By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Local dancer and choreographer Gabrielle Nomura Gainor claims Japanese, Filipino, and Caucasian blood. But they drew on their Japanese heritage for their newest project—a dance, and a short dance film, commemorating the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States on Aug. 6, 1945.
“When America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, one of my great-great uncles was killed. When this unthinkable act of destruction happened, I had other relatives who had been languishing in American concentration camps on the other side of the world for the past few years. Growing up, I felt profoundly impacted by the events of World War II—even though I was growing up decades later.
“Growing up, I was harassed and targeted in school for being Asian. These experiences brought into sharper focus the ways that my own Asian family members have experienced injustice. In many ways, the art I create is impacted by my Japanese American family’s wartime incarceration during World War II, as well as the cycles of abuse and colonization on my Filipino side. Through dance, I let the pain move through me and create stories that I hope will make my elders and ancestors proud.”
Gainor grew up in Seattle, living mostly in the University District, South Park, and the “beautiful, diverse” White Center, where they live today, rehearsing with dancers in their garage.
College took Gainor to Western Washington University in Bellingham.
“Having grown up studying classical ballet, and dancing as many as 20 hours a week in high school, I added journalism to my repertoire in college.
“I have always been drawn to dance because of my love for telling stories, so journalism was a natural fit. Dance is an art form that helps me connect to my body and natural instincts—which are needed to create an authentic and emotional connection with the audience. Journalism helped me hone and edit the arc of a story, a skill I also use in choreography.”
The new piece, “Sadako and the Cranes,” takes place at Seattle’s Peace Park. A young Japanese American girl is at the Peace Park in Seattle looking at the statue of Sadako Sasaki holding origami cranes.
The girl’s mother explains that Sadako was a young girl who lived through the Hiroshima bombing. She folded 1,000 paper cranes in the name of peace before her death, from leukemia brought on by radiation sickness, in 1955. Then the living spirit of Sadako emerges, and her paper cranes come alive alongside her. Portrayed by the dancers, those swirling figures deliver a message of peace and inspiration.
Gainor prepared the dance film in cooperation with Trial & Error Productions, who financed it, and the Hiroshima to Hope organization, dedicated to education for peace, non-violent conflict resolution, and nuclear disarmament.
One of the biggest challenges of the process was shooting on location at the Peace Park, a frequent spot for joggers, which sits right next to the north end of the University Bridge, and along several busy roads. Trial & Error assisted with all the necessary permits, and brought in volunteers to redirect foot traffic for scenes that involved dancing on the sidewalk.
Sadako is portrayed by Ayako Shapiro. Her cranes are Gainor herself, Sarah Baker, Hailey Bortel, Megan Felise, Fumi Murakami, Truong Nguyen, and Kaylyn Ready. Gabrielle’s daughter, Kiyomi, age 5, is also a featured performer.
“Kiyomi to me represents the next generation to carry Sadako’s message of peace into the future,” said Gainor. “At the end of the movie, she and Sadako place a lantern into Green Lake, just like [the ritual] at Hiroshima to Hope.
“I told Kiyo that the point of this dance is to convey an important message about our desire to not have no war or violence in the world. And she responded by chanting, ‘No war! Protect children! Do better, grown-ups!’”
The short film, “Sadako and the Cranes,” is available to watch at youtube.com/watch?v=es3FmLxcCsA.
Gabrielle Nomura Gainor’s dancers will perform a modified version of the piece at the annual Hiroshima to Hope gathering, on Aug. 6 at Green Lake. For more details, visit fromhiroshimatohope.org.