Innovative New Performances of Three Ancient Japanese Art Forms

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A koto player plucks sounds from the air using a laser interface and musical techniques developed over the course of 1,300 years; a dancer melds the elegant movements of ancient warriors with ballet; and a calligrapher employs centuries-old practices to reveal a new language hidden within our electronic communications. Borrowed Light, a presentation at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City, features three performances by classically-trained female artists of Japanese heritage (Miya Masoaka, Shoko Tamai, and Miyu Tamamura) who work at the cutting edge of innovation and experimentation. 

Borrowed Light will be performed on November 10th and 11th. Read on to learn more about the artists and the program.

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Shoko Tamai

Shoko Tamai is an internationally-renowned dancer and choreographer who founded the Ninja Ballet dance company in 2016. Tamai began her classical ballet training at the age of two and has since toured with The Central School of Ballet (London, UK), The American Academy of Ballet (NYC, USA), The Paris Opera (France) and The Madrid Ballet School (Spain). She has performed at notable venues included London’s Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and The Theatre Royal in Glasgow.

A meeting with Jamie HJ Guan, a famed martial arts instructor with the Beijing Opera, led to Tamai’s passion for martial arts. After studying Shaolin with the Beijing Opera for two years Tamai went on to study Eskrima, Kali, Silat, Karate, Ninjutsu, and Kenjutsu. She also studied fencing techniques in the UK.

Ninja Ballet’s performances fuse the elegance of classical ballet with traditional martial arts techniques and thrilling fight choreography.

Tamai has pioneered a new genre in which Swan Lake meets the Matrix. For Borrowed Light, she has choreographed a performance that explores the concept of strength through invisibility.


Miya Masaoka

Miya Masaoka is a composer, sound artist, and classically trained musician who holds degrees in both Western and Eastern music. Masaoka’s virtuosic approach to the koto has evolved over two decades. She studied at the Chikushi and Sawai Koto Schools, where she became a master of traditional koto performance. Over the years, she gradually developed her own approach to koto technique and vocabulary. Her desire to push the boundaries of the instrument in innovative directions stems in part from an interest in "aural gesturalism," a term she coined that refers to a physical act performed with a musical intention, yet without sound. The unique “non-sonic” hand gestures that accompany classical koto playing led Masaoka to expand the realm of the instrument. Her proprietary creation, the Laser Koto, enables her to interweave acoustic and processed koto sounds generated in real time. 

Here’s a video of a koto performance by Masaoka:

“My odyssey with the koto has led me to break venerable cultural traditions, touching on points of controversy musically, aesthetically, and politically,” says Masaoka. “As a composer concerned with new sounds, contexts, structures and realities, I have no choice but to construct my own musical reality. In traditional Japanese music the emphasis is on refinement rather than creativity, emulation of one’s teacher rather than developing a personal style. As such, traditional music represents a culture, a way of life of a collective people emanating from a particular location in history and geography. A contemporary composer, however, is required to grapple with both tradition and innovation, Western or otherwise, and the finished oeuvre is primarily that of an individual.”

Miyu Tamamura & Anne Patsch

Miyu Tamamura is a native of Kyoto who has practiced Sho, Japanese calligraphy, for decades. Her passion for calligraphy and the healing arts has lead to public art performances where audiencesexperience the power of creation in action. Anne Patsch is a New York based curator and artist.  Her practice revolves around seeking out subtle or invisible phenomena around us.

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In Tamamura and Patsch’s collaborative performance, ‘Invisible Language’, Sho calligraphy is used to emulate the movement patterns of fingers as they type common text messages. When Tamamura moves her brush to map the movements of thumbs texting specific phrases, complex and compelling kanji-like symbols emerge. These symbols are part of a hidden language we have all learned, and every day we increase our fluency as we pick up our phones and our fingers glide from key to key.

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Patsch and Tamaura selected common words that could be transformed, through mobile texting and Sho calligraphy, into complex and compelling kanji-like symbols. Patsch created a video in which texting fingers create simulated calligraphy on a mobile phone. As the video comes to an end, it rests on one final 'text' symbol remains on the screen. Tamamura plays the singing bowls to create a unified energy in the space; then she paints the symbol using Sho techniques.

By revealing an unconscious process that accompanies digital communication, the artists hope for the work to serve as a representation of conscious communication, and mindful engagement with technology.

Borrowed Light: Innovation in Ancient Arts will be performed on November 10th and 11th at 7 pm. The event is hosted by the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, at 236 East 3rd Street, NYC.

The program is curated by Anne Patsch, and made possible with support from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. A subsequent exhibit of work created during these performances will take place at the Wild Project.

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Tickets for 11/10:
Tickets for 11/11:
The Nuyorican Poets Cafe is located at 236 East 3rd Street, in Manhattan’s East Village.

The Wild Project is located at 195 E 3rd Street in Manhattan.

Borrowed Light is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (info: 

Daniel Gallant