ABOUT JUNE WATANABE
June Yoshiko Watanabe (née Tsukida) was born on June 7, 1939 in Los Angeles, California. From 1942-1945, June and her family were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming as part of the Japanese American displacement and imprisonment during World War II. After returning to Los Angeles (LA) in 1945, Watanabe studied dance at the West Coast School of Music and Dance with Elizabeth Gilman in 1948. After a few years, she transferred to the LA Conservatory of Music and Arts to begin studies with Patricia O’Kane, with whom she studied for most of her ballet training. June also attended the Eugene Loring School of American Dance, and most critical, studied with and was most influenced by Gloria Newman and Dr. Alma Hawkins & Carol Scothorn at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1955, at age 16, she auditioned for and was chosen by Jerome Robbins to dance in the film version of The King and I. In 1956, Watanabe enrolled at UCLA, graduating in 1960 with a BS degree, focusing on dance. Watanabe then served on the faculty at El Camino College (1960-1962) in Los Angeles, then at UC Berkeley (1973-1975) and Mills College full-time from 1975-1979, returning in 1986 years at part-time until retiring as Professor Emerita 24 years later.
In 1979, Watanabe began her dance career at the age of 40, driven by her need to dance and speak out about the internment experiences and heritage she had shunned as a child because she wanted to be "so American". In 1980, she became the director of her own company, June Watanabe Dance Company/June Watanabe in Company (JWIC). The company initially performed annually in Marin, where she received support from the Marin Community Foundation throughout the company's existence. Her company also performed heavily in the San Francisco Bay Area with East and West Coast tours from 1982 to 2006.
According to Watanabe, "life informs [her] dance and [her] dance informs [her] life", dealing with issues of bondage in womanhood, reclaiming one’s cultural heritage and the survival of the human spirit. This has led to the creation of seven versions of her internment works regarding "the unjust, unconstitutional betrayal of the Japanese American culture because of racism". She felt a responsibility and commitment to teach students and audiences about the incarceration because many did not know of or understand the shame that was placed upon innocent people, being imprisoned unconstitutionally.
Watanabe is recognized for her starkly focused contemporary works which incorporate artistic, cultural, and historic elements through a one- of-a-kind, interdisciplinary approach. Her Japanese-American heritage illuminates and informs her contemporary modern dance works, as she captures the human condition within an Eastern temporal and spatial framework with elements which characterize her works. These include the energy of the Noh Theatre, the architectural use of space, emptiness, all with an inner strength of concentration. She has created dance theater works and collaborated with distinguished artists from diverse disciplines such as Noh Master Anshin Uchida, Intangible Cultural Asset of Japan, Taiko Master Seiichi Tanaka; musicians such as Pauline Oliveros, Denny Zeitlin, David Rosenbloom, Kronos Quartet, Bun-Ching Lam, Kirsten Vogelsang, Alvin Curran, Carl Stone, George Yoshida; visual artists Ruth Asawa, Jose Maria Francos, Douglas Rosenberg, Kerry Vander Meer, and Sandra Woodall; writers/poets, such as Leslie Scalapino and John Woodall; and dancers/choreographers such as Ed Mock, Alonzo King, Remy Charlip, Daniel Nagrin, Livia Blankman, Karen Attix, Sharon Kinney, Frank Shawl, Helen Dannenberg, and all the company dancers, among others.
In the clip below, Watanabe discusses her experiences regarding art, work, and personal transformation in conversation with Bettina Gray as part of The Creative Mind series produced for public televsion and broadcast on KQED from 1991-1992.
The clip also includes excerpts from Watanabe's choreographic work, Heian.
Footage courtesy of KQED, ©1991. Click HERE to view the full interview.
Click Images Below for full view
The images and video excerpts below were curated with the help of June Watanabe and are only a sample of the rich materials found in her collection.
WATANABE'S INTERNMENT WORKS
Watanabe's images, memories, and abstract emotional feelings, initially suppressed, when she was incarcerated with her family at the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming from ages three to six informed what became her Internment works. In 1979, Watanabe created the first solo, ... silently, to a David Behrman score, followed by the first group work, Herding (1982), as in the herding of animals, set to Terry Riley’s In C. Both works were purely abstract, along with Cantabile, a musically based movement work to Bach. All three were premiered in 1983, and all surfaced from an internal, intuitive source and process.
