In order to make a dance more profound, we might need a new method of movement. Once in a while, a dance maker and a dancer should pause for deep reflection. For anything, we need to set up a moment of reflection. That is art.
I was in a small farming village in the Akita prefecture in the northwest of Japan's main land, not far from where I was born and grew up. There, I was learning and reflecting on a particular dance of the Obon Festival in this region, which has taken place every August for as long as 600 years. Obon is a Buddhist holiday when the deceased are believed to come back to their homes for several days to spend time with their family members. Recently, both the festival and the dance have become so well-known that tourists come to see the dance during Obon. However, only the locals used to perform the dance for their ancestors' spirits. The dancers line up in a circle around a bonfire and move counter-clockwise around the fire. All dancers perform the same dance sequence in unison.
The segment of dance movement is less than 30 seconds, so the dance is simple and repetitive. The dance used to last until dawn on all three days of the festival.
Usually mothers teach the dance movement to her daughters or sons. Dancers are taught to imagine that, while their right side of their bodies remain in the world we live, the dead people's spirits reside in the dancers' s left side of the body during the three days of the Obon festival. Time to time, dancers curl their fingers inward as if they face toward the spirit of the dead and their fingers are shown as not of a living person but of the dead whose fingers no longer need to function in everyday life. Thus dancers 's body becomes a go-between mediator between this world and visitor from the other world.
After I had decided not to take the surgical route for my left ankle in the summer of 2014, I started my project vigorously. I dedicated myself to completing my art environment for my project during July-October 2014.
In Autumn 2014, I renamed my project to “The Ghost Festival ” from “One hundred naked hair women of solitude,” which was supposed to make my own war and women museum/artistic memorial using a new trailer. Now a trailer is a meditative and communal space to honor the connection between past and present, and provide a home for lost spirits. Now my trailer and the installations are almost as if were an altar or a tomb.
So far, I have completed 24 of the 100 figures. Viewers can see these inside the trailer through the wide opened back door and side door. My body joins this Memorial. I have 76 paintings remaining to create.
November 2014-March 2015, I went to Japan to explore the dance movement of the festivals, which is how I came to the Obon Festival.
I am touched by the history of the dance and am concerned about its future. By learning the dance as an outsider and performing it as a solo, I want to reflect on its particular forms and meaning. How can a dancer renew their relationship with the dead?
The oldest known dances—ritual, ceremonial and circle dances—were a part of community life from when people first started to dance. Dance can be enjoyed as an uplifting group experience or as a meditation, prayer, and reflection. Many Native American communities called their circle dances,”The Ghost Dance.” Thus the title of my new project, The Ghost Festival.
This experience has made me think to do further research on the art of dance in rituals, ceremonial dances’ effects on modern and contemporary choreographers, and dancers of the near future. I am glad that I made the decision to continue my art as a dancer and a choreographer despite my ankle injury.
These two years of trials and experiments would not have been possible without the support of the Doris Duke Award. With their support and the Alan M. Kriegsman Creative Residency at Dance Place in Washington, DC, I have been able to passionately pursue the creation and presentation of my work as an individual artist. And I am sure that "The Ghost Festival" will continue to be one of my lifetime works.