2021: A Moment for Rejuvenation and Gratitude

To our community – we hope you, your families, and loved ones are staying safe and healthy during these truly incredible times. This week in particular has touched us all as we navigate unprecedented victories and attacks on our nation’s democracy. All of us – as Unit Souzou and each of us personally – have both been working tirelessly and taking care in this time of COVID-19, racial justice uprisings, and political intensity.

Throughout 2020, we pivoted and flowed. We found ourselves immersed in generative response, presenting virtual performances Otherness: Togetherness, with our fellow artists Joe Kye and Horatio Law, and a program with our partners at DancePlace. In the summer, we organized the taiko community in an anti-racism virtual practice, Reimagining a New World, and we created new video works of Sayonara Mata Ashita and Ancestral Calling from our ‘postponed’ project, Constant State of Otherness.

As 2021 emerges, we begin with breath and gratitude, and are thankful that we have been able to maintain our work at a time when performance artists and venues are suffering greatly due to the pandemic. In addition to relief funds from the Oregon Cultural Trust and a Small Business Administration PPP loan, which has helped Unit Souzou to survive these past months, the end of 2020 brought bounty as we move into a new year. Unit Souzou received grants from the PDX-CARES Funding through the Portland Parks & Recreation’s BIPOC Artist Led Performance grant and RACC’s Capturing the Moment grant. We also received funding from Multnomah County Cultural Commission and National Performance Network to evolve Constant of Otherness into a video diary project. And Michelle was awarded an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship which recognizes “outstanding talent, demonstrated ability and commitment to the creation of new work” as well as a fellowship with the Jubilation Foundation.

We are truly grateful to you, our community for your support and solidarity this past year, and look forward to staying in touch with you as we take on 2021.

We want to hear your Otherness stories!

For the past 3 years, we have been creating a show called Constant State of Otherness. Many plans have had to shift due to COVID-19, and unfortunately, our May debut tour has been postponed. However, our wonderful commissioners and presenting organizations are dedicated to making this show happen at a later date. Stay tuned for updates.

With the world around all of us continuing to shift, normal will eventually become something very different. We have no idea what may happen or when, but we are focusing on what we can do now – staying open, flexible, and adaptable to what may come, and using this time to expand the scope of the project and reflect on what is happening now. 

As we navigate our own story through this time, we are fortunate because our art is such a powerful way for us to reflect. And we want to use our creative practice to hear and amplify your stories, too. For the past 3 years, we have been deep in reflecting on the concept of otherness: its impacts, but also its universality. Throughout our creative process, we have heard from many communities and their stories of isolation and displacement that come from a sense of not fitting in. Several words were repeated in our conversations: displacement, loneliness, belonging, home, distancing, isolation. Given what we are all going through during this pandemic, these themes feel so timely and relevant. 

What are you experiencing? 
During this time of necessary social distancing, how has otherness impacted you? 
What feelings are you experiencing: loneliness, displacement, isolation, fear, loss of identity 
How are you finding ways to respond or to heal, to be resilient and to connect? 
How do you see individuals, our communities, society, or the earth responding to these? 

We want to hear from you! Share with us how these themes resonate with you through any creative medium: text, poetry, drawings, sound, movement, etc. Please submit your stories via this Google form. We will be accepting stories on a rolling-basis, but you are encouraged to submit by Friday, May 8th for the possibility to be included in Unit Souzou’s May 16th Dance Place Virtual Presentation. 


We are moving forward with our Otherness: Togetherness show. However, in light of public health concerns, we are changing the format to a LIVE STREAM for one showing which will be accessible from anywhere in the world. We hope this may provide more access to more people. 

Given the theme of our show and it’s timeliness, we are committed to providing a creative space for us to gather, even virtually, to combat the fear and otherness that comes from isolation. We are currently witnessing fear-based xenophobia/racism in our community. We are hearing stories of how Asians in everyday spaces are getting accosted or yelled at for being Asian, and how Asian businesses are suffering. Our show’s topic on otherness feels increasingly relevant and urgent. We are digging deeper to share and celebrate being Asian in America. 

