Lo­cal dancer fetes work of beloved Ja­panese teacher

> BY JANET SMITH

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

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.

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