We are thrilled beyond belief to be a featured performer for the prestigious Taiko Jam at the North American Taiko Conference (NATC). In NATC’s 20th year, at its 10th conference, this event will take place in San Diego August 10-13, 2017. It is such an honor for us to perform at this beloved gathering, which represents the pulse of what’s happening North American taiko. Our full company of 17 from our professional ensemble and community group will be playing for the first time together on this momentous stage. Sharing the stage will be amazing performances by On Ensemble (California) with Shogo Yoshii (Japan), Nen Daiko (Virginia) and Kyosuke Suzuki (Japan).
As we emerge into our 3rd year of sharing relevant stories through drum and dance, we are excited to break new ground in our work. We ask you, our amazing supporters, for your help to activate our first-ever annual TaikoWorks show. Beginning a new yearly tradition, TaikoWorks will be an opportunity to celebrate and showcase our most current ruminations of both finished and unfinished work. This 3rd year represents big transitions in the life of our company in which we leave behind the start up nature of our “youth” and bloom into a new phase of growth and beginnings. Please help us say goodbye to the past, and hello to a new era in Unit Souzou’s artistic journey. Your contribution towards our Goodbye, Hello campaign will truly bring to life the multiple meanings of souzou – “creation,” “imagination,” and “noisy” in new and exciting ways.
About TaikoWorks 2017
On August 30th, Unit Souzou will present TaikoWorks 2017, our first-ever annual showcase of current artistic ruminations. As our inaugural year, we will ignite our creativity and imagination by hosting a site-specific performance exploring themes of goodbye from sacred formal farewells, casual everyday parting, and unforeseen, sometime tragic transitions.
The site of this work has deep and layered significance for Unit Souzou. It will take place at the Jade APANO Multicultural Space (JAMS), which has been our home since our inception. In the fall, JAMS will close down in its current form as it begins transformation into a new affordable housing and community space.
While we are excited for this important new community project, it will be a bittersweet goodbye to our artistic home of the last three years. Using the unique shape and layout of the building, this performance will span three rooms, inviting the audience to physically embody the act of parting. It will also be a symbolic and meaningful goodbye to this gathering space, allowing us to create a sacred and intentional farewell for all attending.
TaikoWorks will feature exciting artistic milestones:
- Debut of the Unit Souzou professional ensemble in Portland
- Premiere of new composition, Entangled, composed by ensemble member, David Wells for the Unit Souzou community group
- Performance of thematic works inspired by the sacredness of goodbye created by the Unit Souzou professional ensemble
TaikoWorks 2017 will take place Wednesday, August 30th 8:00 pm at the Jade APANO Multicultural Space (JAMS), 8114 SE Division Street, Portland, OR. Tickets will be on sale starting August 1st. In order to make TaikoWorks accessible to a diverse audience, we will make it a “pay what you will” ticket. Funds from this campaign will also help subsidize this ticketing structure.
It takes a village to make art!
We love to create new work, but we can’t do it without community support. Contributions to the Goodbye, Hello campaign will allow UNIT SOUZOU to fully embrace and realize a new artistic milestone. We hope you will join us on this journey.
We’re coming off a busy winter season where we spent much of this time in the cozy and intense bubble of teaching and creating, with our performers, in the schools, and in the community.
Our new professional ensemble has been busy working behind the scenes to develop new artistic ideas to explore the theme of life milestones, transitions and goodbyes. Stay tuned for more on this, and save the date, August 30th for a work-in-progress showing with both our Unit Souzou community and professional ensembles.
Michelle finished a year long project in Minneapolis this past weekend creating a newly commissioned original taiko piece, Looking Beyond, for Minnesota taiko ensemble, Mu Daiko. The debut of this piece commemorated an era of 20 years as Mu Daiko, and launched their new future identity as TaikoArts Midwest. Both Michelle and Toru performed within the weekend’s festivities and witnessed this profound organizational transition – a time for endings and beginnings.
As spring blossoms, we are starting to turn outward, look ahead.
