Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, February 11, 1999

American Repertory Dance Company
Bonnie Oda Homsey performs "Witch Dance."

Art of the Rebel

Bonnie Oda Homsey believes
in dance with passion
and a message

By Cynthia Oi


AT 47 years old, Bonnie Oda Homsey is well aware that as a dancer, she has just a few more years as a performer, but she doesn't worry about that because she lives in the here and now.

This weekend she'll be here, dancing in her hometown for the first time in 27 years.

Homsey is on the phone, minutes after returning to her Los Feliz, Calif., home from picking up the eldest of three daughters from basketball practice.

"Would you close the door," she calls to someone, "because the washing machine is ... yeah, thank you."

"Whew," she says.

If her life sounds hectic, it's because it is. Homsey is co-founder of the American Repertory Dance Company, with which she will dance in Hawaii, teaches at the University of California Irvine, is guest editor for "Choreography and Dance" magazine, is a wife, and a mom to girls "who are all in puberty!"

Homsey was born and raised in Hawaii, the daughter of Reiko Oda, who for decades taught ballet to island youngsters. With dance already in her blood, Homsey studied with Carl Wolz and Yasuki Sasa at the University of Hawaii, then at the Juilliard School before joining the Ethel Winter Dance Company, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and the famed Martha Graham Dance Company.

All of that is in the past and Homsey thrives in the present. She is passionate about modern dance and bringing it to today's audience.

"Elitism has developed in the arts, making the arts inaccessible," she says, a problem not exclusive to Hawaii or to modern dance.

What ARDC is doing to counter this to "is choose pieces that contain a strong message, pieces created out of some kind of passionate cause or belief in something."

"Modern dance is a relatively new art form, having really only been defined at the turn of the century. But the people who were innovators of modern dance rebelled against the constraints and stereotypes of ballet. They wanted to communicate things more relevant to them -- whether it was about a revolutionary cause or mourning the death of a child. They went outside the box of what existed.

"That's what's so interesting about modern dance -- it remains a very rebellious art form, with contemporary choreographers rebelling against their mentors."

Except for John Pennington, the performers dancing here are in their late 40s. To keep themselves in good form, "we train almost every day. That's part of what we have to do to maintain the strength and continue the level of stamina we need."

Age does take its toll, however. "We have huge aches and pains. But that diminishes in the face of what we love, the passion for the art form."

While some suppleness and flexibility are lost with the years, older dancers have an advantage, she said. "The kind of depth and interpretive nuances that we can bring to these roles now as dancers in our mid- to late-40s is a very different animal than what we tried to conjure up when we were in our 20s."

"That's because we did not know what the experience was, we were imagining it. Now we have lived through it and bring that experience in the way that we are moving our bodies and expressing."

Although she has not lived in Hawaii since she was 17, her ties to the islands remain strong, especially through music and food, she says.

"I listen to Israel, Cazimero Brothers, Kui Lee, Olomana. The music puts me in a different place.

And the food? When she visits Hawaii, she says, "You'll find me eating shave ice, first thing. Then hanging out at Leonard's Bakery."


American Repertory
Dance Company

Bullet In concert: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Bullet Place: Hawaii Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $15, $18, $20, theater box office
Bullet Information: 956-2036
Bullet Also: Free lecture by Bonnie Oda Homsey, "Age, Ethnicity and Gender in the Performing Arts," 7:30 p.m. today, Yukioshi Room, Krauss Hall, University of Hawaii at Manoa

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