Local dancer fetes work of beloved Japanese teacher
> BY JANET SMITH
To understand why Vancouver’s Colleen Lanki is staging a concert celebrating the life and work of a late Japanese dance master, you have to understand how their paths intersected. That, and how Fujima Yūko effectively changed the course of Lanki’s life and career.
Lanki moved from Toronto to Tokyo in 1995, planning to teach English and take in live Japanese performing arts for a year before moving home again.
“But then I saw a kabuki play and it moved me so much,” Lanki tells the Straight on a rehearsal break. “I asked artist friends about finding a teacher, which is not easy—you really have to be introduced and you commit to the long term.”
She was finally introduced to traditional-japanese-dance teacher Fujima Yūko, and they instantly hit it off—despite the fact that Lanki was from a country far removed from Japan.
“I loved her. She was amazing,” Lanki enthuses. “She had had one other foreign student, a ballet dancer from Paris. And she thought, ‘ Wow, people can do this from overseas. This should be practised everywhere.’
“She was completely open, but a very traditional teacher,” the artistic director of Vancouver’s Tomoearts says. “She was the reason I stayed in Tokyo for six-and-a-half years.”
Before Lanki left for Canada again, Fujima Yūko bestowed on her one of the highest honours: a dance name, Fujima Sayū—symbolically, one that uses the same “ū” character as her teacher’s name does. “That puts me in one of the larger Japanese traditions and also means I’m her deshi, or her disciple.”
Fujima Yūko died in 2003, but in the past few years, Lanki has been working her way through boxes of archival materials, like old photos and VHS recordings of some of her dances.
Yūko-kai: A Concert of Japanese Dance actually revives two of Fujima Yūko’s original choreographies that Lanki found in old videotapes. Lanki herself will join dancer Ryan Caron in Ama, a dance-play about a diver who steals a magic pearl from an underwater dragon king. Elsewhere, Japan’s Fujima Shōgo will dance the battle tale Yashima. Also on the program is Lanki’s “sister disciple”, Fujima Minako, dancing the elegant geisha-style Kane no Misaki.
Audience members can also take in an exhibit of photographs of Fujima Yūko in the lobby of the Dance Centre.
“I’ve got a postcard of her dancing at 12 years old,” Lanki says of the epic project, “and the last one is dated January 17, 2003. The next day she was leaving the dressing room and collapsed in the hallway.” She danced right till the end—and if this devoted deshi has her way, Fujima Yūko’s creations will continue to live.
Tomoearts presents Yuko-kai—a Concert of Japanese Dance at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Saturday (May 12).
An archival photo of Fujima Yuko joins an exhibit in the theatre lobby.