Shion Skye Carter and Miya Turnbull perform Omote (面), a dance piece they created and choreographed together in Montreal and Toronto this May. Photo credit: Nanne Springer.
TORONTO — The project Yume. Digital Dreams paired 14 Japanese Canadian artists from across the country and disciplines to create art in the digital space. Produced by Tashme Productions, the project invited artists to launch themselves into the unknown to create something new.
Multi-disciplinary artist Miya Turnbull paired with dance artist and choreographer Shion Skye Carter, and an instant spark ignited between the two. Long after the project ended in May 2022, their collaboration and friendship continues to flourish. This May, they will perform the dance piece they created virtually side-by-side in Montreal and Toronto.
Called Omote (面), Turnbull and Carter perform wearing hand-crafted papier-mâché masks in myriad shapes and facial expressions. The masks become extensions of their bodies and represent an exploration of their identities and experiences as mixed-race Japanese Canadians. Presented through CanAsian Dance’s KickStart program, Omote runs in Montreal in collaboration with Tangente and Festival Accès Asie at Edifice Wilder from May 6 to 9. In Toronto, co-presented with TO Live, Omote runs at Meridian Arts Centre from May 12 to 14.
“I was moving towards more performative and movement-based work, and I knew Shion could just take my work to a whole new plane,” Turnbull tells Nikkei Voice in an interview.
Turnbull is a Yonsei multi-disciplinary visual artist from Halifax who grew up in Alberta. She has created hundreds of masks, which are three-dimensional self-portraits and explorations of her identity and self-image. Recently, Turnbull has expanded her practice to explore photography, videography, and performance.
“I felt an immediate gravitation to Miya, just seeing the possibilities of what the masks could embody and express with choreography,” says Carter.
Carter is an award-winning choreographer and dance artist based in Vancouver, originally from Gifu, Japan. Her choreography employs influences from her Japanese heritage and explores her intersectional identity to process the world around her.
While both artists’ practices differ in form and discipline, they overlap in themes, often exploring the spaces outside defined margins and existing between two cultures. To create Omote, Turnbull and Carter learned from and supported each other through their respective crafts and, as a result, expanded their artistic practices even further. For Turnbull, Omote will be her first performance in front of a live audience. While she has explored movement with her masks through photography and videography, it has been on her own in her studio. Carter guided Turnbull through foundational movement training and writing exercises to create the choreography and prepare for performance.
“The first things we touched on was being mixed and being Japanese Canadian, our experiences growing up, how people responded to us, how we saw ourselves, and how that’s changed over time,” says Turnbull.
As Carter has guided Turnbull through creating choreography, Turnbull has guided Carter through mask-making. Virtually, she taught Carter how to make a bandage cast of her face. Carter carefully packaged up and mailed the cast cross-country for Turnbull to create a plaster mold to make masks of Carter’s face. When the two met up in Halifax, Carter assembled some masks herself.
In the dance piece, Turnbull and Carter reflect on the metaphorical masks they wear throughout their lives. The artists explore how physical attributes, cultural expectations, and ancestral history influence how they present and express themselves to others and the parts of themselves they keep hidden. Turnbull and Carter wear layers of masks, representing the layers of themselves and their ancestors before them. As they shed these layers, they explore what lies beneath and within themselves.
“It’s been amazing to just reflect more on not only myself but how I want to express my ancestry, my heritage, and exist in the space with all of these layers and pieces in performance and on stage,” says Carter.
While they explore the parallels in their experiences as Nikkei, there are also differences. Turnbull is a Sansei-Yonsei whose family experienced wartime uprooting and displacement, the intergenerational impacts still felt today. Carter explores feelings of being othered as a mixed-race person in Japan, then immigrating to Canada as a child and feeling caught between two cultures.
In one part of Omote, they chose three memories based on individual experiences and choreographed movements for each. While based on specific memories for each artist, they are abstract movements, giving audiences the space to make their own interpretations.
Turnbull digs through a pile of masks, pulling one out like a sugar beet out of the ground, recalling her grandparents’ experiences on sugar beet farms. But without being guided to that conclusion, audiences can interpret the action themselves, such as searching for something lost. Anyone could be under the mask.
“I think the magic of the masks and the way that the arch of the piece has been shaped…the work has really become up for interpretation. I think people who see it can let their imagination run wild,” says Turnbull. “I hope [audiences] see something about themselves or the masks they wear in life. Do they need to remove some to get to the core of who they are, or how much do they hide in life? I hope it just triggers a questioning or reflection or looking inward,” says Turnbull.
Creating Omote and participating in projects like Yume. Digital Dreams and later the GEI Art Symposium, which brought Japanese Canadian artists from across the country together in Victoria, fosters a sense of community and belonging for artists. It feels like there has been a shift, an excitement, and want to connect and work together, like this is just the beginning, says Turnbull and Carter.
“I hope that people seeing our project can be excited about all of the endless possibilities that exist with interdisciplinary collaboration, and what happens when we step outside of these kinds of rules and…start blurring the lines that divide artistic disciplines,” says Carter. “Working with other people, you just gain so much perspective and learn so much of how the other person sees the world and how they approach work, and it’s helped me grow and learn so much.”
To learn more about Omote and for tickets, visit www.canasiandance.com.
For more about Miya Turnbull and her art, visit www.miyaturnbull.com.
For more about Shion Skye Carter, visit www.shionskyecarter.com.