The wartime images and cultural characteristics of the Japanese Americans are reflected in Watanabe's seven seminal works: Internments (1983), E.O. 9066 (1984, 1985, 1989, 1998), Cradle Will Fall (1988), from her second American Dance Festival’s Young Choreographer and Composer commission, and 5/15/45 – the last dance (2001); the 1992 Video Work of E.O. 9066 (1989) was funded by the NEA. The title, E.O. 9066 comes from then President Franklin Roosevelt's unconstitutional Executive Order which declared the West Coast as "military zones", and cleared a path to the incarceration of over 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent, who were stripped of their civil rights by forced relocation and displacement. Most of them were US citizens, and not a single person was accused with treason.
The first image is from Herding, the first group internment work, with performers Amy Wyman, Alice Falkowski, Susanna Li Jue, Paul Zmolek, and Aida Pisciotta. The second image is from E.O. 9066 (1984). Performers for this work included Alice Falkowski, Jocelyn Nugent, Aida Pisciotta, Susanna Li Jue, Michael White, and June Watanabe with a commissioned score by Judy Rosenberg, set design by Douglas Rosenberg, and costumes designed by Nikki Lundberg.
The two images to the right are from the 1989 version of E.O. 9066. Performers for the 1989 work included Watanabe and singers Molly Holm, Raz Kennedy, Christine Madley, and David Worm. This version with a commissioned a score by Bun-Ching Lam, featured costumes by Sandra Woodall, lighting by Jose Maria Francos and set concept/fence by Doug Rosenberg. Below is an excerpt from the 1992 VIDEO Work of E.O. 9066 (1989), funded by the NEA, made by Douglas Rosenberg.
The 1989 version of E.O. 9066 became the centerpiece for Watanabe's evening’s length work Trilogy (1989), featuring Heian (1987), E.O. 9066 (1989) and White Ashes (1986). These are all independent works (approximately 30 minutes each), but can be seen as a whole.
Trilogy speaks to the reclaiming of her heritage she had shunned as a child coming out of the internment camp and was dedicated to her parents, Mariko and Naoyoshi Tsukida. The first image here is a PR collage for its Theatre Artaud premiere, where the sets for all three works existed on stage simultaneously as a single image by Douglas Rosenberg. Following its premiere in 1989, Trilogy received four Isadora Duncan "Izzie" award nominations in four categories. Composer Bum-Ching Lam received an "Izzie” for her commissioned score for E.O. 9066 (1989).
Heian (1987), above three images, is a commentary on the survival of a woman's human spirit under the layers of a kimono, which represents the bondage of womanhood since the medieval Heian period in Japan. The video/set design is by Douglas Rosenberg, costumes designed by Sandra Woodall, raked stage design by Alex Nichols, and music by Somei Sato counterpoints with Taiko Master Seiichi Tanaka in the videos.
The images to the left are of Watanabe in White Ashes (1986). This work was made possible by the Marin Arts Council’s Individual Artist Grant for Advancement and was created to honor her father and his last journey. The set and video designs are by Douglas Rosenberg, costume by Don Bondi and Sandra Woodall, with gagaku music score by Toru Takemitsu. This work led to Watanabe's selection for an American Dance Festival's “Young Choreographer/Composer" commission in 1987.
Watanabe created seven internment works each with its own perspective, style, and approach. The images featured here are from her work, 5/15/45 - The Last Dance (2001), the final internment work, was performed as a work in progress (titled The Last Dance) in 1999 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco and at the Headlands Center for the Arts, with the completed version performed at YBCA Forum and at U.C. Davis, Sacramento, and several high schools in Marin County.
The first image features Watanabe, Frank Shawl, and George Yoshida by train tracks reminiscent of the long train ride to the internment camps, and the second image with video projection on the fence, interrogation/watch tower lights, dancers w/ suitcases getting herded/corralled, and the band leader with live swing band creates a performance installation that includes the viewers in the work. The open space, a gym or recreation like setting becomes a place of refuge during times of disasters and survival, which is how the Japanese Americans survived with all their all-American activities; the program ends with the audience joining a swing dance.
