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LIVING MEMORIAL

  Making a 'pointe': Dancers Suzanne Lemmon and Ken Kaja in Marla Hirokawa's "Nisei," a dance tribute to Japanese-American veterans of World War II.
Stefanie Setyon

In creating her "Something Old, New,
Borrowed But Not Blue," dance performance scheduled for
May 18 and 19 at the Richard Perry Theater at Poly Prep Country
Day School, choreographer Marla Hirokawa has drawn on both her
artistic preferences and her own past, most particularly her
Japanese ancestry.



The concert consists of three separate pieces: "Prism,"
a 20-minute modern dance interpretation of how light is reflected
through a prism; "Concerto," a 15-minute neo-classical
ballet set to a three-movement piece taken from two oboe concertos
by Johann Sebastian Bach; and the premiere of "Nisei,"
a 50-minute tribute to Japanese-American World War II veterans
– a mix of ballet, modern and swing dancing.



All three works are highly personal for this 38-year-old native
of Hawaii who has spent much of her adult life bringing dance
to adults and children living in Brooklyn through such groups
as the now defunct Dig Pointe Ballet Company and her own Covenant
Dance Studio and Covenant Dance Theatre company on Sheepshead
Bay Road.



"Prism" represents something borrowed, says Hirokawa.
When she was working towards her bachelor’s degree in dance at
the University of California-Irvine during the early 1980s, Hirokawa
danced in a friend’s graduate degree project that was similarly
themed. Then last year, the fifth grade class she was working
with at PS 321 at Seventh Avenue at First Street in Park Slope,
through the Board of Education Arts-in-Education program, participated
in a dance project called "Coloration" inspired by
what the kids had learned in science class. This experience brought
back the memory of what her friend had created, and Hirokawa
reshaped the theme a third time.



"Prism" is set to music by Tangerine Dream and performed
by an 18-member, all-female cast of four professionals and 14
girls ages 12 and older – all dressed in costumes in the colors
of the spectrum.



"’Concerto’ is something old and new because it’s an old
ballet form with a new look," explains Hirokawa. "I
love this piece of music and I wanted to do something en pointe."
"Concerto" stars a cast of three soloists en pointe
and a lead male and female dancer.



"Nisei" is everything but blue. "It’s not intended
to make people feel blue, but to inspire them," says Hirokawa.
"And the biggest inspiration for me was my dad, Lawrence
Hirokawa."



Born and raised on the island of Hawaii where his Japanese parents
had immigrated, Lawrence Hirokawa was a Nisei (second generation
Japanese-American) while his daughter is a Samsei (third generation
Japanese-American). During World War II, he joined the 100th
Battalion, the first all-Japanese-American battalion to serve
in Europe, later nicknamed the "Purple Heart Battalion"
for its record of bravery in battle.



Although neither he, his family, nor any Japanese were interned
on Hawaii (Hirokawa says there were far too many Japanese working
on the island at that time to intern them without causing the
native economy to collapse), he and his fellow soldiers did suffer
from the anti-Japanese feelings that were rampant at the time.



"In ’Nisei’ the story line follows the memory of an older
Japanese man who recounts when he was inducted into the army
and when Pearl Harbor was attacked," says Hirokawa. "It
alludes to the internment and shows how he was segregated from
the rest of the squad. But he gains the confidence of his commanding
officer and is placed on the front lines of the war. The final
scene is when he and his granddaughter attend a Veteran’s Day
parade with her Girl Scout troupe."



A professional cast of 38 men and women, as well as World War
II veterans of all ethnic descents whom Hirokawa is recruiting
for the performance, will perform "Nisei" to original
music by percussionist and leader of the jazz quintet The Groov’tet,
Keith Hall, Johann Pachelbel’s "Canon" and the official
song of the U.S. Army, "The Caissons."



Hirokawa says using a story format helps her blend the dancers’
different ages and technical abilities. She’s been using this
device since her 1989 dance, "The Heirloom Doll," which
gave birth to Covenant Dance Theatre. Since then, she’s created
and produced seven story ballets drawn from history and her imagination,
and performed for Brooklyn primary and junior high schools each
winter at Kingsborough Community College’s MAC Playhouse Theater.



The company’s most popular ballet is "Orphan Train,"
which depicts the first "placing out" foster care movement
in the 1850s established by Rev. Charles Loring Brace, founder
of the New York Children’s Aid Society. It was performed last
May at the national Orphan Train Rider Reunion hosted by the
Children’s Aid Society at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.



Designated Asian Pacific Heritage month, May also brings Memorial
Day. On June 29, the Monument of Patriotism, commemorating Japanese-Americans’
service in World War II as well as their internment in American
concentration camps, will be dedicated in Washington, D.C., according
to Frank Sogi, a boardmember of the National Japanese-American
Memorial Foundation which facilitated the construction of the
memorial at New Jersey Avenue and Avenue D.



"So many people don’t know about the Japanese American soldiers
and how bravely and exemplarily they fought," says Hirokawa.
"My father was one of these soldiers. Their inspiring story
is part of our history that needs to be remembered."

 

Covenant Dance Theatre’s "Something
Old, New, Borrowed But Not Blue" will be performed at 8
pm on May 18 and 2 and 8 pm on May 19 at the Richard Perry Theater
(Poly Prep Country Day School, Seventh Avenue at 92nd Street).
Tickets are $15, $12 seniors and children under 10, and are available
at www.ticketweb.com and at (800) 965-4827. Call (718) 891-6199
for more information.


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