When Dreams Are Interrupted, the evocative title of the site-specific dance and multimedia performance that Purple Moon Dance Project will present at the South Berkeley home of the group’s founder, Jill Togawa, Oct. 9 and 10, only hints at the sense of discovery in personal and local community history that Togawa and the other company members have brought to this performance piece since deciding to create something about the real—and long-term—impact of the Japanese-American internment during World War II.
Just a few anecdotes about the two years of research and planning, passed along by Togawa in a phone conversation, revealed the serendipitous correspondences, the surprises that performances of this kind usually have to generate conceptually or fictionally.
“One of the questions we posed ourselves when developing the piece,” Togawa said, “was, when dreams are interrupted, where do they go?”
The search for stories, an invisible history, started two years ago, after Togawa moved with her family to South Berkeley. “I knew nothing about the history of the neighborhood,” she recalled. “An inspector came through, recognized my name as a Japanese name—and knew something of the history of the house, because he used to live in the neighborhood. His neighbors knew the family that had lived here; 50 years later, they were still telling the story.”
The family was the Nakazawas. “The story was that the parents had died in camp, and their adult children were so brokenhearted, they didn’t come back here. They had made a beautiful garden—the father was a gardener—which was cemented over when we came. The [70-foot] redwood tree, which completely overshadows the house, had been planted by them. We had found it gloomy at first. After finding out they had planted it, I began to think of it as an ancestor.”
When she started thinking about making a performance, Togawa posed herself a question: How to bring the tree to the stage? In a talk with another choreographer, the suggestion was made that the performance could be site-specific.
Posting flyers in the neighborhood, telling people about what she was thinking, Togawa “started learning about the big Japanese community here, and began to think, This must be why we’re here, to see this.” She learned that seven families from her block had been interned.
She also discovered that Richard Aoki, “who I talked to a few times,” was a grandson of the Nakagawas. Aoki, a Japanese-American community activist, died last March. “He was a leader in the community—and he told me he was one of the founders, one of the first, of the Black Panther Party.” The program on Saturday will be dedicated to Aoki’s memory.
One of the performers, African-American dancer Arisika Razak, whose “second family” in Harlem was Japanese-American, had mentioned the Panthers’ focus on community service; Togawa asked her if she would perform a section of the piece in honor of Aoki (“Fearless Leader/Devoted Son”).
“Each of the artists has a different way of connecting to the piece,” Togawa said. Ruth Ichinaga will perform a section, “Reflections,” that Togawa said “is Ruth’s own family experience. Her family was sent to camp from Hawaii, where mine was sent from. She’s bringing not only her artistry to this. Ruth’s in her mid-70s. She was 7 when she and her parents, who had a mom-and-pop grocery, were sent away.” Togawa’s mother and grandparents were also among the 1,200 brought from Hawaii to the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
When Dreams Are Interrupted will be performed in nine sections, “four of them stories specifically of individuals we interviewed. I’m a dancer who really loves to do just dance. But we realized how much the stories would add to the piece. It was great to meet the people—wonderfully interesting people—we’ve met, including Japanese-American women, one 90 years old; African-Americans who were neighbors here at the time; a Quaker man who shared a lot of his five years of [doing a] research project—in the end, we decided we just couldn’t leave it out. It’s the first time I’ve worked with this much text. But I wish we had more time, more interviews, more readings—more and more and more!”
The dancers include Michelle Fletcher, Ruth Ichinaga, Arisika Razak, and Sharon Sato. Musicians are Laura Inserra and Claudia Cuentas (of Samavesha). Poet Janice Mirikitami, who was a Topaz, Utah, internee, contributed spoken-word sections to the soundtrack. Ellen Bepp, also a drummer with Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble, designed the site and installations. “The first part is along the driveway, moving for the main part into the back garden. Ellen added elements to connect the different sections of the piece. Her design gives it a very definite palette. There’s a sense of shadow, of interruption, of things where they wouldn’t ordinarily be.”
“It’s been a true collaboration,” said Togawa, also crediting Jill Shiaki of Preserving California’s Japantowns, who has been project coordinator/manager. It is notable that When Dreams Are Interrupted brings Togawa full circle, as her first commission was by late jazz composer Glenn Horiuchi to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the internment. She has also worked with Berkeley Methodist United Church and with big band musician and historian George Yoshida to find and authenticate background information.
“We think things have changed, but fear and ignorance are so much more present than what we think. Of all the people in the neighborhood who were sent away, those we could still talk to—they still feel not missed, not noticed; that struck me. Today we have a chance to witness, a chance to be open, to be touched by their experience,” Togawa said.
She also mentioned at press time that the response has been overwhelming; due to space limitations, the free performances are “sold out,” many of the reservations going to residents and former residents of the neighborhood, to churchgoers from the neighborhood churches and the elders community.
WHEN DREAMS ARE INTERRUPTED
Presented by Purple Moon Dance Project at 2 p.m. Oct. 9 and 10. For more information, including locations, call (415) 552-1105 or see www.purplemoondance.org.