Join us for 
Otherness: Togetherness – A LIVE STREAMING EVENT
Saturday, March 21st 7:00 pm Pacific Time
Free admission; Donations of $10-30 appreciated

Unit Souzou ensemble will come together for the first time with installation artist Horatio Law and violinist-looper, Joe Kye in Otherness: Togetherness, a celebratory showcase of these Asian American artists. The program will highlight each artist’s distinct voice and creative approach, and will also show commonalities amongst their experiences – of identity, longing, otherness, displacement – melding together into a cohesive art experience. Additionally, as the current global pandemic ensues, the artists are committed to creating a brave and inclusive space for the program that will be engaging and relevant, building on artistic strengths and also pushing creative boundaries.

“By coming together in this way – as Chinese, Korean, and Japanese rooted artists – we want to amplify our diverse perspectives of what it means to be Asian in America. We embrace the notion of being ‘Asian American,’ but also push boundaries of stereotype, labels, and expectations,” says Michelle Fujii.

The themes in Otherness: Togetherness are timely. When forces seem to be pulling communities apart, dividing us through racism, xenophobia, classism and so many other -isms, these artists are creating work that bridges and engages audiences to grapple with all of our inner struggles to be both human and humane. Especially during this moment in time – the uncertainty of public health, politics, climate, and the economy – being in community can combat the loneliness and despair of isolation. 

The program uplifts three ambitious artistic innovators whose approach navigate both historical and contemporary cultural lenses. Bringing their own styles – including Joe Kye’s indie-rock, jazz, classical, and pop sound using digital effects and looping and excerpts from other projects including Unit Souzou’s new taiko and movement performance work, Constant State of Otherness, and Horatio Law’s DACA Lounge installation, inspired by the plight and courage of DACA students, inviting all of us to dream in solidarity.  O

Special Livestream Performance of Otherness: Togetherness

A special message from Unit Souzou:

We are moving forward with our OTHERNESS: TOGETHERNESS show. However, in light of public health concerns, we are changing the format to a LIVESTREAM for one showing. You will be able to experience the performance from the safety of your respective homes, and we will not be allowing in-person admission to the performance space. More detailed information will be shared shortly. 

Given the theme of our show and its timeliness, we are committed to providing a creative space for us to gather, even virtually, to combat the fear and otherness that comes from isolation. We are currently witnessing fear-based xenophobia/racism in our community. We are hearing stories of how Asians in everyday spaces are getting accosted or yelled at for being Asian, and how Asian businesses are suffering. Our shows topic on otherness feels increasingly relevant and urgent. We are digging deeper to share and celebrate being Asian in America. 

If you purchased a ticket, a livestream performance may not have been what you anticipated. We are happy to refund the full ticket price, and will be sending out instructions very soon on how that can be processed. We would also appreciate the opportunity for your ticket to become a donation to support us in the unavoidable expenses that we are facing with all these last minute changes.

In addition to supporting our work, we hope that you can support people of Chinese and Asian descent who are facing stigma in their communities, and particularly small businesses. Here is a list of places recommended by APANO (https://www.apano.org/blog/2020/02/27/). We also recommend Master Kong, Toru’s favorite noodle place and Michelle’s #1 favorite restaurant, Swiss Hibiscus.

We will be in touch again very soon.
Please be healthy and take care,
Michelle Fujii, Unit Souzou Co-Director

2020 Here we come

Setting annual intentions has become an important grounding process for us at Unit Souzou. In reflecting over our themes from the past four years, we can humbly trace our journey and emergence as artists and company:

2016: Deepening, Expanding, Contributing
2017: Braving, Listening, Galvanizing
2018: Creation, Imagination, Noisy
2019: Spark, Vulnerability, Catalyze

For this new year and to begin this new decade, we offer these new bold intentions:

Courage. Digging deep with our belief in the bravery of vulnerability, this year we will share our biggest and most innovative new work yet – The Constant State of Otherness. With courage and urgency we will cast away doubts and hurdles that would prevent us from sharing our authentic voice.

Fractal. We believe in the small moments of one’s story, and that these moments and actions can be amplified and ripple out. In her book Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown wrote, “In a fractal conception, I am a cell-sized unit of the human organism, and I have to use my life to leverage a shift in the system by how I am, as much as with the things I do.” This is how we approach our artistic practice, and how we hope our work can impact our communities.

Embody. We are moving from the story gathering and development phases of our new work, towards embodying the stories. We are putting the stories into and through our bodies as movement, as music, as the powerful beating of our drums. Through this embodiment, we bring with us our ancestors and our communities who stories will live through us.

