BY MIKE BROTHERS, DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS
These were some of the themes explored through modern dance as Drury hosted a recent performance of “Life Interrupted” on campus. An original creation of Core Performance Company, a contemporary dance company based in Atlanta and Houston, “Life Interrupted” is inspired by the story of the internment camps set up by the U.S. government to hold Japanese- Americans in the days and years following the 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
One of those internment camps sits not far from the Ozarks in tiny Rohwer, Arkansas. It was there that Drury architecture professor Nancy Chikaraishi’s parents were interned as young adults, after being forced to move from their homes in California.
“It’s a personal story because my parents experienced it, and my grandparents experienced it,” Chikaraishi says. “And I still meet people who have never heard of the camps, especially the ones in Arkansas. People don’t know it happened, and when they find out, they’re really surprised. Surprised, then shocked that Americans did this to other Americans.”
The surprise and shock continue to resonate, Chikaraishi says, when we consider the historical parallels to today as issues such as a Muslim registry and ethnic profiling make headlines.
“It’s 75 years past and we’re still grappling with the same issues—fear of people we don’t know, fear of people who look different from us,” she says.
Chikaraishi first became involved with the “Life Interrupted” dance project through the WWII Japanese- American Internment Museum in Rohwer. Her original artwork, which was inspired by the stories her parents told her about the camps, was exhibited by the museum and it caught the attention of Sue Schroeder, Core’s artistic director. Chikaraishi became a collaborator on the project, and her art is digitally projected onto the stage throughout the performance.
“Her work has a lot of texture that adds to the landscape of the piece,” Schroeder says.
The dance performance was the centerpiece of a week’s worth of “Life Interrupted” events at Drury, including an exhibition of Chikaraishi’s artwork at the C-Street Gallery, two wide-ranging panel discussions, and an interactive story circle workshop hosted by Core. Faculty and students from the humanities, theater, history, political science and architecture were involved.
“It was a really powerful series of events,” Schroeder says. “We felt so embraced by the community, and we had so many more layers to take and weave into our live performance.”
The show is a rich blend of dance, art and music. Motion, momentum and interaction bring the experience to life for the audience. The goal, Schroeder says, is to inspire empathy and foster understanding without misrepresenting or appropriating the subject matter. There is “a responsibility to know your stuff,” she says, adding that a year’s worth of research went into the production.
“We ask ourselves: what’s the truth here?” she explains. “Then, when you make an artistic decision you know if you’re either bending the truth or abstracting the truth and, hopefully, not divorcing yourself from the truth.”
Though fully choreographed, there is some room for improvisation, so no two shows are exactly the same.
“There are pockets where the dancers can play,” Schroeder says. “It may be a minute here, or a transition there.”
“It’s a powerful performance,” Chikaraishi says. “It’s amazing that an art form that doesn’t use words is able to process a historical event and express really deep emotions through movement and interaction.”
Over the years, her parents never expressed anger or resentment about the experience, Chikaraishi says, even though their lives were forever changed by it. Her father was just one semester short of earning a college degree when he was sent in the camp, and he never returned to California to live, settling instead in Chicago. Not all of the outcomes were negative: her parents met each other at the camp.
“I think a lot of them decided they were just going to go along with it to show how patriotic they were,” Chikaraishi says. “That’s how they dealt with everything. You deal with the situation and you move on. Because if you held that bitterness for 75 years, you’d just be resentful of so many things.”
While it’s important to let go of those negative emotions, it’s even more important to hold onto clear memories of the events themselves, she says. They offer a vital, and necessary, reminder for all of us.
“America is a place that is very open to others,” Chikaraishi says, “but we have to keep remembering that.”
“Life Interrupted” was made possible at Drury thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mid-America Arts Alliance, the Missouri Arts Council, the Springfield Regional Arts Council, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Dr. Kelley Still Nichols, and Drury’s Hammons School of Architecture and L.E. Meador Center for Politics & Citizenship; as well as foundations, corporations and individuals throughout the Midwest.