Sometimes you need to move halfway around the world to figure out who you are. Queer choreographers Hiroshi Miyamoto and Navtej Johar both immigrated to North America from Asia, and the experience taught them a lot about their cultures back home.
“When I was growing up in Tokyo, I didn’t realize that I think or act in a ‘Japanese’ way,” Miyamoto says. “Moving to Canada in my early 20s was the first time I was exposed to other cultures and ways of thinking. I realized that all of these things I had thought of as normal and universal were actually culturally specific to where I came from.”
“I love being here in North America, and I’ve grown to appreciate a lot of things about it,” Johar adds. “Although I live in the US, I travel back to India quite often, and this has allowed me to appreciate and objectively examine both cultures better.”
The experience of being an immigrant of Asian descent in North America is a central focus of Mango Cherry Mix, the dance piece they created together, which is being presented in Toronto by inDANCE.
Blending traditional Japanese and Indian dance with Western technique and physical theatre, the piece explores male-male relationships, but shies away from clear definitions.
“You could read the relationship we present in the piece as a romantic thing, but it could also be taken as father-son or teacher-student,” Miyamoto says. “It’s really up to the audience how they want to interpret it.”
Johar and Miyamoto first met in the summer of 2006. Miyamoto was planning to work with inDANCE artistic director Hari Krishnan on a project, but Krishnan wanted him to have more formal training in classical Indian technique, so he put him on a plane to England to attend a workshop. Johar just happened to be the instructor, and the two immediately clicked.
“Hiroshi had this quiet, Zen-like quality that I found very appealing,” Johar says. “I wanted to work with him and proposed that we collaborate on something. It has turned out to be one of the smoothest processes I’ve ever done.”
“Because I had never collaborated with another choreographer on such a large piece, I thought it might be very challenging,” Miyamoto adds. “Our ways of creation are very different, but the process actually wasn’t that challenging at all.”
From the beginning, the two wanted to blend their different dance and cultural backgrounds, as indicated by the title of the work: mango being an obvious reference to India, while cherries are synonymous with Japan. Before they started creating movement, however, they first wanted to find some common ground.
“We just went into the studio and started talking about life,” Miyamoto says. “We had the common experience of being born in Asia and moving to North America, so that seemed like a logical starting point for the work.”
“It was a very considered choice on my part to work with someone who was Asian but not Indian,” Johar adds. “I knew I wanted to collaborate with someone who was from a different culture. There is automatically a very loaded dynamic when you put an Indian person and a white person on-stage together, so I had to be very specific about the person I wanted to work with.”
The piece had its premiere in India in the spring of 2009 and was presented in Montreal again later that year. After more than a year off, the two artists have come back together for the Toronto premiere.
“Even in a city as ethnically diverse as Toronto, it’s a rare experience to see two Asian men in a piece together,” Miyamoto says. “An Asian guy and a white guy for sure, but this is something you don’t see very often.”
Mango Cherry Mix
presented by inDANCE
Winchester Street Theatre
80 Winchester St
Aug 14 & 15, 8pm