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Our next Discover Dance! series show features Japanese traditional and classical dances with TomoeArts, streaming online November 26-December 10. We sat down (virtually) with Artistic Director Colleen Lanki for a quick chat about her work.

How did you get involved with Japanese dance? 

I was living in Tokyo and saw the most amazing dance play at the Kabuki-za called Kurozuka performed by Ichikawa Ennosuke III. I was so moved by the piece, I wanted to know more about this form of theatrical dance. A friend introduced me to Fujima Yūko, a master dancer and teacher who was willing to take on a foreign student. What began as curiosity about the form, became a lifelong study and practice. I trained with Yūko-sensei twice a week for almost seven years, and she granted me a professional name, Fujima Sayū – which shows that I am part of the Fujima school or family, and also that I am her disciple as the “yū” part of the given name is written in the same character as the “Yū” in hers. I feel a real responsibility to her memory (she died in 2003) and the form. I maintain my practice when I return to Japan and study with another teacher,  Fujima Shōgo.

What would you like people to know about Japanese classical dance?

I’d rather call what I do kabuki odori or at least buyō – but I use the English term because it is easier for people to understand. It’s a little like calling ballet “French classical dance”!  Buyō is theatrical and driven by character and image. It has always been connected to the kabuki theatre and geisha world, and it has a history dating back to the 17th century. There are many newly created dances, some are in traditional form, but many others break conventions. Yūko-sensei believed her beloved dance form could – and should – be international like ballet and wanted to see it practiced by people around the world.

Tell us about your company, TomoeArts.

I founded the company with two purposes: 1) to work towards Yūko-sensei’s goal of internationalizing buyō (Japanese classical dance) – at least in some small way, and 2) to enable me to create works that were trans-disciplinary and sometimes trans-national. The company runs classes and workshops in buyō, produces concerts of Japanese dance featuring local dancers and sometimes guest artists from Japan. We also create new works of dance and theatre (and sometimes opera!).

Tell us about Satsuki-kai, the company you are working with for Discover Dance!

Satsuki-kai is run by dancer-teacher Nishikawa Kayo. The group has been in existence since 2011, and they practice every week at the Nikkei Centre. Satsuki-kai is a really active community group and performs at many festivals and cultural events. Nishikawa Kayo is a part of the Nishikawa School, and also teaches festival folk dancing and does kimono dressing events. Satsuki-kai practices a different style of Japanese dance than TomoeArts. You will see it in the concert, and I expect hear more in the Q & A session!

If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing? 

I have been working in dance and theatre my whole life… so I am not sure what else I would be doing. I have worked in education and administration but always with a connection to the performing arts. I suppose if I had made a different choice many years ago, I’d have gone into science and been an oceanographer. And honestly – if someone had introduced me to quantum physics in high school, I might have followed that path too!

What might people be surprised to know about you?

I’m working on my PhD in theatre at UBC. So I’m pretty darn busy!

How have you adapted your practice during the pandemic?

My life now exists predominantly online. Though necessary, my practice has become “virtual” in too many ways! I taught lessons online all summer, and still have a few students learning virtually. I have been working on a new piece that has become a kind of experimental video project because my collaborators are in Montreal and Nelson. We have been recording things alone, and now they are being combined and digitally altered; It’s a whole strange way of collaboration. I’m also working out the different ways to livestream concerts and events. The shift from in-person to on-screens has been emotionally challenging, yet opened some remarkable possibilities for involvement from artists and supporters from all over the world. I am trying to think long-term to build these international connections, without falling into depression thinking that we may never get back to a fulsome live performance world.

What is your next project?

We created an experimental dance and video project called (Digital) Lady M which will be released on the TomoeArts YouTube page starting December 9!  I am also part of a symposium I organized called Redefining the Contemporary which will be livestreamed (also on the YouTube page) on December 5. An amazing group of Vancouver dancers discuss the ideas of “tradition” and “contemporary” as it connects to their practice. There will be similar roundtables happening in Peru and India in December as well. All the links will be on our webpage.


The Dance Centre presents the Discover Dance! series
Japanese dances with TomoeArts
Premieres Thursday November 26, 2020 at 12 noon PST: streaming online until 1pm on December 10, 2020
Tickets: $0/$10/$20 sliding scale (pay-what-you-can)


Photos: Saito Koichi, Trevan Wong