I’m sitting with my wife in Laney College’s theater in Oakland, Calif. as the curtains draw for Artistic Director and Choreographer Claudine Naganuma’s 10th anniversary of dNaga danceNAGANUMA, admittedly not sure what to expect. I’ve been graciously comped two tickets by a very thoughtful person who had read my previous post on Yuri Kochiyama and asked through the magic of the interwebs, if I’d like to attend this event. With (what feels like) the weight, not necessarily of the world, but maybe just the city of San Francisco’s Unified School District on my shoulders at work lately, life hasn’t allowed me the time and energy to investigate this event as thoroughly as I would have liked to. No matter now however, the show is beginning. My life-partner-in-crime leans over to me and asks, “what’s this about, babe?” I reply, “Yuri Kochiyama?”
What I find is that the first part of the show, entitled “Peace About Life” is a (both literally and figuratively) moving display that pairs elders who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, with tremendously talented pre-teen and teenaged dancers. As each elder steps into the center stage for their collective and individual performances, their music is accompanied by recordings of each of them speaking about what I perceive to be but a sliver of their life’s experience upon being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. What links these elders’ varying stories of grief and undeniable challenge seems to be a connection to family/friends/community that they are able to establish, maintain, and/or even strengthen more than ever, due to a re-evaluation of life that this disease has brought with it as its accomplice. As youthful innocence bridges with weathered wisdom to create an experience of love and education, each piece is personal, honest, heartbreaking, and an excellent reminder. It reminds this undeniably biased, too often naïve writer, that while unjust suffering can come in many forms, growth and development can still take place if and when one is supplied with an equal amount of authentic love, support and material/spiritual resource.
After a brief intermission (and with this in mind), dNaga’s second act begins. “Reveal Freedom,” opens and I hear the familiar voice of Yuri Kochiyama, speaking about her childhood in the same fashion that my Baachan used to speak about my Jiichan: with equal parts scorn and admiration. As she recalls the love of her family, she also speaks to the ways that young Asian American women were discouraged from voicing their opinions, thoughts, desires, or much of anything at all. And as a trio of young women dancers who can’t be older than 12 years old, fly across the stage with ease, I am reminded of both my aging body and the masculinity between my ears that has helped my confidence to border and fall into arrogance more times than I’d care to remember. With my right hand, I massage my aching shoulder and with my left, squeeze the palm of the brilliant, bold, and beautiful woman of color sitting next to me. A gunshot sounds and Claudine Naganuma holds a fallen male dancer close to her, mirroring the image of Yuri cradling Malcolm X’s head as he lay dying. The lights dim while Joel Davel and Richard Howell create a live musical tapestry of solemnity and pensive solitude for a packed theater.
When the curtain call arrives, I hear Seattle emcee, Geologic of Blue Scholars’ voice boom through the speakers, repeating: “when I grow up, I wanna be just like Yuri Kochiyama.” I become awash with a sense of gratitude. I feel grateful for the opportunity to be reminded in a uniquely profound way, that when we feel connected to our his/herstories, to our selves/minds/bodies, and to other people, we may recall our own in/significance in a way that helps to heal our individual and collective traumas. My partner and I drive away from dNaga’s 10th anniversary and Oakland’s Laney College feeling noticeably better than we did when we arrived. We aren’t the only ones.
When I grow up I wanna be just like Yuri Kochiyama,