The arrogance of the gaijin, who, even when guests in a country, insist that everybody be like them. Some are erotic. You might find allusions to Richard Wright, Michelangelo, John Coltrane. Music is not only entertainment but like something that one injects, something that invades the nervous system.
I asked writer Haki Madhubuti, what he meant by African Centrism. He said that it was based upon selecting the best of African traditions.
Some of Yuri Kageyama’s poems might be considered Nippon Centric. She wants to jettison those customs that oppress both men and women, especially the women, and keep those of value. The Kakijun, The Enryo and The Iki.
July 8, 2010
I hope I live up to those words.
At the Bowery Poetry Club in New York SUN April 19, in celebration of “Pow-Wow: Charting the Fault Lines of the American Experience _ Short Fiction from Then to Now,” an anthology compiled and edited by ISHMAEL REED with CARLA BLANK,
YURI KAGEYAMA reads with ERIC KAMAU GRAVATT, TERUYUKI KAWABATA and HARUNA KAWABATA.
YURI KAGEYAMA has a book of poems “Peeling” (I. Reed Press). Her works are in many literary anthologies _ “Y’Bird,” “Pow Wow,” “San Francisco Stories,” “On a Bed of Rice,” “Breaking Silence: an Anthology of Asian American Poets,” “Greenfield Review,” “Beyond Rice,” “River Styx,” “Other Side River,” “Yellow Silk,” “Stories We Hold Secret,” “MultiAmerica,” “Obras.” She has read with Ishmael Reed, Shuntaro Tanikawa, Geraldine Kudaka, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Russel Baba, Seamus Heaney, Shozu Ben, Al Robles, Winchester Nii Tete, Keiji Kubo, Yumi Miyagishima. Her son Isaku Kageyama is a “taiko” drummer in Amanojaku in Tokyo. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Cornell University, and has an M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.
ERIC KAMAU GRAVATT has played with Freddie Hubbard, Albert Ayler, The District of Columbia Youth Symphony, Roberta Flack, Horiuchi Makoto, Sonny Fortune, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus, Donald Byrd, Carlos Valdez, Booker Irvin, Woody Shaw, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, Hank Mobley, Kikuchi Masabumi, The Milwaukee Symphony, Jimmy Heath, Donny Hathaway, Sam Rivers, Khalid Yasin, Andrew White, Tony Hymas, Paquito D’Rivera, George Mraz, Ravi Coltrane, Stanley Clarke, Pharoah Saunders, The McCoy Tyner Big Band, Gary Bartz, Bobby Hutcherson, James Carter, Terrance Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Donald Harrison, Charnett Moffett. He tours with his own band Source Code and with McCoy Tyner. Wayne Shorter calls him “The Weather Report drummer who was the all-around hippest one.”
TERUYUKI and HARUNA KAWABATA are on their honeymoon. Their band Cigarette She Was performs at the numerous “live houses” in Tokyo. Their hippie-like music scene is part of what inspired YURI to write her story in “Pow-Wow” _ “The Father and the Son.” They have been performing poetry together with other Tokyo musicians, including Winchester Nii Tete, a percussionist from Ghana, under YURI’s project called The Tokyo Flower Children. Haruna fell in love with not only Teru but also the kpanlogo, a drum from Ghana, during college. The couple also work on films, CDs and posters, and are often featured in art festivals in Japan. Teru also makes cell-phone music downloads, and Haruna works at a major Japanese coffee-shop chain.
The first time I met Suzushi Hanayagi, she was in a wheelchair in a home for the elderly, a frail woman with gray hair, who muttered, grunted and smiled, appearing sweetly lost in her own strange world, happily munching on chocolate-covered cookies shaped like mushrooms that her grandson playfully handed her.
During the 1960s, Suzushi Hanayagi _ who looks more robust, determined and focused in the bespectacled shots I have seen of her past _ ventured alone to New York, in a rather unusual act of courage for a Japanese woman of her generation, armed with training in Hanayagi-school and other traditional dance to forge a new form of modern dance with American collaborators.
One of them was Carla Blank, whom I have known for years. When Blank was in Japan about five years ago, she went to visit Suzushi. She was worried. The changes were already starting to show in her friend.
Last year, Carla was back in Japan again, this time with Robert Wilson, to film Suzushi Hanayagi for a Guggenheim Museum performance piece.
I was there, mainly to see Carla and to meet Suzushi whom I had heard so much about.
I have to be honest: I was depressed.
If she had ever been a dynamic artist, I couldn’t see a shadow of that in the old woman sitting so innocently in the wheelchair, savoring her cookies, nodding agreement, or approval, to nothing in particular, as though she didn’t have a care in the world.
In her prime, Suzushi choreographed pieces for Wilson, performed with Carla in Judson Church and worked with Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin and Martha Graham. Back in Japan, she performed in avant-garde spaces in Tokyo like Shibuya Jean Jean, but often did classical pieces as a top student for revered dancers like Han Takehara and Yachiyo Inoue.
Suzushi saw dance as part of everyday life, like an extension of her breathing, walking, mothering, all the things she did as a Japanese woman. I would have loved to see the performance piece she did with her toddler son. To her, the barrier that divided art and life held no meaning.
Carla says Suzushi had kept detailed journals of her dance ideas. No one can find those diaries today. So much of her legacy has been lost like wisps and whims maybe still there somewhere in Suzushi’s mind but strangers like me can no longer hope to grasp as concepts.
Carla Blank and Robert Wilson are piecing it all together in homage of this great but largely forgotten Japanese artist, tracking down dance footage, recreating her choreography, translating her words.
“KOOL _ Dancing in My Mind,” it’s called.
“She is still so full of life, isn’t she?” a solidly upbeat Wilson said after visiting Suzushi in the home.
I didn’t know what to say. I mumbled something like: “I am happy you are able to say that.”
But, of course.
Art can only be what the artist perceives and then communicates.
It’s not there until the artist perceives it for you.
And he could see it because he was there and he was part of it and he is an artist.
I have to go and see what Robert Wilson has created with Carla Blank at the Guggenheim for us to see _ a multimedia portrait of the real Suzushi Hanayagi and her Dance.
The piece is not just a documentation of this woman and her work.
It is about what binds people together over time, cultures, fading memories, sickness and aging.
It is about how an artist must see beyond what’s there.
It is about how life, artistic productivity and our time with those we love must end _ and about how they never really end.
“POW WOW _ Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience _ Short Fiction From Then to Now,” edited by Ishmael Reed with Carla Blank, (cover design by Ann Weinstock) just came out, gathering works from the likes of (as photographed clockwise from top left): Ntozake Shange, Alejandro Murguia, Benjamin Franklikn and Gertrude Stein.
Works are in alphabetical order and so my short story “The Father and the Son” follows “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston, and comes right before “Moses Mama” by William Melvin Kelley _ some exalted company I keep.
Among others in the book: Langston Hughes, Al Young, Russell Banks, John A. Williams, Grace Paley, Mark Twain, Chester Himes.
From the cover:
“Celebrated novelist, poet and MacArthur Fellow Ishmael Reed follows his groundbreaking poetry anthology FROM TOTEMS TO HIP-HOP with a provocative survey of American short fiction …. By presenting many different facets of the American experience, these stories challenge official history, shatter accepted myths and provide necessary alternatives to mainstream notions of personal and national identity.”
My story is about death, motherhood, identity, music, love.
In the Foreword, Ishmael Reed says my story exposes the stupidity and cruelty of the patriarchal family.