2019 Reflections

How our themes inspired our work

At the beginning of each year, we set our intentions by naming themes that will light our way. This year’s intentions were especially important and foundational as we embarked on a most ambitious course to devise our new theatrical production, Constant State of Otherness.

Spark. This year, a major spark was ignited as we launched the Otherness project, which is both a new full-length performance work which we are still devising, but also an ambitious project that is stretching us in new ways to create within a deep community engagement process. Through solid partnerships providing financial and outreach support, our ensemble had invaluable space and time to work with communities across the country and also engage in a thought-provoking development process.

Vulnerability. The premise of the Otherness project is rooted in building empathy through listening, sharing our stories and unique challenges. Unlocking these stories in our community and in ourselves requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to ask and answer questions that isn’t always easy or comfortable. 

Catalyze. As we deepened our commitment to engaging communities in our creative process, we embarked on a new level of understanding of the role we can play in catalyzing these connections. Whether it was connecting with Philadelphia API communities through workshops with our partners at Asian Arts Initiative, or community members in Helena, MT with our partners at The Myrna Loy, we have been inspired by the power of bringing people together for conversation, story sharing, and discovery. 

What we learned about otherness during our creative residencies

This year has been so full and enriching for Unit Souzou as we’ve dedicated ourselves to creating our new theatrical work, Constant State of Otherness. We want to share a snapshot of some of our experiences during creative artist residencies hosted by our partners.

In September, our professional ensemble journeyed to Helena, MT, where we were hosted by our co-commissioning partner, The Myrna Loy. A highlight of our time in Montana was meeting several inspiring members of the community, who shared stories of their life experiences deeply steeped in navigating otherness. 

One person we spoke with, Rob Bonnes, is currently introducing adaptive ice hockey (which we got to spend an afternoon trying out) to Helena through the Montana Independent Living Project. His was a story of constant otherness and intense questioning of self worth, and his fight to find his place in his community. Over time, his has also become a journey of vulnerability and resilience. He has found the value of sharing his story with others to provide solidarity for others who are struggling, and to give a new perspective to the things we take for granted and the ways we move through our lives. 

We were also honored to spend time with a number of other community members who generously shared their stories: Valerie Hellerman, who shared her experiences of working with refugee camps around the world; Moe Wosepka, who is dedicated to helping former inmates with their complex transitions to new lives; and students of the PAL high school with whom we explored taiko as a form of genuine and representative expression of otherness. The compassion and perseverance of the community inspired us to dig deeply into our own stories of otherness and find the meaningful connections through our differences.

Soon after a very formative time in Helena, we traveled to Caldera Arts in Sisters, OR, nestled amongst the gorgeous trees and lakes of the Deschutes National Forest. In a space so tied to nature, it was impossible not to find a connection with the earth, with each other, and with ourselves.  In this vast space, we found invaluable time to bring ourselves into our bodies so that we could feel and create from a vulnerable and authentic place. As we explored what otherness means to us, we found our own stories of family and community that shaped who we are and the burdens of what we represent in our multi-racial society. We are incredibly excited to return in January for further creative work, and in Spring for our Oregon debut performance.

We are grateful for the opportunities these residencies have provided. Through this deep immersion in building connections and listening to moving stories of otherness in the communities we’ve visited, we have developed exciting ideas and scenescapes for this new theatrical work. 


2020 will be an electric year for Unit Souzou. After 3 years of deep, thoughtful creative process in conversation and practice, we will be debuting Constant State of Otherness throughout next year. We hope to see you!

February 1, 2020 Sisters, OR Work-in-Progress
Through Caldera’s Open Studios in partnership with the Deschutes County Library, we will share a work-in-progress of Constant State of Otherness as a culmination of our January creative residency. 

March 21-22, 2020 Portland, OR Otherness Collaborator Performance
Otherness: Togetherness will feature our collaborative work with Horatio Law, a Chinese American visual installation artist and Joe Kye, a Korean American violinist-looper coming together to share stories of experiences grappling with ideas of identity, home, otherness.

May 1, 2020 Helena, MT Debut Performance
Lead commissioner, The Myrna Loy, will present the premiere of the full-length theatrical production, Constant State of Otherness.

