January/February 2020 In Dance

How to Ask for Help, Raise Your Ghosts, and Make a Family by MEGAN AND SHANNON KURASHIGE, CO-DIRECTORS OF SHARP & FINE


WHEN WE WERE growing up, we went to Hawaii nearly every summer. Our parents grew up on the island of Kauai, as did their parents. Our family has been in Hawaii for a while and it’s not until you get to our great- and great-great-grandparents’ generations that people start arriving from Japan. People always tell us that it must be a nice place to have family. And it is. It’s a beautiful, culturally varied, genuinely para- disiacal place. To us, it also feels very much like the family home and when we were kids, we didn’t appreciate it as anything other than ordinary. Even the parts of it that are genuinely magical were just what we did in between visiting grandmas and grandpas, cleaning relatives’ houses, and get- ting fed by an endless sequence of aunties and uncles. One of these magical and underappreci- ated things was bon dances. Bon dances are part of the Japanese and Japanese-A merican tradition of Obon, a summertime ritual of honoring the spirits of your ances- tors. In Hawaii, a big part of Obon is a three-month-long season of bon dances, glorious nighttime gatherings that bring together people—locals and tourists of all kinds of beliefs and backgrounds—with music, food, and communal dancing. Many of our childhood summers were spent going to bon dances where we would hear our great-uncle sing, dance alongside our great- aunt, and absolutely take for granted the way that bon dances get people who don’t dance to move together like it’s the most nor- mal thing in the world. A few years ago, our aunt took us to a bon dance at an assisted living facility for seniors with memory loss. They set the dance up in the parking lot, around a big tree hung with paper lanterns. Musicians played flutes and drums and sang, caretakers pushed the seniors in their wheelchairs in a circle around the tree, and the seniors (some of whom can’t remember their names or who their family members are) lifted their hands and moved them through the gestures of the dances. We burst into tears, struck hard by the beauty and wisdom of this act of remembrance through dance, something so familiar that we hadn’t fully understood its power before. By the time we were walking to the car, we were talking about making a piece for Sharp & Fine that would attempt to explore this strange res- urrection of feeling and memory.

photos by RJ Muna

The second thing: We received some very good advice. Wendy Rein and Ryan Smith (co-founders of RAW- dance and two incredibly savvy and gener- ous builders of community) told us that we should never be afraid to ask for more help. They pointed out that there are always peo- ple who will want to help, if you can ask clearly and it is within their power to do so. Asking for help can be an exciting necessity, a way of bringing more people into the work so you are creating it together instead of fac- ing it alone. The third thing: We started asking. We asked our collabora- tors to join a long and potentially nomadic process. We asked for help with finding space. We asked for advice, resources, and time. We asked friends, acquaintances, and strangers. We asked and asked and asked. Sometimes people did say no, but overwhelmingly and incredibly, so many people said yes. We are astonished and humbled by how many people are helping us make this piece.

Several years later, when we were ready to start making that piece, three things hap- pened. The first thing: In 2018, the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance closed. We are both alumni of the Conservatory and it had become our artistic home and family, in both philo- sophical and practical ways. Philosophically, the training and mentorship we received there are what made us want to choreo- graph in the first place. Practically, it gave us many of the resources that we needed to do so: like-minded collaborators and the gift of enormous amounts of time and space to experiment, fail, and discover in. When the Conservatory closed, we felt unmoored. We had never made a piece without a home to create it in. We realize that this was a very privileged position to be coming from, but (as every choreogra- pher in the Bay Area knows) making work without a space is a daunting and expensive challenge.

The dance community has welcomed and supported us in ways that we never expected. It is making us expand the way we think of “home.” Our artistic home is so much bigger than we used to think it was. It’s a sprawling place with many rooms and many people, and everyone is busy juggling at unimagina- ble speeds. But if you lose something or are struggling to carry a thing that’s too heavy to lift, there is always someone ready to reach over and help. The creative process of making this piece and the practical process of making it hap- pen have shared many parallel themes. We are telling a story about family and ghosts while wrestling with the practicalities of nurturing our family of collaborators and carrying our history as choreographers into the future. We are asking our community for help while making a piece that explores why coming together, remembering, and the com- munal power of bon dances matter. MEGAN & SHANNON KURASHIGE are sisters, dancers, and choreographers. We co-founded Sharp & Fine in 2011 to create narrative performance work that brings together physically exuberant choreog- raphy, emotionally nuanced text, live music, and multi-disciplinary collaboration. Our work is informed by the technical rigor of classical ballet, the human intensity of contemporary forms, and the convic- tion that telling a story built on personal truths is a powerful and communal act of communication and empathy. Collectively, we have worked with Liss Fain Dance, Mark Foehringer Dance Project, Alex Ketley, Christian Burns, Amy Seiwert, Ballet Pacifica, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. We studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, North Carolina School of the Arts, Academy of Ballet, and UC Irvine. Megan is also a writer. Shannon is also a graphic designer.

SHARING Sharp & Fine’s Just Ahead is Darkness will premiere at Z Space in San Francisco, February 7-9, 2020. It is a devised work for six performers and four musicians that draws inspiration from bon dances to tell a story about family, love, loss, and the eternal return of ghosts. We’re calling it a “play for dance” and while we are co-directing it, we are honored to share the credit for its creation with our collaborators (our dancers, Sarah Woods- LaDue, Sonja Dale, Christian Burns, and Tristan Ching Hartmann; and our composer, Cory Wright) and all the people and places who make up our new artistic home. We hope we can share it with all of you.

Opportunities that we want to share: Berkeley Ballet Theater’s Artist-in-Residence Program Thank you to Courtney King, Ali Taylor Lange, and Robert Dekkers for responding to our need for help with the creation of this invaluable program. berkeleyballet.org/artist-in-residence Dresher Ensemble Artist Residency Program Thank you to Paul Dresher and Dominique Pelletey for supporting the creation of new works by a broad range of Bay Area artists. dresherensemble.org/community-programs/the-dreser- ensemble-artist-residency-program/ Other spaces that have welcomed us: We thank all of these spaces for welcoming us. We highly recommend them as places to consider for rehearsals. Academy of Ballet, San Francisco Stapleton School of the Performing Arts, San Anselmo Finnish Hall, Berkeley

Just Ahead is Darkness February 7, 8, 9 Z Space, San Francisco sharpandfine.com/darkness


in dance JAN/FEB 2020

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