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Dancing on the Edge: Home l a n d questions borders, celebrates female humanity, and recalls the lesson of Hiroshima

Yui Ugai and Ashvini Sundaram. Photo by Pierre Tran
In Home l a n d, Yui Ugai and Ashvini Sundaram investigate what home means to them. Photo by Pierre Tran

There is an epitaph in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to commemorate the horrors of war. This message states: “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”

The park, which is visited my more than a million people each year, memorializes victims of the world’s first nuclear attack on August 6, 1945. Hiroshima University English literature professor Tadayoshi Saika wrote the epitaph. And at this year’s Dancing on the Edge festival, it will appear in Home l a n d, which is created, choreographed, and performed by Ashvini Sundaram and Yui Ugai.

The Toronto-based Ugai was born in Hiroshima. Sundaram, a Vancouver resident, is from Singapore. Her family roots go back to South India.

Over Zoom, Ugai tells Pancouver that Home l a n d incorporates the dancers’ remembered moments of home. In addition, it revolves around female humanity, finding one another, and trying to recall ancestries.

“I embody those memories with movements,” Ugai says.

On the same Zoom call, Sundaram says that their show represents the results of an ongoing investigation.

“We started this process using a lot of task-based improvisation,” Sundaram says. “And it became a research process for us to understand what home means to us and what our own relationships to land are.”

She reveals that their work addresses “a kind of border conflict”. However, it’s not restricted to national borders or ownership of land. The dancers are also interrogating borders that separate individuals.

“So far, we’ve presented the work seven times in seven different shows,” Sundaram says. “The audience feedback is always so different.”

Photo by David Wong
Photo by David Wong.

Embodying the future of Hiroshima

According to her profile, Ugai’s independent research involves examining traditional Japanese performing art forms. She links this to “what it means to her body in the discovery of her own corporeal being” as a Japanese Canadian.

Ugai is highly conscious of the sad history of her hometown of Hiroshima. But she emphasizes that there is a strong sense of hope for the future in Hiroshima. In her duet with Sundaram, Ugai tries to embody this message.

“We are always the victims of those conflicts and issues, but we have a power and strength to build our cities back together with the people who actually live there,” she states.

At the same time, Ugai acknowledges that many around the world still do not have a roof over their heads.

“So I want the audience to think about their home as well as the meaning of home,” she says.

Flashes of Bharatanatyam

Meanwhile, Sundaram’s practice involves addressing topics “related to ancestral knowledge systems and diasporic identity”. She trained in Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form. She says that this helps her access embodied memories of her ancestral home in the city of Tajore in Tamil Nadu.

In Home l a n d, Bharatanatyam may appear in impressions or flashes or references.

“But the form that we both embody is more like minimalist and theatrical,” Sundaram states. “It lives in contemporary dance but I wouldn’t label it as contemporary dance.”

Sundaram and Ugai worked closely with composer Diego Maralunda. Dramaturgy is by Anita La Selva and costume design is by Cindy Chang and Cathy Xu.

“We don’t have any projection or any designed set,” Ugai says. “It’s lights and sound and us.”

Dancing on the Edge presents Ashvini Sundaram and Yui Ugai in Home l a n d on Thursday (July 6) and Saturday (July 8) at the Firehall Theatre. The festival runs from July 6 to 15. Single tickets are available the Firehall Arts Centre Box Office at 604-689-0926 or online at tickets.firehallartscentre.ca. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.