Glorious Dream Visions
A several-year drought is about to be replenished by a deluge of creativity. The brilliant costumery of IONA’s Cheryl Flaharty and dreamy vision of her dancers gliding about the stage, dormant since 2009 because of a downturned economy, is back in full artistic bloom with Dominion, a show that marks the dance company’s 25th anniversary.
IONA’s past shows have contemplated current societal issues from water pollution to the status of women, and this time it’s about animals and food:
“Dominion looks at our new interest in animals — saving animals, eating animals, not eating animals — and food in general, growing it sustainably,” says Flaharty. “There are so many causes to save animals, and the treatment of animals being recognized and changed. Humanity is developing a new compassion for life, and I hope that means for each other as well, and for the environment.”
Expect frivolity, like fresh produce tossed onstage, but also more consequential vignettes like one where a dancer solemnly interacts with a giant reproduction of an elephant tusk, the dancer’s long dress trail flowing behind her, blood red, a distinct reference to poaching. But Flaharty is not one to preach:
“I create a work nonlinearly,” she says, “so that I have different ideas appear throughout the evening. One idea may be next to an opposing idea. There may be a somber section next to a hilarious section, and I leave it to the audience to draw their own conclusions, to be affected however they’re affected.”
Her audiences tend to be powerfully affected.
“They leave in tears sometimes,” she notes, “because the spiritual content and passion in the work is so moving. The highly visual imagery created onstage stays with you. It gets into your consciousness and you continue seeing those images long after you leave the theater.”
Much of that haunting quality comes from her background in the Japanese Butoh dance form that relies on kabuki underpinnings to render the stage into a painting and finds the dancers in a state of Zen consciousness. After attending UH, Flaharty received Butoh training in New York, while concurrently studying modern dance. On returning to Hawaii 25 years ago, IONA was born. Not only did she train her mostly modern dancers in the meditative Butoh art, but with no previous skill in sewing, costuming or design, she began fashioning their elaborate outfits and eye-popping headdresses. A team of volunteers now helps with the costumes.
Dominion will bring back a key handful of dancers who have been with Flaharty from the start. An assortment of new talent has joined in, bringing the total to 26, the most she’s had in a show.
“Dominion is different from some of our previous works,” she says. “Butoh tends to be slow. This is more of an upbeat show with a lot more contemporary dance.”
Speaking of contemporary, the show employs LED video panels and interactive technology. Flaharty often uses video projection in her work, but it necessitates dimmer stage lighting to have an impact. The LED panels shine bright and, for instance, provide the backdrop for a mythological raven character whose presence is enhanced by animation on the panels.
“The Raven is a trickster,and in one of his many guises he has a TV on his chest and a camera on his head. He catches the dancers, ‘captures’ their image — that idea of the soul being captured if the image is — and they react as a wild animal would when put into a cage. That’s a very intense piece.”
Plenty of comedic pieces offset the serious ones, including some that feature spoken word written by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl.
“There’s an interest in foods healing you rather than chemicals healing you, so she’s written monologues on ‘miracle foods,’ about different vegetables and herbs and what they do for you — about beets, chia seeds — they’re very funny. I definitely take the audience on a roller coaster ride.”
It’s a ride not soon forgotten.
Brush Stroke Art
Sumi-e, a classic Japanese art form using moody brush strokes, has been flourishing in Hawaii, thanks to Sensei Sachie Saigusa. Her students’ annual exhibit, featuring nearly 100 paintings by 41 senior citizens, shows through May 1 at Honolulu Hale.
Saigusa’s story reads like a tale of bygone times. A young teacher in Hiroshima during World War II, she survived the bombing, but suffered subsequent bouts with cancer and has undergone several surgeries. But meeting this graceful woman, with her calm demeanor and soft smile, belies no hint of her hardships.
She moved to Hawaii nearly 50 years ago with her Buddhist priest husband, who has since passed on. Then, 30 years ago she founded Sumi-e Society of Hawaii. Employed by the state Department of Education’s Community School for Adults, she teaches weekly classes at Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin Mission, Makua Alii Senior Center, Moiliili Community Center and Wahiawa Community Center. Her lifestyle is marked by an air of detached contentment evident even in her mode of transportation to these classes: TheBus.
“Although a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, or perhaps because of it, Saigusa has an amazingly enthusiastic zest for life that has inspired all of her students,” says Sumi-e Society secretary Pat Take-moto, who has been studying under Saigusa for five years. “After many surgeries, she has survived her injuries and thrived to share her artistry with others. Although sumi-e painting is a dying art in Japan, it is thriving in Hawaii through dedicated teacher-artists like Sensei Saigusa.”
Saigusa turned 88 this year, an auspicious age in Japanese culture that calls for joyous celebration. The Japanese characters for 88 resemble the character for “rice,” historically the country’s life-giving staple, representing good fortune. Saigusa will be honored at Sumi-e Society’s annual luncheon May 1, with a larger assembly than usual that includes her son Rajan, coming in from California, a commendation from Gov. David Ige and an award of recognition from Mayor Kirk Caldwell.