Vancouver choreographer Tomoyo Yamada reflects feelings of being Stuck in 2020 during the pandemic

The Dance Centre will present her short work online for free on International Dance Day

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      While many in the environmental community are focused on Earth Day on Thursday (April 22), there’s also a big day coming up on the calendar for contemporary and classical dancers.

      In 1982, UNESCO declared next Thursday (April 29) as International Dance Day. It coincides with the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, the founder of modern ballet.

      Here in Vancouver, the Dance Centre is planning several virtual events, including six “microcommissioned” short dance films from diverse local artists. They're all being offered for free.

      One of those participating is Clala Dance Project choreographer Tomoyo Yamada, who graduated last December with a master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts from Simon Fraser University. Entitled Stuck in 2020, her film shows performers barely able to move in a tiny space.

      “We asked the dancers to stay there and kind of use movement to reflect on how we’re feeling,” Yamada told the Straight by phone. “There were so many emotions that came up, like frustration and sadness. People are anxious. People are worried.”

      Tomoyo Yamada's new work was inspired by the pandemic.

      Her goal was to translate emotions that arose from the pandemic into movement. When asked what she would like people to take away from the film, Yamada said that she would be “very happy” if people felt they completely agreed with the sentiment.

      She emphasized that it’s not totally dreary.

      “We tried to make the film a little funny for the people watching because everybody is obviously still stuck in their houses,” Yamada said. “I just want everybody to feel like we’re all in this together and you’re not alone stuck in your house.”

      The other dancers who received microcommissions included Arely Santana, whose The Show Must Go On features salsa, bachata, and other Latin dances. Bharatanatyam dance artist Ashvini Sundaram’s project is called Swan Alarippu. And Vanessa Goodman is collaborating with musician Scott Morgan on Cobalt.

      The two other microcommissions went to Meagan O’Shea/Stand Up Dance for Vicarious Time and Xin Hui Ong for Kindred.

      Video: Tomoyo Yamada choreographed and danced in Femme Facade, which reflected her feelings of alienation after moving from the U.S. to Japan as a 12-year-old.

      Yamada explored serious themes in Japan

      The Japanese-born Yamada has only been living in Vancouver for three years but she’s no newcomer to the world of dance.

      In 2014, she choreographed the autobiographical Femme Facade, which was presented at the All Japan Dance Festival in Kobe.

      It was inspired by the difficulties she experienced after she moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Nagoya, Japan, when her family decided to return to their country of birth.

      “When I moved back to Japan, I was about 12—old enough to know that Japan is a little different from the States,” Yamada said. “And there were just a lot of unspoken rules that needed to be followed in Japan that I did not know of. I always felt like I was the odd one out. I didn’t feel like I fit into Japanese society.”

      Another one of her projects in Japan, Kikoeteimasaku (can you hear me), was choreographed following the deaths of her grandfather and a close female friend. It explored the afterworld in Japanese Buddhism by using a white transparent cloth to show the River of Sanzu, which is believed to separate the dead from the living.

      Yamada confessed that she's not deeply religious, but those two deaths—of an older man and younger woman who were both close to her—made her wonder what happens to people who pass away.

      "In the piece, we aree all deceased souls who are wondering and don't know where to go," she said. "In the end, you find your own path."

      Video: Tomoyo Yamada choreographed kikoeteimasuka (can you hear me) following the deaths of her grandfather and a close friend.

      Even though she was busy choreographing dance in Japan, her parents always suspected that she would return to North America. So they weren’t taken aback when Yamada announced that she wanted to attend graduate school at SFU.

      “I was really surprised by how diverse Vancouver was when I came here,” Yamada noted.

      It's led her to appreciate how she can bring together global influences into her practice. In addition, at SFU, she gained greater appreciation into music and other artfoms, which will enhance her work as a choreographer.

      “I’m envisioning my career to kind of go on this path of looking at different cultures, different values, and different ideas, and trying to be creative within those new inspirations,” Yamada said.