May is always an exciting month for us at Unit Souzou. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is an opportunity to build community and lift up our voices for justice and empowerment. During this time of celebration and reflection, we draw on the themes we set at the beginning of this year: braving, listening, and galvanizing.
Here’s where you can see us in action around the community during Heritage Month:
- We are honored to be a part of a very special event with our colleagues at Portland JACL and Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Return & Remembrance: A Pilgrimage to the Portland Assembly Center. The event commemorates the 75th anniversary of the incarceration of Japanese Americans at the Portland Assembly Center, what we now know as the Portland Expo Center on Saturday May 6, 2-4pm.
- Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts has been celebrating their 10th anniversary year with their poTENtial program series. We will be there all day on Saturday, May 21 as part of their “Art & Culture of Japan” series of visual and performing arts events. Our performance is at 3pm. For those who want to try their hand at taiko, we will host a hands-on workshop earlier in the day at 12:30pm.
Throughout the month of May Lan Su Garden will host cultural performances for their annual celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. We are excited to be part of Lan Su’s diverse lineup of artists representing different ethnicities, traditions, and artistic visions. Join us on Saturday, May 27 at 1pm.
We hope you can join us for one or more of these celebrations during the month of May.
With dramatic transitions across the nation, our country and region face some real and profound changes. During this time, we at Unit Souzou are finding comfort and power in our work as artists and cultural connectors.
In the late fall last year, just after the November elections, we traveled to Helena, Montana to share our work. Helena is a distance from Portland, both geographically and culturally. We were slated to perform our touring show INSATIABLE, and to hold space as resident artists in the schools for the week. What we found in Helena was a community that opened their hearts and minds to our artistic voice. The students we met were energetic and engaged. The sold-out audience we performed for received us with great enthusiasm and interest. Our visit to Montana was deeply inspiring and transformative. We now cherish our role as artists with new vigor. Our work provides a tremendous opportunity to share relevant stories that can build new bridges to community dialogue, whether with old friends or with unlikely strangers. With that experience as a backdrop, we have developed a number of themes to frame our work in 2017.
Braving. “To encounter with courage and fortitude, to defy.” (Wiktionary) As artists in an increasingly agitated environment, we know that our drum and our dance is powerful. Our vision is for a world that embraces evolution and encourages the creation of new traditions. Holding on to that notion, we will break through uncertainty with authentic voices and open hearts.
Listening. In order to be a strong ensemble group, listening is at the core of our work as taiko artists. Our drums are more powerful when we are actively listening, building together. But who is in our circle? Who in our circle is not being heard? How can we be more inclusive? We will endeavor to listen more.
Galvanizing. At Unit Souzou, we strive to create new traditions for new communities. As we continue to broaden and deepen our community circle, we seek to empower and activate individuals to share their authentic voices through the drum. These voices will join the chorus of community voices and expressions to further understanding.
As we embrace these themes, we hope you will be part of our community circle this coming year, building power and unity in the face of challenges and evolution.
After an extensive national audition process, we are thrilled to introduce our brand new Unit Souzou Professional Ensemble.
Four talented professional taiko artists, Ian Berve, Yuta Kato, David Wells, and Vicky Zhang, will join Co-Directors Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe as ensemble players, collaborating to push the art of taiko towards new traditions and innovations.The founding of our Professional Ensemble is a momentous milestone for Unit Souzou. Along with our Community Performance Group and Korekara Taiko education programs, Unit Souzou is excited to continue to build and empower community, through the power of the drum and through our unique, authentic artistic voice.
We have exciting plans brewing for 2017! Learn about David, Ian, Vicky and Yuta’s amazing taiko backgrounds on our website.
Unit Souzou is launching its first round of auditions! A small ensemble eagerly looking toward new beginnings, we’re looking for several talented, dedicated taiko artists to join our professional performing company. If you consider yourself an experienced and driven performer that would be excited by a challenging and fast-paced creative environment, Unit Souzou might be for you!
Applicants should be highly self-motivated, effective communicators, and should love the creative process. This is a paid position, so U.S. citizenship or U.S. resident status is appreciated. Unit Souzou is based in Portland, OR, but does not require its professional ensemble members to live locally. For the most part, communication and the learning of repertoire takes place remotely, with short, intense in-person rehearsals before major engagements.
