Oakland, CA

How Oakland Ballet Celebrates Asian American Artists with Dancing Moons Festival

Karin K Jensen

Oakland Ballet Company

On a Tuesday morning at Alameda Ballet Academy, Oakland Ballet dancers have their last studio rehearsal of Dancing Moons Festival before performing in the theater.

“Now is the time,” says Dance Master Bat Abbit. “Go for it. Take risks. We’re not striving for perfection. We want to move the audience, so invest something personal into this performance.”

Dancing Moons Festival is Oakland Ballet’s response to the rise in anti-Asian bigotry and violence, celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) artists. Choreographers Phil Chan, Megan and Shannon Kurashige, Michael Lowe, and Caili Quan will present new works. Pianists Min Kwon and Linli Wang and dancers from the Leela Dance Collective and Parangal Dance Company will also perform.

“I believe in, ‘See something, say something,’” says Artistic Director Graham Lustig. He had learned from his Asian American colleagues about the rising antagonism they have been experiencing, and he thought, “What can I do as a director of a small ballet company to help? I see the Dancing Moons Festival as an opportunity to bring the rich beauty of AAPI choreographers and their many gifts to our dancers and audience.”

To create this program, Lustig reached out to New York choreographer and scholar Phil Chan, co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface, an organization dedicated to diversifying ballet companies while working to divest the field of offensive stereotypes.

In his book of the same name, Chan strives in the words of Dance Magazine editor, Jennifer Stahl, “to change the conversation from ‘How can we be politically correct and avoid offense? to ‘How can we truly invite everyone into our world?’”

Karin Jensen

Chan suggested other talents to include in the program. Lustig reached out to former OBC dancer and choreographer Michael Lowe and then to the Oakland Asian Cultural Center to secure a community performing space.

The program includes the West Coast premiere of Chan’s Ballet des Porcelaines or The Teapot Prince, recently commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The original ballet was performed in 1739 at the Chateau de Morville near Paris. The Museum called upon Chan to reimagine its centuries-old plot. He says, “Now, instead of it being about, ‘Let’s triumph over Asian people,’ it’s about Asian people saying, ‘Hey, don’t treat us as porcelain dolls. See us with nuance.’”

Choreographer Michael Lowe was a principal dancer with Oakland Ballet for three decades and a choreographer for the company in his retirement, culminating in an Izzie Award for Outstanding Choreography for his ballet Bamboo. He presents a new quintet at the Festival.

Caili Quan, based in New York, first earned national recognition as a dancer with Philadelphia’s leading contemporary ballet company, BalletX. She has choreographed works for BalletX, The Juilliard School, and Nashville Ballet. She presents a new trio at the Festival

Finally, sisters Megan and Shannon Kurashige are founders and directors of Sharp & Fine, a San Francisco contemporary dance company known for narrative performances. Incorporating text, music, and choreography, the Kurashiges will present a new quartet.

How to Go

The Dancing Moons Festival will take place over two weekends, March 24 – April 2. Performances on the weekend of March 24 – 26 will be at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center at 7:30 pm each evening, with an additional matinee on Saturday at 2:30 pm. Performances on the weekend of April 1 – 2 will be at Bankhead Theater in Livermore with concerts at 8 pm Tickets are $20 to $68 and may be purchased here.

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Writing About Asian American history, arts, and culture. Author: The Strength of Water, an Asian American Coming of Age Memoir.

Alameda, CA

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