The Last Dance was created in collaboration with Composer Alvin Curran, Band leader George Yoshida and his J-Town Big Band and costumed by Sandra Woodall, with sets and lighting designed by Alex Nichols, video by Ray Wang, except from video Something Strong Within by Robert Nakamura and written and produced by Karen Ishizuka with guest artist Frank Shawl, and dancers Hilary Bryan, Augusto Ferriols, Dawn Frank, Debby Kajiyama, Jose Navarrete, Stacy Williams.
WATANABE AND COLLABORATORS
Watanabe's work has never existed in a monolith. Throughout her career, she collaborated with artists from varying disciplines, which led to most of her works in the following years.
Some examples of Watanabe working with multidisciplinary/dance artists include the following works below:
(Left) Watanabe with dancer/choreographer Ed Mock from a performance of Improvisations (1985), with the Kronos Quartet (not pictured) at Forest Meadows and at the Laney Dance Series. They collaborated twice before Mock's passing in 1986. Watanabe met Mock and Remy Charlip at Footworks Dance Studio in SF where Charlip and Watanabe were performing at a fundraiser for the 1984 Mexico City earthquake. She considered it a gift to meet and eventually work with fellow "elder dancers", still dancing.
(Above Right) Watanabe in Alonzo King's Solo (1986), which King choreographed on her, featuring a costume designed by Nikki Lundberg with music by Don Fontowitz. Watanabe studied ballet with King in the mid-1980s. See below for an excerpt of this work.
Watanabe with guest performer Livia Blankman for the West Coast premiere of Suitable for Framing (1987). This work premiered at the American Dance Festival's Young Choreographers and Composers in Residence in July 1987 as Watanabe's commissioned work. The title comes from an album by David Rosenbloom. Music was composed by Kirsten Vogelsang with costumes by Sandra Woodall, multi-channel video design by Douglas Rosenberg, and design/execution by Cheryl Koehler. See below for excerpt of this performance.
In 1990, as part of Festival 2000, JWIC premiered Tower Collection, a major work on the legacy of womanhood, looking at cycles of life and the legacy of womanhood. The work was given a residency at Jacobs Pillow for it’s beginnings. But, with the collapse of the festival, there was not time to complete and refine the choreography, so what was developed to that point was presented in concert, starting with environmental slide projections on hanging panels. Pictured here are Watanabe as the old Crone (first row photos) in Ruth Asawa’s sculpture head piece and mask, going back to the recycling of life’s seasonal cyclic reproductions with the trio of dancers costumed as corn-husk young maidens in waiting and then in cage-like wedding dresses (second row photos). The perfomers are Kathleen McClintock, Kristen Montgomery, Priscilla Regalado, and child performer, Dani Juni.
The Tower Collection featured a commissioned score by Kirsten Vogelsang, who also performed her music on electric cello, costumes designed by Sandra Woodall, with the crone scuplture and mask designed by Ruth Asawa and the bridal dress sculptures designed by Kerry Vander Meer and Rod Garrett.
Promotional image from Time over Time (1991), with Watanabe with fellow dancer/choregraphers Frank Shawl, and Marnie Thomas, for which the trio received a special "Izzie" Award. Sound design by Cara Bradbury Marcus and sets/lighting design by Jose Maria Francos.
(Left) Watanabe in her choreographic work, Falling Man (1994), based on a Noh Dance, Hagoromo (circa 14th century), created in Tokyo, and supported by the NEA US/Japan Friendship Commission in 1993. This work featured text and installation by John Woodall with costumes by Sandra Woodall.
(Right) Watanabe with Remy Charlip in Charlip's choreographic work, Goodbye, Burt (1994), at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, 1994 and Theatre Artaud in 1993. In 1993, Watanabe received an "Izzie" Award for Individual Performance for her work . . . a moment . . . at Theatre Artaud on April 24, 1993.
