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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, August 3, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Kai Andersen, left, and Cora Yamagata of the Blue
Water Dance Company rehearse for this weekend's

Spiritual feat

A dancer's dream
becomes reality with
Bluewater Dance Company

By Nadine Kam

FOR four years Debra T. Yamaki has led a double life. On weekdays she spends time stretching tired limbs, caressing aching soles and kneading taut muscles, hands on skin as a massage therapist. On weekends she glides, crawls and whirls solo around a studio of exposed stone and mortar.

Missing from her latter experience as a modern dancer was contact, the act of connecting another human being.

That will change tomorrow and Saturday when Yamaki emerges from her studio with her fledgling Bluewater Dance Company for two performances of "Spirit Dancing" at St. Andrew's Cathedral's Tenney Theatre.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
John Wat and Debra T. Yamaki rehearse.

"I needed to share my work so I just decided to put it on," said Yamaki of the concert she is financing with savings from her other career.

"Frankly, I don't know how much this is going to cost me but I don't travel a lot, I don't have an extravagant life," she said. "But I have to work harder at my massage practice because of this."

The 90-minute concerts explore spirituality, death and transformation through serious and humorous pieces, including an excerpt from New York-based Sundance Company's "Chapter of Coming Forth by Day," based on the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Featured will be Kai Andersen, Fay Ann Chun, Lou Ann Guanson, John H.Y. Wat, Cora Yamagata, Malia

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
John Wat and Debra Yamaki rehearse a piece called
"Home to the Water."

Yamamoto and Yamaki, who choreographed most of the works.

Earlier this summer she hand-picked the members of her troupe, based on their performances elsewhere and a little detective work to learn about their

work styles and attitudes, but knowing that this might be their only performance together.

"It's very hard to keep a company in Hawaii, even for a short time because there's not enough work for them. A lot of the best young dancers tend to leave here to look for opportunities."


In yet another life, Yamaki, who grew up in Waipahu, was one of those dancers. Having earned her master's degree in dance from New York University, she stayed to become a member of both the Sundance Company and Greenhouse Dance Ensemble.

After eight years, she grew tired of rehearsing six days a week while working part-time jobs and barely scraping by.

"To be a dancer you have to be highly motivated. I couldn't live that lifestyle anymore. It was hard to be that poor and exhausted all the time," she said, even though money has never been her motivation.

In trying to find herself, she attended a healing service and that led to massage school, assuring a career beyond dance when she returned to Hawaii in 1989. "To come back as a modern dancer would not have been a wise thing to do and I wanted to be wise," she said.

Nevertheless, she was not through with dance. She revisited her former teachers, Fritz Ludin and Betty Jones of Dances We Dance, Inc., and she started teaching at Moiliili Community Center.

Trained in both the José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, she began using her knowledge to create movement combinations to teach her students, and said, "It started to seem like I was creating a dance. It started coming together, and it was, yes, I need to do this again."

Her study of anatomy through massage gave her a better understanding of the body and she says she can now see alignment much better. Plus, with one-on-one training with Ludin and Jones, she said her technique has improved since her days in New York.

Her first piece, "Playing in God's Field," was inspired by a piece of music by Acoustic Alchemy.

The work comprises three sections, the first a playful romp featuring five dancers, which Yamaki has since pared to three. After toiling a long time on the first segment, "Preparing the Way," the second section, a solo "Awakening" -- in which Yamaki moves slowly, using her hands to conceal and reveal her being -- took shape quickly.

"I called on of my former teachers and he said, 'The good ones are like that.' So I said, 'OK, I guess I'll keep that.' It's still a little scary because it's slow in the beginning."

Although Yamaki was exposed to the choreography process through her collaborative work with Sundance, she had no ambition beyond interpreting others' work.

In presenting "Spirit Dancing" she revisits "Sky Goddess and Earth God," with the goddess role created for her by J. Alan Lynes in 1979. But this time around, Cora Yamagata will be dancing her role.

"We ended up learning it together because I hadn't performed it in a long time," Yamaki said. "The more we rehearsed, the more I remembered, and there was this little longing initially, where I thought, 'Oh, maybe I could do it,' " Yamaki said.

"But as I watched her do it, the more I felt I could give it away. I got excited in that way. My challenge then became: can I give her enough so she could make it beautiful inside and out?"

In any work, Yamaki said, "It's easy to be really pretty or really funny, but to put out the emotion in the piece and make it work is hard."

In the work, the Sky Goddess visits the four corners of the heavens, conjuring planet rings, rain, shooting stars and exercising the power of thunder and lightning. It represents just one segment of Sundance Company's "Chapter of Coming Forth by Day," based the Egyptian tale of Osiris, who dies and must pass through seven gates to be resurrected.

Although Yamaki would like to keep Bluewater going after the concert, she doesn't know if it's possible.

"I haven't established nonprofit status and I don't have funding, but dance is important and there is not a whole lot of modern dance here, so I hope to keep this voice open."

On stage

Bullet What: Bluewater Dance Company presents "Spirit Dancing"
Bullet When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Bullet Where: Tenney Theatre, St. Andrew's Cathedral
Bullet Tickets: $12
Bullet Call: 524-8483

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