Bridge Dance Festival Presenter Statement


In 2014, Links Hall joined the National Performance Network’s Asian Exchange. Being a part of this program allowed several Links Hall staff members to undertake research trips to Japan and South Korea and welcome our Japanese partners to Chicago, Tulsa, Portland, Burlington and Austin. These relationship-building trips ultimately led to Links Hall co-commissioning new projects by Chicago-based dancemaker Darrell Jones and Tokyo-based choreographer Kaori Seki. The process of commissioning these two works and developing a new model for international exchange has brought such rich offerings of Japanese -made, -influenced, and -inspired programs to Links Hall this spring. Uniting them under the banner of the Bridge Dance Festival articulates our overarching engagement with Japanese cultural partners.


Artistic relationships and organizational partnerships take time to build. The first two years of the NPN Exchange program were largely spent discovering each partner’s artistic interests and operational needs; investigating what each organization could bring to the table; and learning about arts creation, funding, and touring structures in the US and Japan. This is where the Bridge Dance Festival began, by dedicating years to constructing foundational relationships between Links Hall, our fellow NPN US Partners Fusebox Festival (Austin, Texas) and The Flynn Center (Burlington, Vermont), and Japanese artists and organizations including Dance Box (Kobe), Kyoto Experiment Festival, NPO Arts Link, Saison Foundation’s Morishita Studios, and the U.S. Japan Cultural Trade Network.


Our final programmatic research trip to Japan took place during the 2016 Presidential Election. The strange isolation of walking through the busy streets of Kyoto on election day surrounded by people who were not watching Michigan, Ohio, Florida and every state in between rapidly turn red is indescribable. Where we felt the world as we knew it had come to an end, it was just another Wednesday half the planet away. Dutifully we dragged our broken spirits to the Kyoto Experiment’s evening performance and found ourselves immersed into the wonderful strangeness of Niwa Gekidan Penino’s Avidya: No Lights Inn.


Created by a Japanese psychologist turned award winning theater artist Avidya: No Lights Inn offered an elaborately constructed bathhouse that was condemned to be demolished. Its imminent destruction created a sense of impending doom that mirrored our own. The cast of geishas, puppeteers, and bathhouse attendants exhibited rational, irrational, raunchy, tender, and borderline nonsensical actions throughout the work creating an absurdist world that was the perfect disharmonic balance to the day’s insanity. It was the kind of experience that makes you know, for the rest of your life WHY it’s important to create new works of art. This political shift, this urgency of why and and how we engage in cross cultural art making, remain at the heart of the Bridge Dance Festival.


Our Asian Exchange program moved forward knowing that these relationships and exchanges had taken on a new meaning in a climate of intense US nationalism and isolationism. Through the process of collaboratively designing this international commissioning program Links Hall grew closer to some of Chicago’s Asian American communities, and it was illuminating to witness how working with international artists created new relationships between Links Hall and local cultural groups.


While hosting Japanese artists and supporting their creative process, we began engaging Japanese cultural and language organizations. As those relationships expanded, our staff became increasingly aware of the underrepresentation of Asian American artists in the field of performance. Links Hall sought out partnerships with A-Squared Theatre and Asian Improv aRts Midwest to create the A-Squared Asian American Performing Arts Festival – the first of its kind in Chicago – granted a Co-MISSION curatorial residency to Grandmaster Yoshinojo Fujima (Rika Lin). In the Fall of 2017,Links to Japan took a group of Chicago-based artists and arts lovers to Tokyo, Kobe, and Kyoto to experience contemporary Japanese performance first hand.


Bridge Dance Festival is the culmination of all of these efforts. It features new works by Seki and Jones as well as a Links Hall commissioned project of J’Sun Howard, a Chicago based artist who was able to participate in the Japanese residencies and Links to Japan. The festival also brings back Rika Lin to continue her Beyond the Box series melding traditional forms and innovative experiments. Of equal importance is the fact that the festival features two performances: 100 Light Years of Solitude and Enmei (Long Life) by artists who were introduced by US partners (University of Arizona and Butoh Chicago) who sought out Links as a partner because of the investment we had been making in providing platforms for Asian and Asian American artists.


