In Hot Water: It's Nuclear Catastrophe in the Streets of S.F. for NAKA Dance Theater

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Photo by Kim Anno and Kyung Lee

More than two years have passed since the earthquake and tsunami devastated Fukushima prefecture in Japan, and only last week, The New York Times reported that the radioactive water used to cool the nuclear reactors in Fukushima is accumulating at an alarming rate. The independent writer of Fukushima Diary catalogues phenomena: mutated dandelions, unseasonal cirrocumulus clouds, absent azalea buds.

Jose Navarrete and Debby Kajiyama's Navarrete x Kajiyama Dance Theater, past honorees of Dance Magazine's 25 to Watch, present BAILOUT!, their newest activist interdisciplinary site-specific installation, May 10-12 in and around Dance Mission Theater. BAILOUT! tackles Japan's nuclear disaster from the perspective of our relationship with the oceans. The installation considers what recourse remains to those served by governments that would rather rescue financial institutions than address massive environmental consequences, as well as our complicity in the act of urban living.

Navarrete and Kajiyama have previously created work on genetic modification of crops and diminishing natural resources, as well as the city's transgender and ethnic communities.

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Photo by Kim Anno and Kyung Lee

SF Weekly: Is it important for art to be political?
In our work, we take up themes that feel urgent to us, such as the destruction of the environment and unjust power structures that we have created in our society. If political art is art that tries to challenge injustice, then of course it is absolutely essential for art to be political. We also want our work to be deeply human -- to create relationships and connections with people.

How do you think BAILOUT! will affect the choices people make?
One of the stories that inspired BAILOUT! is this: In the tiny town of Aneyoshi, in Iwate Prefecture, there are stone markers that the ancestors carved a century ago, warning townspeople not to build their homes any closer to the sea. The townspeople heeded the warnings and not a single home was lost to the tsunami.

When we heard this story, we asked ourselves: What kind of markers are we leaving for eternity? Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima ... Is it really such a good idea to create waste that will remain toxic for so long?

We struggle to keep an awareness of long-term thinking. Human beings have short memories. We aren't used to thinking in terms of a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 300 years, let alone 4.5 billion years. The nuclear power plants in the US are aging, and even the ones that have been decommissioned will be toxic for a long, long time. What can we do about this -- either here or abroad? Radiation knows no country boundaries.

How did you approach making this piece? Who are your collaborators on the project?
The seeds for this work were planted back in 2010 when we created a piece about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We considered how our increasingly desperate need for energy, economic profit, combined with human error, is driving us to destroy our own planet. Then in 2011, when Japan's 3/11 disaster happened, we were in the process of making Found and Lost -- a work about finding and losing someone you love. It immediately made us feel so much sympathy for people in 3/11 who have lost people they love.

Once we began creating BAILOUT!, we knew we had to visit the area in person. In 2012, we traveled to Tohoku [Northern Japan] to volunteer in some of the cleanup efforts through Tono Magokoro. We also met with friends living in Minamisoma who have first-hand experience of the nuclear disaster, and who took us to visit their home in Odaka-ku in the exclusion zone. We went to a protest in Tokyo, in front of the Prime Minister's residence. Finally, we visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima to learn about the effects of radiation, and the connections between the nuclear disaster in 1945 and that of 2011. (We could talk forever about our experiences in Japan, so we hope anyone interested will ask us! We are also available for presentations.)

We have taken all this overwhelming information and worked with our collaborators: composer and multi-instrumentalist Adria Otte, performers Kevin O'Connor and Emily Leap, and video artists Ricardo Rivera and Steven Sanchez.

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Photo by Kim Anno

How does this piece build on or respond to your past work?
On March 11, 2011, the day of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we were in the theater presenting ATLACUALO: The Ceasing of Water, which talks about water commodification and plastic pollution. Water is also a part of the themes in BAILOUT! because of the enormity of the tsunami and what it erased, and also because of the critical cooling role water plays in operating a nuclear power plant.

Teddy, the polar bear character who made a cameo appearance in ATLACUALO, will reappear in BAILOUT! with what we hope is a more nuanced presentation thanks to Kevin O'Connor's input and thoughtful comments about the use and misuse of the polar bear's image.

BAILOUT! builds on the past seven years of making art about environmental and social justice. This time, however, half of the performance will take place outside, in the streets at 24th and Mission. It feels appropriate because the "stage" becomes more raw, more messy and gritty. It also means that we don't have to ask people to pay for a ticket and enter a theater. We intervene in a public space and bring the show to them. For the last four weeks, we've been staging pop-up performances at different locations in the Mission. We've had some interesting interactions there from sweet to appreciative to anxious to violent.

Is there a message you hope audience members will get from the piece?
As part of our current investigations, we consider two ideas: the concepts of "eternity" and "being unreasonable." One of the visceral realizations we had when we were in Japan thinking about the nuclear meltdown is the unfathomable expanse of time that must pass before affected areas will become habitable again. A human lifetime is just a blip on the time horizon of eternity, and yet, we are now taking actions that will change the world for the worse for our grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren!

A friend who had to evacuate his home in Minamisoma commented, "I can see no future for us," because he would not be able to return home in his lifetime.

We saw Japanese people marching in the streets protesting the restarting of nuclear power plants and calling for phasing out of nuclear power. We saw women and mothers making their case to politicians. And yet in the recent election, the Japanese people elected Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister, someone who will likely reverse decisions that have been made to phase out nuclear power. We wonder how "unreasonable" citizens must be (in Japan or elsewhere) in order to effect change. How does the average person make their voice heard? And what is the role of artists in "being unreasonable" or dreaming up alternative scenarios.

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Photo by Kim Anno and Kyung Lee

I love the underwater images you have on your website. How are these underwater scenes going to work?
I love the photos too. Kim Anno and Kyung Lee are responsible for those. There will be images of water and actual water in the show, but we won't be asking the audience to submerge themselves.

Can you tell me a little more about what audience members can expect to experience?
The first half of the performance will take place outside, at several locations near Dance Mission, so audience should dress warmly and be prepared to move around. The second half of the show takes place in Dance Mission Theater, but we try to retain some of the rawness in the theater, bringing the inside outside and the outside in.


Navarrete x Kajiyama Dance Theater presents BAILOUT!, May 10-12 at 8 p.m. at Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., S.F. Pay what you can at the door; reserve advance tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/348766.

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