The due date for the first round of the auditions process is July 1, 2016, so if you’re interested, why not get started now?
At Unit Souzou, we celebrate our heritage, both traditional and evolving, all throughout the year in all the work we do. The most public way we do this is through our community work. We love to perform and teach, but another core part of our joy and our values is to be embedded in our community. Being civically engaged gives our work purpose and ensures that we are part of a community conversation.
We are excited to be part of the Resident Artist Collaborative at APANO for the Jade-Midway Placemaking Projects. We’ll be doing free family workshops to explore pedestrian safety, transit, and displacement through taiko, theater, and discussion and then developing a short piece inspired by the work.
This past February, we worked with Buckman Elementary 2nd grade teachers and Chisao Hata, Dance Specialist, to create an original play, “Gambatte…Be Strong.” Through music, dance, visual art and theatre the 2nd graders studied and performed the history of the Japanese American Internment experience, which included personal stories of Japanese-American Oregonians.
In another effort to deepen civic engagement, our Co-Director Michelle Fujii has been participating in the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute which empowers API women to become strong leaders. As part of the program, Michelle will lead a community walk this June inviting friends and supporters to walk through a loop trail pausing at 3 points to hear personal stories from 3 guest speakers sharing about what “community” is to them. More details and dates will be sent soon!
We are especially excited to be celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Originally a week long celebration proclaimed by the U.S. Congress in 1978, May became the official commemorative month for Asian Pacific American Heritage in the 1990s. May holds relevant historical significance. It was the month when the first Japanese immigrated to the U.S. in 1843. And then in May 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, by mostly Chinese workers.
We welcome you to embrace the power and heart we bring to every Unit Souzou engagement, this month during APA Heritage Month and throughout this spring and summer. Hope to see you soon!
UNIT SOUZOU performs INSATIABLE
March 29, 2016 at 7:00 PM
Washington State University Vancouver
Firstenburg Student Commons
Free admission, RSVP required (limited tickets available)
Last November, President Barack Obama posthumously gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Hood River-born Minoru “Min” Yasui. In his remarks, President Obama described what happened on March 28, 1942:
On a Saturday night in March of 1942, Minoru Yasui left his law office to walk around Portland, Oregon. It was a seemingly ordinary act that defied the discriminatory military curfew imposed on Japanese Americans during World War II. Min took his case to the Supreme Court and lost, a decision he fought for the rest of his life. Yet despite what Japanese Americans endured — suspicion, hostility, forced removal, internment — Min never stopped believing in the promise of his country. He never stopped fighting for equality and justice for all.
Min had challenged Executive Order 9066, the forced incarceration of Japanese born Americans into concentrations camps during World War II. As a result of his action — intentionally breaking military imposed curfew to test its constitutionality – Min was jailed, fined and stripped of his citizenship. He took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction. Eventually, the conviction was overturned. Min spent the rest of his life in Denver, continuing to fight for his own rights and for other social justice causes.
Min Yasui is the only Oregonian to ever receive the Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. And to further honor Min’s significant contributions, the Oregon legislature unanimously passed House Bill 4009 designating March 28 each year Minoru Yasui Day.
This Tuesday, March 29th, WSU will be honoring the life and legacy of Minoru Yasui. UNIT SOUZOU is proud to perform INSATIABLE that evening to honor Japanese American historical roots, as well as bring a contemporary perspective on the experience.
As a 4th generation Japanese-American, UNIT SOUZOU founder Michelle Fujii’s family was greatly impacted by the history of EO 9066. All four of her grandparents were sent to the internment camps during WWII. And when Michelle began playing taiko, it sparked a desire to understand more about the internment history. Although she did not literally reference the internment experience within INSATIABLE, the tone of the work focuses on the overcoming of challenges. Michelle said, “In this work, I was not trying to recreate the Japanese aesthetic, but offer a new perspective that is grounded in my identity growing up in the United States, which is deeply informed and influenced by the internment of my grandparents during the war.”
