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Toronto Artist Noriko Yamamoto: Artistry in Motion - Part 2

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How did your relationship with ‘Silent Storytelling’ begin?

When I first came here, I performed a modern mime theatre piece that I created for the Toronto Fringe Festival. A member of the Toronto Storytelling Festival’s programming committee saw my show. She was so in tune with me and my ‘story.’

We spoke afterwards and she invited me to tell at the next storytelling festival at Harbourfront Centre. I told her that I wasn’t a storyteller, but she convinced me that I was. Later, she told me about a story that she thought would be perfect for me to ‘translate’ to movement. Once the translation was completed, I decided to name this type of movement-based telling Silent Storytelling. It’s telling without the use of words, and instead combines non-verbal forms of communication, like mime and dance, choreographed to music, to tell literary stories.

After the festival, I became a member of the Storytellers School of Toronto and performed at storytelling festivals from the Yukon to Newfoundland, as well as at schools and other venues.


Excerpts from The Funny Little Woman (Silent Storytelling) at 2003 Atlin Arts & Music Festival, Globe Theatre, Atlin, BC; July 2003. Video by gki.

What kind of art community did you find here?

Two months after I arrived in Toronto, I auditioned for a small theatre show. Both the director and the producer of this show had similar roles with First Night Toronto, so I ended up performing at four of these New Year’s Eve events. 

I also did some promos for them, once of which was at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), which turned into two years of performing my Mime, Magic & Bubbles Show, plus strolling on stilts, for this annual exhibition.

I was also fortunate enough to have the programming director for the Toronto Public Library system at one of my CNE shows. He signed me up on the spot and this led to many Silent Storytelling performances at the various branches over the years.


Mime, Magic & Bubble Show (clown) at the former Children’s Own Museum at the McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto. Summer 2000. Video by gki.

What is your involvement with the Katari Storytelling Group

Yusuke Tanaka, the director and founder of Katari Japanese Storytelling, asked me to create and ‘tell’ a literary work of the Japanese author, Kenji Miyazawa, for their festival. Since then, I have been involved with most of this group’s annual festivals.


The Swan (mime-dance), momo gallery in Toronto (a part of online Toronto Katari Japanese Storytelling Festival). April 2021. Video by gki.

How did your involvement with the visual arts begin?

Revealing Shadows #6 (mixed-media); 2018. Photo by gki. There is no backing, so shadows can be seen on walls. The materials used are Japanese washi, sumi ink, copper wire, wood, and nails. Size: 30 x 19.25 x 1.5 inches.

After seeing an ad in my local newspaper, I joined a dance-based, holistic exercise class called Nia. I loved it so much that I became an instructor. I’ve been teaching it at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (Toronto) and at my home studio for about 20 years.

Through Nia, I found that I wanted to express myself more and in other ways. I took pottery lessons and I started to draw. The pottery slowly went from functional pieces to sculptures, and the drawings went from pencil crayon drawings to acrylic paintings and mixed-media works.

Is your movement-based art still evolving?

I love expressing myself through movement, but as I age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult. Over the last five years, I’ve been slowly retiring from performing, and now I’m mostly concentrating on creating and performing works of Mime-Dance, which is a term that I have chosen because it utilizes elements of the two disciplines. The physical demand on my body is considerably less, but at the same time, I’m still able to express myself through movement.

I have been doing some dance. In the summer of 2019, I joined as a community-based dancer, which provided me with a less physically demanding role, in dancer-choreographer Meredith Thompson’s work called Imprint as part of Dusk Dances in Toronto. Last year, Meredith was commissioned to do a remount of this work at Guelph Dance. However, this time she invited me to be a member of the professional dancers which would’ve been more demanding but an exciting challenge at the same time. Sadly, this dance festival was postponed due to the pandemic.

What is the difference between Silent Storytelling and Mime-Dance?

The difference between the two is that the former is a movement-based literal translation of a written story, while the latter is ‘poetry in motion’ so that only the essence of a story is ‘told’ with the viewer’s imagination taking on a bigger role.

When you reflect on how you've changed as an artist over the years, have you come up with any reason for this?

I’ve never really thought about that, but I think there’s no real reason, at least a conscious one. These changes have always just happened naturally. However, if I reflect on my past, I know that I have changed as an artist, though I think that my feelings haven’t. I still just want to express myself, and these feelings or ideas that I have just need to come out. If they can’t, then I try to find a new approach, which is often challenging but can be very fulfilling.

An example of this is how aging has impacted my ability to move like when I was younger. Clown shows, stilts work, Silent Storytelling, and high-intensity dance are some of the things I used to do but have now limited or eliminated. In response to this, I believe mime-dance and visual arts have substituted for those losses, and I’m grateful for that.

How might you describe yourself as a Japanese artist to Canadians?

I feel I’m human, but the world sees me as Japanese because of the way I look. Though I’ve been in Canada for two plus decades now, my spirit is still Japanese. I think my works are a reflection of who I am at a moment in time. This means that all aspects of my environment, including where I am physically and mentally, affect me, and as a result, what I produce.

Despite this, I love the simplicity and subtlety of many aspects of Japanese culture, and I think this is reflected in both my performance and visual arts. This isn’t done at the conscious level, but it invariably seems to seep into my works.

Do you have any favourite Canadian artists?

For the famous ones, I love Oscar Peterson, Glenn Gould, Karen Kain, and Lawren Harris.

Can you speak about how COVID-19 has impacted your art?

I think I’ve been pondering life more, and at a deeper and more serious level than pre-pandemic. For me, the inequities in society have always been there, but during this pandemic, it has become more noticeable and troubling. It’s a dog eat dog world, no matter how we try to justify or hide it. The pandemic has changed me, but to what degree I’ve yet to learn. Though I’m certain this seminal period will have its mark on the things I create going forward.

Any final words?

I’m humbled to say that I’ve become friends with so many wonderful people here. A big thank you to all who have supported and inspired me!

 

© 2021 Norm Ibuki

artist dancer Noriko Yamamoto Toronto