‘Nisei’ embraces American
sense of unity in spirit

Just when it seems that there is nothing new to say about a popular subject, along comes someone with a fresh perspective on it. The story of the nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) soldiers of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team had been told many times in the 58 years since World War II ended, but the Covenant Dance Theatre's "Nisei," which opened Thursday on Oahu, not only tells the story in dance but offers an unconventional perspective as well.

Choreographer Marla Hirokawa, the daughter of a 100th Battalion veteran, combines ballet and modern dance in bold engaging style throughout the first two-thirds of the piece. She suggests through her choreography that the nisei soldiers were part of the larger war effort and experienced pretty much the same things that other American soldiers did.

One key segment shows Hirokawa's protagonist, The Nisei, training with other soldiers. However, when all the others receive rifles he alone is issued a broom. The Nisei drills diligently with the broom and eventually earns the right to carry a rifle and joins the other soldiers.

Thenext segment shows the American soldiers in combat. The Nisei is one of many figures on stage moving through the gloom and occasional bursts of light, and there is no suggestion that he is doing any more or less than his fellow soldiers in a struggle to survive. Indeed, the lighting for the Hawaii premiere performance of "Nisei" at Leeward Community College was so dark that it was impossible to distinguish The Nisei from the other Americans in the battle scene.

A third memorable scene came earlier as The Nisei and his mother and sisters host a dance party at their home on Dec. 8th. Hirokawa's swing dance choreography was as expansive and interesting to watch as the later blend of ballet and modern moves in the two military segments, and several of her swing dance couples were superb. (Unfortunately, almost all the roles, including The Nisei, were double-cast so it isn't possible to acknowledge the stand-out performers in the Thursday performance.)

Many accounts of the nisei experience emphasize the fact that Japanese-Americans, like African-Americans, served in racially segregated units. Hirokawa focuses instead on the similarities, yet deftly emphasizes the loyalty of the nisei who fought for America despite the prejudice and the concentration camps that awaited their families.

"Nisei" was the finale of a mixed-repertoire revue that also featured five of the company dancers performing "A New York Rhapsody" to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," a one-night guest appearance by the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble, and commentary by writer-actor Lane Nishikawa.

Nishikawa's monologues on the cultural importance of Bruce Lee, and the problems involved in trying to sell Hollywood on making serious films about Asians, were particularly well written and well delivered. All going well, he'll be back sometime soon as an attraction in his own right.


Repeats at Leeward Community College Theatre at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. today. Tickets $15 to $35. Call 947-5702.

On neighbor islands:

>> Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center, 7 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets $15 to $25.

>> University of Hawaii at Hilo Theatre, 7:30 p.m. July 11, and 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. July 12. Tickets $15 to $25.

>> Maui Arts and Cultural Center Castle Theater, 7:30 p.m. July 15. Tickets $15 to $35.

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