(Left) Portrait of Watanabe with guest performers Helen Dannenberg and John Woodall in Watanabe's Jo Sui. Je Suis ... as water I am (1995). For this work, John Woodall created the text and video installation, with costumes designed by Sandra Woodall and a commissioned score by Bun-Ching Lam. See below for an excerpt of this work.
(Right) Poster collage for a collaborative performance and Q & A event, Still Moving (1999). Performance was created by dancer/choreographers Watanabe, Frank Shawl, Anna Halprin, and Remy Charlip. The program was produced at Theatre Artaud with a work-in-progress at the Marin Ballet in 1998.
Other renowned collaborators include Leslie Scalapino, Pauline Oliveros, and Anshin Uchida, Intangible Noh Master of Japan. Watanabe worked with them multiple times
Following Watanabe’s fellowship in Japan in the summer of 1993 when she joined a Foreigner’s Seminar of Japanese Art Forms for a month at a shrine north of Kyoto, she was exposed to all the main forms including Noh Drama. In Tokyo, she continued her studies with Anshin Uchida and a collaboration was planned for the future.
Watanabe and Uchida collaborated in California in 1996 on Noh Project I: Deai. The work featured commissioned music by Carl Stone, a hand crafted stage created by John Woodall, costume design by Sandra Woodall, with Don Bondi & Rei Kasama as consultants. For Watanabe, it was critical to maintain the authenticity of the Noh art form while working in a contemporary context of a Western art work, even when integrating the two forms.
In Watanabe’s mind, Noh Project I: Deai addressed the hierarchical nature of Japanese culture, specifically in Noh Theatre where women are not allowed to perform, even if well studied.The first two images feature portraits of Watanabe and Uchida in the 1996 performance commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Japan American Theatre. Workshops were conducted at Mills College, College of Marin, and the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts.
Watanabe and Uchida collaborated again for Noh Project II, 'Can't is 'Night' (2004) conceived and directed by Watanabe. A work in progress version premiered at the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2003 (photo of all collaborators on second row, left) and then premiered at YBCA Forum. The work juxtaposed Leslie Scalapino’s poem against the Afghanistan/Iraq War read live, the ancient Noh Master’a authentic dance and song, improvised music performed and directed by Pauline Oliveros (accordion) and musicians Phil Gelb (shakuhachi), Shoko Hikage (koto), Toyoji Tomita (trombone), with Watanabe’s improvisations. The final version premiered in 2004 (photo second row, right) and featured costumes by Sandra Woodall with lighting and production design by Jose Maria Francos.
Noh Project II, 'Can't is 'Night' is also the final work of June Watanabe in Company.
ABOUT THE JUNE WATANABE PAPERS
The June Watanabe Papers contain documentation highlighting Watanabe's extensive career in dance and the history of her company, June Watanabe Dance Company (1980-1985)/June Watanabe in Company (1985-2006). The papers include administrative documents related to the operation of her company, including but not limited to Board of Directors related documents, grant applications, letters of support, and contracts. There is also extensive information regarding her choreographic works from 1979-2004, including photographs, programs, press materials, and production information. Also included in the collection are a set of notebooks, featuring her thoughts and choreographic notes regarding specific productions. The photographic materials include a rich set of prints, slides, and negatives from noted dance photographers such as Bonnie Kamin, Arne Folkedal, John Murkowski, Gary Sinick, and Marty Sohl, among others.
The collection also contains several original audiovisuals recordings. These include audio tracks used in performances, featuring artists like Douglas Rosenberg and Kirsten Vogelsang. There are also video recordings of multiple June Watanabe Dance Company/June Watanabe in Company performances. The collection also includes a hard drive with preservation master files of several original videos.
The collection also includes original costumes and costume pieces, from visual artists and collaborators such as Ruth Asawa and Sandra Woodall, among others.
To access the finding aid, please click here.
Through California Revealed, a California State Library initiative that helps public libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other heritage groups digitize, preserve, and provide online access to materials documenting the state’s history, art, and cultures, MP+D has been able to digitize and share online selected original recordings featuring some of Watanabe's California-based performances and her oral history, which was recorded as part of the Mills College Faculty Oral History Project in 2006. These recordings are linked in the finding aid and can also be viewed by clicking here.