Michael Sakamoto’s ‘Soil’

Waewdao Sirisook (from left), Chey Chankethya and Nguyen Nguyen are the performers in “Soil,” a full-length, intercultural dance theater work directed, co-written and co-choreographed by Michael Sakamoto. Performance is 7:30 p.m. tonight in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets range from $35 to $45 (plus applicable fees) with a 10 percent discount for MACC members and half-price for kids 12 and under. To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org. • Photo courtesy the MACC

Michael Sakamoto is an artist and teacher active in dance, theater and photography. His works have been presented in 14 countries throughout Asia, Europe and North America. His latest production, “Soil,” is currently on tour and will be presented at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.

Referencing political conflict, colonialism, war, refugees and immigration, “Soil” features various dance forms and styles such as Western contemporary, Cambodian classical, northern Thai traditional and folk, and butoh — a Japanese dance-theater style which displays extreme visual images. The score by Japanese koto and guitar duo Reiko Imanishi and Sinichi Isohata adds to the intimacy of each cultural story created through personal narratives of its three collaborators and performers: Cambodian dancer Chey Chankethya, Thai dancer Waewdao Sirisook and Vietnamese-American dancer, Nguyen Nguyen.

I asked Sakamoto how “Soil” came about.

“A few years ago, I created an autobiographical solo dance entitled ‘Soil,’ referring to the ground, the earth, where we each come from — physically, culturally, psychologically and emotionally,” began Sakamoto. “I enjoyed the piece, but when I decided I wanted to work with Kethya (Chankethya), who comes from Cambodia — where the legacy of their civil war resulted in the killing fields and, as yet, millions of unexploded land mines — I stole the title from myself for that project.

“I then further realized that I was interested in doing a women’s piece, something that I wanted to challenge myself to do, and Waewdao, who was already a friend and colleague of Kethya’s, agreed to step into my place.

Eden Parente (from left), Chance Harmon, Miley Kelley, Vienna Phillips and Audrey Heinlein are just-hatched baby ducklings in Maui Youth Theater’s production of “Honk! Jr.,” which ends its run on Sunday. • Jack Grace photo

“Then Nguyen, who we all knew, kept asking about the piece out of curiosity, and I suddenly realized that the combination of Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian performers with an Asian-American director could make for a potent combination, and the full project was born,” he explained.

Sakamoto explained how colonialism shaped these cultures and “Soil.”

“America obviously has a very fraught history with the whole of Southeast Asia, but especially these countries. During the Vietnam War, which is known as the American War in Vietnam, the USA used the whole of Thailand as a military staging area; and there was the secret bombing of Cambodia, which further destabilized an already fractious nation, and contributed to their civil war,” said Sakamoto. “Vietnam was a French Colony and the French, British, Japanese and Americans colonized, occupied or controlled parts of each of these countries and kingdoms since the 19th century. The resulting sense of foreignness and negotiated power and desire is still rife in each society, and each character in the piece deals with that legacy in their body,” he continued.

I suggested to Sakamoto that music and dance do not require the understanding of language, and that this was a luxury for dance artists.

“You’re right, it is a luxury,” he replied. “I think we all love this as well, and I hope we can communicate this to the audience.”

“Soil” is, however, a dance theater piece with monologues presented by each performer in multiple languages.

“There are lots of scenes with live dialogue throughout the show, mostly in English, but a lot in each person’s native language as well,” said Sakamoto. “We wanted to allow not only for that authenticity, but also give the audience the feeling that foreigners feel when they arrive in America, not understanding anything, and seeing everyone and everything as different and inscrutable.”

“Soil” is a homecoming, of sorts, for Sakamoto as his grandfather was born in Wailuku.

“My grandfather grew up in Wailuku, but like many an island boy, he dreamed of getting off the island. He wanted to be a merchant marine, so he ran away to Oahu when he was 15, and later sailed away and ended up in California.

“He spent the Depression alternating between being a farm worker and working on ships. His boat was in the Panama Canal on Dec. 7, so of course they threw all the ‘Buddha-heads’ in the brig. He then spent the next four months in jail, getting released just in time to get sent to the concentration camp in Manzanar (located in Southern California’s Owens Valley). With that kind of history, and given the postcolonial nature of both Hawaii and our show, presenting ‘Soil’ in Maui is a pretty emotional package for me, to say the least,” he expressed.

I asked Sakamoto why Maui audiences should see this one-night-only performance.

” ‘Soil’ is really designed for general audiences to connect with on a gut level. There’s a heavy sense of spirituality, family and nation in the show as well as super personal vulnerability. We want to connect with everyone, and show that the differences between us are not our undoing but rather our strength.”

Also this week

Maui OnStage Youth Theater continues “Honk! Jr.,” by Anthony Drewe and George Styles, directed by Jessica Nelson.

The one-hour musical-comedy stars more than two dozen children between the ages of 7 and 14. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling,” “Honk! Jr.” tells the story of an odd-looking baby duck.

Ugly (Rylnn Guthrie) looks quite a bit different from his duckling brothers and sisters (Chance Harmon, Audrey Heinlein, Miley Kelley, Eden Parente and Vienna Phillips), and the other farm animals are quick to point this out.

In Ugly’s self-discovery adventure he is tracked by a very hungry Cat (Madison Cordeiro), rescued by Greylag (Makai Neustein) and his flock of geese and reassured by a comical and supportive Frog (Kanoa Goring), discovering that being different is not a bad thing to be.

* Performances are at 11 a.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

Upcoming

King Kekaulike High School presents William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Chris Kepler.

* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 2 through 10 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11 at the King Kekaulike Performing Arts Center on the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students, and are available at the door 30 minutes before showtime. For more information visit www.kingkekaulike.com.

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Seabury Hall Performing Arts opens its season with the musical classic, “Anything Goes,” music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, directed by David Ward.

This 1930s Broadway standard features many of Porter’s most famous songs including “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Let’s Misbehave” and the title track.

* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, opening Nov. 10 through 17 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $8 for students (with $2 discounts applied if purchased in advance). For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.seaburyhall.org.

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Baldwin Theatre Guild presents “The Bully Plays,” directed by Linda Carnevale. This anthology of 10-minute plays was commissioned in 2015 in response to the growing epidemic of bullying and its sometimes tragic results.

Described as touching, imaginative, powerful, uplifting and funny, the collection, specifically crafted for youth theater, is intended to challenge, inspire and enlighten both teens and audiences as an aid in confronting the issue of bullying in a constructive and creative way.

* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays Nov. 9 through 18 at the Loudon Mini-Theatre on the H.P. Baldwin High School campus in Wailuku. Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for students and $3 for children aged 10 and younger, and are available at the box office 45 minutes before showtime. To reserve tickets, call 727-3297.

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