A humanistic and metaphorical journey, Susuriwka – willow bridge is a homage to land and spirit. It is a dance work that explores inter-connection, sacredness, loss and revitalization. In post-environmental disaster, a couple and community attempts to pull together their fractured lives and homeland. In this crisis, a grief too strong separates the couple and only in death can they re-connect, bridging the cosmos on a willow bridge. Susuriwka – willow bridge aims to remind us to awaken spirit in everyday life – even in the face of hardship and environmental catastrophe.
“Susuriwka” meaning “willow bridge” in the Ainu language, symbolizes the interconnecting bridges between man and woman, real and spirit world, countries and Indigenous peoples. Beautiful in its simplicity, sinuous bodies transform the stage, calling on the spirit of land, animals and ancestors.
The score features OKI’s Ainu rhythms, Tonkori and singing group Marewrew, mixed with the indigenous roots style of Canadian musicians: Juno-award winning Derek Miller, Faron Johns and cellist Cris Derksen. Dance interpreters bring to life the music and Smith’s earth-bound, athletic, choreographic language. Inspiration for the work emanates from nature’s patterning, such as curvilinear floral designs, what the Ainu referred to as “turn gracefully” and the willow tree, as well as, traditional Ainu and First Nations dance.
In 2009, KDT was invited to perform in Japan as a part of the Yokohama Arts Foundation’s, “Dances of the Earth”. While in Japan, Artistic Director Smith engaged in cultural exchange and research with Ainu youth through dance/song workshops in Yokohama, visited Hokkaido the territory of the Ainu, and started to develop artistic vision for this collaborative work. In partnership with the Yokohama Arts Foundation (Yokohama Noh Theatre Department), the creation of a new dance work began with development of music in spring 2010 when Santee visited Ainu Dub musician, OKI, at his home in Hokkaido.
Collaboration continued throughout 2010 and in February 2011, artists gathered in Yokohama for a three-week residency that culminated in a 40-minute performance of Susuriwka – willow bridge at Landmark Hall as a part of the Tokyo Performing Arts Market in Yokohama, Japan. Setting cultural precedent in Japan, Susurikwa – willow bridge acknowledged contemporary Ainu artists and expression on the main stage.
It was KDT and Yokohama Noh Theatre’s intention to continue to develop Susuriwka – willow bridge into a full-evening production to tour in 2011. Unfortunately, due to the devastating Japan earthquake, the project was postponed.
In 2012, the work was invited for a residency process as a part of Harbourfront Centre’s Planet IndigenUS Festival. OKI and Santee continued their collaboration in March at Jukasa Recording Studios on Six Nations of the Grand River focusing on the expansion of the musical score with local Iroquoian musicians. The North American premiere features additional and re-envisioned music and dance, new design elements: costuming, props and set pieces.
Yokohama Noh Theatre and Harbourfront Centre’s Planet IndigenUS Festival 2012
Artistic Director/Choreographer/Design/Interpreter: Santee Smith
Additional Composition: Cris Derksen, Derek Miller
Interpreters: Mami Hata, Emily Law, Ceinwen Gobert, Masashi Koyama, Robert Halley, and Yuichiro Inoue
Recorded Singers: Marewrew (Japan), George Buck, Faron Johns
Costume/Set Design: Mitsushi Yanaihara (Japan)
Additional Costume Design: Elaine Redding
Lighting Design: Akiyo Kushida (Japan) and Alaina Perttula
Original Design Assistants: Sayo Ogasawara (Japan), Shogo Yoshino (Japan)
Production Stage Manager: Jennifer Erin Lee
Assistant Stage Manager: Lindy Kinoshameg
Tree Design and consult: Duncan Morgan
Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, Woodland Cultural Centre, Harbourfront Centre, Planet IndigenUS, Yokohama Arts Foundation, Japan Arts Fund, Mitsubishi Estate, LTD.