JUSFC Meet Our Grantees Series: Shinichi Iova-Koga – Dancer

July 13, 2016 

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission is having conversations with a number of grantees.

“The three month journey to Japan strengthened my interests in the traditional arts and I am incorporating some basic principles of tradition into how I think about making work now. I continue to investigate the experience and the forms. It all feels raw and just barely in my grasp. I am still unpacking what those experiences mean to me moving forward.”

Shinichi Iova-Koga studying Nihon Buyo (under Wakayagi Yayoi).

Shinichi Iova-Koga studying Nihon Buyo (under Wakayagi Yayoi).

Dancer, choreographer and director Shinichi Iova-Koga was awarded a Creative Artist Exchange Fellowship in 2012. The Fellowship is funded by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and administered in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

While in Japan, Iova-Koga focused on traditional dance, examining the roots of both the Tadashi Suzuki Method and Butoh dance, which he had trained in extensively in the 1990’s. “In Japan, I practiced a basic Kagura dance, “Tori Mai,” with a history of over a thousand years. Suzuki Hiroshi currently keeps Kagura alive in the Tono community (Iwate prefecture)” explains Iova-Koga, adding that the music and dance of Kagura is connected to the agricultural cycle, dedicated to Kami-sama (Shinto gods).

“The strongest experience I had was performing Kagura in the context of community,” he says. “There’s no sense of classroom. There’s no sense of studying. Only practice and do!” Very few people spoke English in Tono, lova-Koga tells us.  “The experience of being in this rural, farming community made the greatest impact on me personally.”

He also spent a week studying Noh costuming. Performers of Noh use costuming, along with music and  movements to suggest the essence of the story they are telling.  “Today, I have managed to continue practicing Noh theater here in the United States through Theater Nohgaku (connected to the Kita school of Noh) and most recently from Fuji Masayuki (Hosho school of Noh). However, Kagura requires a community context and has slipped out of my ability to practice.  I’ll just have to go back to Japan for that,” Iova-Koga remarks.

When asked to offer advice for future fellowship applicants, Iova-Koga said, “Letters of recommendation were important” and he noted that they took time to obtain. He got recommendations for teachers and contacts through others he knew, demonstrating how important it is for an artist to be connected and in community with others. “I didn’t necessarily study with the people I made contact with initially, but they all somehow led me where I needed to go,” he tells us.

Iova-Koga is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco-based performance company inkBoat, founded in 1998. The company has performed throughout North America, Europe and Japan in theaters and site specific locations.