An International Affair

Quianna Simpson, Yukina Sato Crul, John Cartwright, and Ishmael Konney in Our Story

One of the many great things about my MFA cohort is the diversity among us. Each of us comes to this program from a different background with different lived experiences, different strengths and weaknesses, and different perspectives on life and dance. The stories of our journeys to grad school may be different, but we’ve all ended up here, together. We are a cohort that represents different genders, different ethnicities, different nationalities, and different sexual orientations. It is our differences which make us stronger as a group and it is our passion for the art of dance that unites us. Embedded in that passion for the art of dance is our spirit of collaboration, and that’s what lead to the creation of Our Story.

My colleague, Yukina Sato Crul, pitched the idea of doing a group piece to a few of us one afternoon this fall after our Choreography Workshop course. She was intrigued by the idea of having us improv and react to the sounds and our impressions of her speaking in Japanese. While an intriguing idea, we needed something for her to say and she suggested reading parts of our bios from each of blogs – a nice little snapshot of who we are as individuals. So, Yukina and I, along with two other members of our cohort, Quianna Simpson and Ishmael Konney, set out to create a collaborative piece based in improvisation, centered around language and identity.  

We started by writing concise bios for Yukina to translate and record in Japanese. These recordings were then used in rehearsal to experiment with by using improvisation to react to what we heard. We began by focusing on the rhythm and cadence of Yukina’s voice, noticing the differences and similarities between spoken Japanese and English. We then began to incorporate the feelings and sensations we got when we heard the Japanese language. What images come to mind? What connotations does it bring up? 

When it came to our own bios we found it difficult to not try and pick out words we recognized and improv literally to what we knew we had written. In an effort to avoid “Micky Mousing” the steps to our own words we tried just improving to the bios that didn’t belong to us. Then we tried echo improving where one person moves fully and the others follow their movement with slightly less energy and effort, creating an abstracted version. But in the end, we decided to not fight the urge to make movement based on our written bios, after all it is our story. 

Each of us decided to create a movement phrase that incorporated all of these ideas we had been playing with that would correspond to our own bio being read in Japanese. We used the rhythm and cadence of Yukina’s voice, the sensations we felt when we hard Japanese, and the knowledge of remembering what we had written, but more importantly what we had lived and the movement that made us the dancers we are today. After teaching each other our phrases we played with various arrangements and choreographic tools to assemble them into a movement score that made sense to us. Along the way we decided that instead of using Yukina’s recorded voice we should have Yukina speak live as a way to incorporate more life and breath. 

After we assembled our phrases and implemented chorographic tools like cannon, duets, theme and variation, and call and response, we felt something was still missing. We had lost that initial intent of improvisation and the importance of actually listening to the sounds of Yukina’s voice. So, we decided to add a section where we would use the echo improving technique and cycle through each of us being the leader while Yukina said her own bio in Japanese and improvised a conclusion to the text. It was in this improvisation of the text at the end of the piece where she came up with the title, Our Story, which we felt encompassed the idea of the piece quite nicely. 

The thing I love most about Our Story are the layers of thought and rigor which make it up. The rehearsal process was organic and collaborative, each of us add to it like a recipe and editing it through the lens of our own experience. We spent time listening to Yukina speak in Japanese, we spent time listening to each other’s ideas, we spent time listening to our own instincts. I feel like there are still layers of this piece to be explored and more knowledge to be mined out of a rehearsal process rooted in collaboration and improvisation. I look forward to working more with Yukina, Quianna, and Ishmael, and indeed the rest of my cohort as we continue to build our stories together at OSU. 

Our Story from John Cartwright on Vimeo.

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