|"War is like having a
sick child," says Choreographer Yoshiko Chuma, headmistress of the modernist
dance collaborative known as The School of Hard Knocks, adding, "you either
keep doing your job or not." She did her job when she and The School of Hard
Knocks traveled to Sarajevo in 1999 to perform at the MESS Sarajevo International
Theatre Festival in Bosnia with a piece called "Footprints of War."
The show went on, but getting the set back from Sarajevo, in time for an engagement
at the Joyce, was a drama in itself: a 2½ month administrator's nightmare
of mis-communications, frayed emotions, botched promises, excuses and cultural
The mountains of emails
and correspondence relating to this set became the starting point of the script
for "PI = 3.14: Hiroshima-New York-Belgrade-New York-Sarajevo-New York-Kabul."
The math part of the title stands for "endless, continuous circles of life
and war," according to Chuma. The resulting production turned into a spoken
and choreographed work that deals with large issues of war, displacement, and
the parallels between Chuma's youth in postwar Japan and the lives of the performers,
who have all had wartime experiences of their own. They include Tea Alagic,
an expatriate artist from the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivan
Talijancic, a Croatian-born actor, Jim DiBiasio, an American actor who has
lived through three wars, and Wazma Osman, a 27 year-old Afghan woman who walked
over the Pakistani border to freedom in 1980, yet returned in 1999 and met
Taliban repression face-to-face. Chuma wants to bring out the parallels between
hers and each person's story--between 1945 Japan, 1995 Sarajevo and 2002 Kabul.
The texts and movement
are all staged in a set with a "store window" motif which resembles
a radio show going on behind a large sheet of plate glass. On stage there are
two video monitors and eight black chairs. The texts are rendered like a chat
room with movement. The performers interact, but not directly: more like you
would in a radio show. Interspersed are '30s and '40s newsreel tracks--they
make the icy cool pastel surroundings atmospheric and evoke parallels to time
and history passing. The show was workshopped last May at Dixon Place, but
with a different cast except for Chuma and Jim DiBiasio. The flavor of the
piece may be recognizable from the workshop; other than that, it's completely
The School of Hard Knocks,
founded in 1984, is a collaborative effort of choreographers, dancers, actors,
singers, musicians, designers, and visual artists working under the Artistic
Direction of Yoshiko Chuma. The company has created and performed original
works in the US, Europe and in Asia, continuing to expand The School of Hard
"pipeline." Over the course of the company's history, more than 1,000
people have performed under Chuma's direction in situations ranging from theatrical
dance concerts to street performances, parades, and large-scale spectacles.
Chuma was born in Osaka, Japan and has lived and worked in the United
States since 1978. Chuma has created more than 45 full-length company works,
and as commissions and site-specific events for venues across the world. Her
work has been presented in New York in venues ranging from the Joyce Theater
to the legendary annual Halloween Parade; and abroad in such varied locations
as the formal National Theater of Sarajevo, to the perimeter of the Hong Kong
harbor to an ancient ruin in Macedonia. She is comfortable creating work in
nearly any environment that challenges perceptions of performance to both audience
and participant. Ms. Chuma is the recipient of several fellowships and awards
for choreography and career work from: John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, NEA,
NYFA, Japan Foundation, Meet the Composer Choreographer/Composer Commission,
Philip Morris New Works, and received a 1984 BESSIE award for choreography
and creation. She has led workshops and master classes in East and West Europe,
Asia, Russia and the U.S. In 1992 at La MaMa, she choreographed "Jo Ha
Ku," a work performed to a score by Tan Dun. In 1997, she was choreographer
of "Golem" by Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater, which had
music composed, aranged and directed by Frank London (The Klezmatics) and following
its La MaMa debut, was subsequently featured in the 1998 Jim Henson International
Festival of Puppet Theater.
"PI = 3.14..."
is conceived and directed by Yoshiko Chuma. The text is by Yoshiko Chuma, Bonnie
Sue Stein and the Company.
The production is funded in part, by New York State Council on the Arts/ Dance
Program, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, and Phillip Morris Companies Inc.
MESS Festival Sarajevo