Kokoro Dance: Embodying Heart & Soul
The October, 1993 issue of The Bulletin, my first as English Editor, featured Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget of Kokoro Dance. Then in their seventh year as a company, they were shaking up the Vancouver dance scene with their uncompromising brand of butoh-infused dance. Early on in their existence, I had the opportunity to tour with them all over Canada and across parts of Europe, performing Rage, the taiko/butoh explosion that took on the Internment of Japanese Canadians not with the dispassion of a textbook, but the force of a sledgehammer.
In 1988, the year we began touring Rage, I had just formed Uzume Taiko with Eileen Kage and Leslie Komori, as Canada’s first professional taiko group. Jay and Barbara gave us our first paid jobs, agreeing to work with us while we got our feet. They introduced us to the joys (and rigours) of touring and helped establish Uzume Taiko as a viable professional group.
Working with Jay and Barbara intensively for a number of years, I came to appreciate first-hand the passion and dedication they brought to their art. They rarely, if ever, did things the easy way, but instead followed their instincts and their convictions, baffling the critics and engaging audeinces along the way. Just as Jay’s father, Gordon Hirabayashi, took on the US government, so did Jay take on the dance establishment and the funding bodies, demanding that their company be treated as more than an exotic curiosity.
In 1998, when Kokoro presented the first Vancouver International Dance Festival, it was their stated aim to expose Vancouver audiences to dance companies that would otherwise never appear here. The list of companies they have presented over the past 17 years is astonishing in its breadth and diversity and speaks to the Festival’s ambition and scope.
The road has not been easy, but Kokoro never set out to take the established routes, preferring to break new ground, even if it meant the occasional flat tire. As they celebrate their 30th Anniversary this year, 23 years after that first Bulletin cover, I raise my bachi (drum sticks) to Jay and Barbara, true national treasures in a community that knows the meaning of perserverance in the face of obstacles.