May 9-10, 2020 Washington, DC Tour Performance, Dance Place
May 13, 2020 Minneapolis, MN Tour Performance, Taiko Arts Midwest
June 6-7, 2020 Sisters, OR Tour Performance/2-day Festival, Caldera
Fall 2020 Philadelphia, PA dates tbd
Fall 2020 Portland, OR dates tbd 

Constant State of Otherness is a National Performance Network/Visual Artist Network (NPN/VAN) Creation & Development Fund Project co-commissioned by The Myrna Loy in partnership with Caldera Arts, Asian Arts Initiative, Dance Place, Risk Reward and NPN/VAN. The Creation & Development Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information: www.npn.org. Constant State of Otherness has received development support from the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theatre Project and Regional Arts and Culture Council. 


Thanks to a seed funds from a prestigious Creative Heights grant from Oregon Community Foundation, we are excited to announce a new project we are developing in partnership with our friends and colleagues at APANO. Through a community-embedded 18-20 month, Unit Souzou will create RHYTHM: Walking to the Heartbeat of our Community, a series of experiences, conversations, workshops and performances centered around pedestrian safety in East Portland’s Jade District. This project, which will debut in 2021 seeks to develop lasting relationships, discover new narratives about this neighborhood, engage in direct conversations around safety to help build a stronger, more welcoming, and more resilient neighborhood, and spur ideas for how Unit Souzou’s approach to taiko and community-engaged creations embody placekeeping and positive community changes. Look forward to more information in the near future!

Setting our 2019 Intentions

For the past three years, Unit Souzou has set inspirational words as themes for the year to bring intention and connection to our work.  In 2016, we were motivated by our goals of deepening, expanding, and contributing. In 2017, unprecedented changes in our country and communities spurred goals of braving, listening, and galvanizing. Last year our inspiration came from the multiple meaning of our name souzou – creation, imagination, and noisy.

In ruminating about how we want to focus our energies this coming year, we brought all members of our group together to dream with us. This word cloud represents the full collection of our group’s commitments. Of these, the following especially resonate as we delve into an ambitious new year in 2019:

Spark. We are devising new taiko frameworks and creating story-centered art. We will light up fresh approaches as we push the boundaries of our art forms to create innovative risk-taking, relevant, and accessible work that breaks boundaries of taiko and folk dance with sound shaped by form and movement, forging new traditions for our evolving communities.

Vulnerability. Creating new art work demands that we come from a place of empathy and sincere openness in order to fully hear and share diverse and universal stories. Through our creative process, we will be asking challenging questions in order to take new risks in our expression. Through our art, we will bring our honest conversations that are sometimes behind closed doors to the foreground as a process of deep inquiry in order to create a brave space for courageous discovery.

Catalyze. Using our art form as an accessible entry point, we have an opportunity to engage our broad communities – including our known friends and colleagues, but also new connections and communities – in deep conversations that we hope can open up minds and hearts. We invoke our communities to join us in this space of dialogue and sharing through creative experiences we will be offering throughout this year.

Unit Souzou Ensemble 2019 Goals & Intentions

Reflecting on 2018

During this season of gratitude, giving, and gathering, we want to acknowledge and appreciate you, our beloved community. Our work at Unit Souzou is rooted in our relationship and collaborations with you to share stories and make our voices heard. Thank you!

We also want to reflect on this past year, which has been a tremendous one for us. We began 2018 by looking to the meanings of the word souzou as a source of continuing inspiration: creation, imagination, and noisy. Using our drums to connect and collaborate in elevating community voices, our work with our performers, students, and community continues to evolve and deepen. A few highlights of how we manifested souzou in 2018:

Creation. In August, Unit Souzou presented the 2nd annual TaikoWorks showcase at the beautiful, lush, and sacred spaces of the Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland. What an incredible turnout, and such an enthusiastic and humbling reception!

A collaboration between Unit Souzou’s Professional Ensemble, Community Group, and our friends at Lan Su, TaikoWorks 2018 was an opportunity for us to share existing and new emerging works, specifically designed to be performed with consideration of the garden’s unique spaces. Through four separate pieces performed from different locations in the garden, audience members came along with Unit Souzou, quite literally, on a journey. It was also a journey of breath, movement, emotion, power, and history through each piece. We performed new site-specific versions of our exisiting pieces and we were also incredibly proud and excited to share the premiere of a new collaborative work by Ian, Vicky, Toru: Converging Rivers, inspired by the the Willamette and Columbia Rivers and their tributaries. We are especially grateful to our partners and collaborators at Lan Su Garden who gave us tremendous artistic freedom and fantastic support in bringing this show to fruition. As Japanese/Japanese-American artists working in the space of the Chinese Garden, we felt the powerful expression of solidarity and inclusion.

