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!