Japanese Butoh master Yumiko Yoshioka will be presented in partnership with local Buhoh artist and Links Hall alum Sara Zalek. This contribution is where whe festival truly comes full circle, as it is because of Chicago’s Butoh community and their influence on works being created at Links Hall that we were compelled to join the National Performance Network’s Asian Exchange program in the first place. Yumiko’s performance, 100 Light Years of Solitude is inspired by Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. In the work she articulates the magnificence of solitude, but even in its solemn singularity this solo work is as cross cultural as the artist is feminist, breaking down barriers, building bridges, and merging Butoh methodologies with Latin American magic realism.


Enmei (“Long Life”) | A Dance and Aging Project brings together dancers and designers from the US and Japan to explore what it means and what it takes to age as a woman in the field of contemporary dance. This directly collaborative work examines how each culture values and represents female dancers as they age. In some ways it is this work that perfectly articulates what the Bridge Dance Festival is – performances of cross cultural liberation, celebrations of the human spirit, and the employment of imagination to overcome the current xenophobic climate of our nation.


Jones’ still in progress CLUTCH has been developed through NPN residencies and workshops in Chicago, Burlington, Kobe and Kyoto and the excerpt featured in the Bridge Dance Festival offers short danced “rites of passage” comprised from “Vogue Aesthetics and Liberatory Practices” that create counter-rituals of freedom and liberation in the body. There is something almost inherently violent, and certainly exhaustive in Jones’ corporeal pursuit of liberation. CLUTCH suggests that perhaps liberation can only be achieved as one cedes their physical existence. In its current form, CLUTCH is marked by its cross cultural development, determination for liberation, and by the personal familial losses experienced by the artist over the course of the project’s development. The fear of pain, loss, and oppression are palpable as the work exhibits the physical effort of liberation and recovery – but it is not without joy.


Kaori Seki’s new work “water and tears” was begun and developed through residencies in Chicago, Burlington, Austin and Kobe, most of which were concurrent with Jones’ development of CLUTCH. Both Seki and Jones and their collaborators were able to observe each other’s processes and participate in each others’ workshops, as well as introduce each other to their cultures. Like CLUTCH, “water and tears” has also been built in a year marked by personal, familial losses. It imagines a time before the division between the self and the other and asks whether or not “I regard what lies in front of my eyes as also ‘me’”. It offers a radical and weighted perspective of togetherness that is entirely different from the more manic energy in Jones’s work. Seki comforts our fears of loss and other, reminding us that we are the same though the waters in our bodies, and we are the same through the tears on our faces.


The festival culminates with Yu (遊) , a continuation of Rika Lin’s Beyond the Box series. Roughly translated Yu means “do something with joy” and the work boldly and creatively deviates from the accepted norm in traditional Japanese performance practices by making space for female performers to embody the full range of emotional and physical expression, strength, and power, subverting the gender roles in traditional Kabuki dance. The strength of Lin’s rebellion is a powerful capstone for the Bridge Dance Festival.


Through the Bridge Dance Festival Links Hall hopes to demonstrate a fierce love of and respect for international cultural exchange and connection. In the face of rising US nationalism and the aggressive political reality we find ourselves in, we want to make a home for global connections that are inspired and supported by mutual respect for both cultural similarities and differences. In a moment when so many women are unveiling personal traumas we want to present Enmei and Beyond the Box, – Yu (遊) where dancers shed fears and live out their liberation from gender roles on stage, we want to offer Jones’ CLUTCH and Howard’s Working on Better Versions of Prayers as testaments to alternative ideals of masculinity influenced by cross cultural exchange, queer identities, and black boy joy, we want to present Seki’s “water and tears” and it’s underlying question of whether what is in front of our eyes is also us or is it an extension of us?, and we want to present Yoshioka’s 100 Light Years of Solitude as a marriage of the revolutionary, politically subversive art forms of Butoh and magical realism whose origins stem directly from the clash of political ideologies that manifested in extreme violence between the US and Japan, and the US and Latin America. We have many bridges to build and strengthen from our past, and many new bridges we will need to create to overcome the present.


Each of the works in the Bridge Dance Festival turns to the the wisdom of the body to dispel fears; fears of getting order, of personal loss, of solitude, of oppression, of rigidly defined gender roles, and cultural divides. Theses works each answer fear and adversity with strength and love demonstrating the shared humanity that can drive all of us, if we will let it, to build strong bonds across cultures.