Imagination. Over the past year Michelle has been behind-the-scenes ruminating on, dreaming up and setting the stage for the Constant State of Otherness, a multi-layered performance project exploring the feelings of isolation and displacement that come from a sense of not fitting in. This dynamic multi-dimensional project is Unit Souzou’s most ambitious to date, and builds on the growing mission and vision of the company’s work. Thanks to strong partnerships and a grant from the National Performance Network, The Constant State of Otherness will involve artist and community collaborations, workshops, and performances across the country starting in 2019. The project’s four commissioning partners, Myrna Loy Center (Helena, Montana), Caldera (Sisters, Oregon), Asian Arts Initiative (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and DancePlace (Washington, DC), represent a diverse range of communities, critical to one of the project goals: to engage community members through art and dialogue about the universality of otherness to build empathy and compassion. Stay tuned for more on this in the coming months.

Noisy. As drummers we can’t help but be noisy! We also are proud of how we use our drum to agitate for our communities, stories, and histories. This year, Unit Souzou launched S.O.A.R.S. (Support, Outreach, Activism, and Response for Social Justice), mobilizing our students, performers, friends, and family to achieve social justice and build a more equitable world. In March, we joined hundreds of other New and Settled Portlanders at a Portland Parks & Recreation event to honor and show support for immigrant and refugee communities.  And in May, we put our taiko muscles to work helping to spruce up Beaverton’s Giving Garden, a non-profit run garden that provides fresh produce for local low-income families.

Another manifestation of noisy came from our September community workshop “Sound > Silence: Overcoming Stigmas Around Mental Health Through the Power of Sound.” As part of APANO’s  “MicCheck” summer cultural event series, which this year was focused on mental health for AAPI communities, Michelle and Toru teamed up with musician Joe Kye to deliver the powerful and cathartic workshop. We used music and the drum to dig deep, express, explore, and dialogue about mental health, wellness, struggle, and stigma. We hope to be able to offer a workshop like this again in the future. Thanks to our friends at APANO, our host site New Expressive Works, and especially to those who participated.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to connecting with you in 2019!

NPN Creation & Development Award

We are excited to announce that Unit Souzou is one of 14 national projects selected to receive a 2018 Creation & Development Award from National Performance Network (NPN)! The Constant State of Otherness will be a multi-layered performance project exploring the feelings of isolation and displacement that come from a sense of not fitting in. This new theatrical touring program set to debut Spring 2020 will provide artistic and social dialogs that will question, challenge and disrupt the mainstream narrative of identity, especially within this current American landscape.

THANK YOU to our co-commissioners for believing in this work:

Find out more about the award and NPN here.

TaikoWorks 2018

UNIT SOUZOU’s TaikoWorks 2018
August 25, 2018, 3:00pm
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett Street, Portland, OR 97209

We are excited to work with our esteemed partners at Lan Su Chinese Garden to present TaikoWorks 2018. Unit Souzou’s annual showcase will pick up where it started. This second rendition will continue the tradition of creating and exploring work specific to this unique performance site.

With our team of performers and creators, Unit Souzou will explore and transform the traditions and histories embedded in Lan Su Garden. Behind its gates, this city block-sized garden boasts beautiful landscapes and architectural elements, providing space for community gathering and individual reflection.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

TaikoWorks will reframe the unique characteristics of the garden, delighting the senses, pushing taiko and dance performance through inventive and unexpected ways. Audiences will discover new perspectives to access and experience the space, as the performance journeys out and about, location to location within the garden.

The entire Unit Souzou company will perform including Co-Directors Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe, our Professional Ensemble and our Community Group. The annual TaikoWorks showcase is an opportunity to celebrate and share Unit Souzou’s most current ruminations of both finished and unfinished work. We are excited to premiere a new collaborative work by Ian, Vicky, Toru and Michelle: Converging Rivers. Inspired by the image of the tributaries flowing into the Willamette River, and eventually flowing into the mighty Columbia River, this new piece explores independent voices converging as part of a holistic larger body, individual histories converging into a larger human story.

We love to create new work, but we can’t do it without community support. Your contribution will allow Unit Souzou to fully embrace and realize the creation of TaikoWorks 2018. We hope you will join us on this journey!