On Saturday, Nov. 17, Doris Duke Theatre’s 150th Gannenmono in Concert series, which honors the 150th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawai‘i, comes to a finale with Gannenmono: Un Yamada and Taimane. The evening show consists of world-renowned choreographer and dancer Un Yamada performing an original choreographed dance piece in collaboration with ukulele virtuoso Taimane.

Hailing from Japan, Un Yamada has danced her way through various genres, styles and collaborations all over the globe. She’s been a solo dancer since 1998 and in 2000, won The French Embassy Prize for Young Choreographer at the Yokohama Dance Collection Solo x Duo Competition. In 2002, she opened her own dance studio Co. Un Yamada in Tokyo. Since then, she’s been racking up the dance-related accolades.

The HoMA blog caught up with Un Yamada to learn more about her background and collaboration with Taimane.

What is your background with dancing and how would you describe your style?

I trained in gymnastics from 7 years old, but I fell ill at 13. So I stopped training as an athlete and started dancing modern ballet as a rehabilitation by my doctor’s recommendation.

I still have the illness, but dancing gave me something like a second life. That defined my style, which is consistent with the whole cycle of life, including changing, development, resuscitate, destroy and death. I can’t be described simply as a “contemporary” or “Butoh”, but instead, I seek to embody a style that is sensitive, energetic and dynamic like the nature of Japan.

How did you get involved with the museum for this series?

I visited HoMA in 2017 as a cultural envoy of Japan. I had two reasons for my visiting. First of all, I was interested in the mixed culture Hawai‘i and Japan. Secondly, Honolulu and my beachside hometown Chigasaki are sister cities. I live in Tokyo now but sometimes I work dance creation and performance there because it’s very important for me to be not separated for my past and future. Of course, it’s needless to say I often need to feel ocean energy and power of ground. The sister city only started several years ago but it produces a feeling of fellowship. So I was longing to come to Honolulu by myself and create new relationships and performances here.

What is the process behind collaborating with Taimane?

My first idea was to collaborate with local dancers. But I was thinking about it again and again and ended up asking [DDT Director] Taylour Chang about Hawaiian musicians. She gave me so much information about local musicians, including the name Taimane. When I found her name, I decided immediately. I already knew her music from several years ago. Her music is elegant, tough, energetic, sensitive and universal—beyond genre and category, I cannot explain with words. I was convinced her spirit would pull me up. I thought I needed to meet Taimane and work together in Honolulu.

Can you give me a hint about what audiences should expect at the performance?

We will make a moment of pure collaboration during this live performance. It’s not conceptual, not storytelling and, of course, music is not an accompaniment of dance. I want to try running parallel and make something special. That is just simple duet, music and dance, Hawaiian and Japanese, woman and woman, human and human, soul and soul.

How is the concept of gannenmono is expressed through your performance?

Gannenmono refers to people who migrated from Japan as a worker to Hawaii in 1868. I won’t explain the history of the first immigrated Japanese through our performance. But I will express some physical feeling about missing hometowns, missing mother tongues, missing four seasons instead of strong sun and blue sky.  At that time, we lost something and got something at the same time, thorough sowing seeds in between. Through our performance, mixed culture and identity, I want to sow something. I would like to celebrate the new bridge opened 150 years ago, and make the first elegant step for the next 150 years.

Gannenmono: Un Yamada and Taimane occurs on Saturday Nov. 17 at 7:30pm. $20 for museum members, $25 for general admission.