Written and performed by Calgary-based Kunji Ikeda, Sansei: The Storyteller examines one of Canada’s darkest moments. On Dec. 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor in the U.S. triggered the internment and dispossession of tens of thousands of Japanese Canadians living along Canada’s west coast, including members of Ikeda’s family.
Through an engaging blend of dance, spoken word, historical audio, family interviews and unexpected humour, Ikeda weaves an illuminating tale that is profoundly personal. Sansei: The Storyteller offers Ikeda’s observations about the internment, his discovery of where he came from, and how his family navigated their histories.
“I like to think of it as the most fun you’ll ever have learning about the Japanese internment,” asserts Ikeda. “With such a dark topic, I knew I wanted to include some lightness, some fun, some laughter.”
He explains that stories are powerful magic; the quickest way to respect. Ikeda cleverly breaks down the etymology of “re” to mean repeat (redo, rethink, reuse) and ‘spect’ as connected to ideas of sight (spectacles, spectate, spectacular).
“When you offer someone respect, you are seeing them in another light. This is what Sansei offers; a light-hearted opportunity to see someone in a new light,” he said. “Similarly, this definition gives us a sense of empowerment to allow others to ‘re-spect’ us by offering up different views of ourselves.”
Through his training in dance and theatre, Ikeda developed a unique methodology combining story, imagination and choreography that led to him being named 2015’s Emerging Artist of the Year by Calgary Arts Development Authority, as well as named an artist in residence at the Banff Centre 2019.
Through the Paris-based L’AiR Arts, Ikeda became a member of an ongoing international cohort of interdisciplinary artists with the intention of empowering artists as point people in cross-cultural dialogue to fuel the evolution of culture, politics and society. His award-winning solo performance Sansei: The Storyteller continues to be presented internationally.
A 30-minute post-show panel discussion will be led by well-known islander Kisae Petersen, with Ikeda, Keiko Mary Murakami-Kitagawa,Tosh Kitagawa and author Brian Smallshaw giving audiences first-hand accounts about family experiences and history.
“My own interest and connection is as a woman of Japanese descent whose family was also interned by the government,” said Petersen. “I’m looking forward to the performance and subsequent discussion that will also consider the experiences of Japanese Canadians who lived here on Salt Spring Island. It’s important to remember the way our community was treated during the war and the legacy that continues to this day.”
“At ArtSpring, we see art as a springboard to explore the human condition and social themes, spark conversation and look at challenging issues from new perspectives,” explains Howard Jang, executive and artistic director. “In this way, art has the power to impact communities and inspire change and healing. We are proud to offer the Sansei performance and the panel as a platform to do this.”
While it may be the story of one of Canada’s darkest decisions, it unwraps how – with help from the audience – the story of racism doesn’t need to end in hate.
Ikeda will be leading a workshop for GISS theatre students the day before he takes to the stage on Wednesday, May 3 at 7:30. Tickets are on sale through ArtSpring.
Thank you to Mouat’s Clothing Co. for sponsoring this performance and panel talk.