A driving force in the INSATIABLE show is the endless repeating cycles. For Japanese Americans and contemporary immigrant social justice activists, there is palpable anxiety that the history of interment might yet be repeated. Though it can feel inescapable, Michelle hopes that Unit Souzou’s performance can offer hope. She says, “Although INSATIABLE acknowledges the overwhelming feeling, ultimately through awareness and a conscious effort, we can break the chains of repetition.”
At UNIT SOUZOU, we have been reflecting on our work, and looking forward to an exciting year ahead as an emerging new artistic taiko ensemble.
Last fall, we did some deep soul searching on the “Camino de Santiago,” where we walked 400 kilometers from Leon, Spain to Finisterre, a place known as “the end of the world.” At times challenging, breathtaking, silent and adventurous, the journey was an opportunity to reflect, not only the tangible manifestation of our work, but also our artistic vision and practice, and how we want to be – with each other, with our community. Those ruminations have lead to some themes that we will focus on in 2016.
Deepening. As a new artistic force, we have developed our core of teaching and creating innovative expressions for the art form of taiko. We are thinking about how others experience our work and how we can become more accessible, more authentic, more connected. Through our education program within schools and taiko classes, and the performances we produce, we hope to deepen our mission to artistically push boundaries and to share taiko with our community.
Expanding. Portland is our center and our home. But as we look forward, we are beginning to expand our notion of what local means. We will explore more of our home state of Oregon, and further afield in our home region here in the Northwest. We’ll even reach beyond, heading east, heading south. We want to use our drums, our dance and our voice to find community across the US, in this our home country.
Contributing. We can’t do our work in a vacuum. We are part of a community. We will find ways to thoughtfully engage with our community and be intentional about where we can provide opportunities for new audiences to engage with taiko.
As these themes help us find inspiration in our own work, we hope we can inspire your adventure in this new year.
Rehearsals, production planning, marketing – these are typical ways that performers prepare for a new show. Doing an 18 day, 400 kilometer spiritual walk on the “Camino de Santiago” in Spain? Not so typical. And yet, that’s exactly what Michelle Fujii and Toru Watanabe did six weeks before the premiere of their new original taiko production.
Michelle and Toru are not just professional and artistic partners in their new taiko company, UNIT SOUZOU. They have been married for 13 years. That complex relationship is the basis for 88: Hachi Hachi, the company’s first original production, which will debut October 2-4, 2015 at Zoomtopia, Studio 2 in SE Portland.
In preparing for their innovative taiko production, Michelle and Toru decided to take a number of artistic risks. Chief among them was the Camino de Santiago walk, a historical pilgrimage route to St. James in northwestern Spain, then to Finisterre believed to be the “end of the known world.” Michelle and Toru walked the path as a spiritual artistic practice to delve into their relationship.
Though they knew the walk would be a great challenge and that it was an unconventional way to prepare for a show, the couple learned more than they could have imagined.
The trip was physically and mentally arduous, their feet “crying every night.” Yet each morning they chose to get up and begin another 6-8 hours of walking, Michelle described. For 18 days, their lives stripped down to the daily task of moving forward carrying everything needed on their backs, Michelle and Toru “could not take for granted the simple connection we have chosen as partners.”
In the span of three weeks, the walk became a “miniature version of life” Toru said, of their personal journeys and their relationship. Not just their lives, but also a study of other walking partners and how they negotiated the long path: some walking together, others separating and then reconnecting, most having to compromise in some way.
The culmination of the Camino experience is a fundamental through line for 88: Hachi Hachi, an intimate taiko duet about Michelle and Toru’s multidimensional relationship.
“Hachi Hachi has everything to do with us. This show is a bold new step to creating work that is personally authentic,” Michelle said. The duet intricately weaves together taiko, dance and theatre, exploring relationship, intimacy and lineage.
In other efforts to broaden their artistic inspiration, the duo brought local multi-media theater artist Susan Banyas on board as director. Banyas is known for blending dance, theater, storytelling and music. They are also working with Eric Nordstrom on contact improvisation and Jeff Forbes, Drammy award winning lighting designer.