Milford dancer adds Japan to her list of credits
Joining her aunt, Denise Kirkpatrick, at the helm of the Lee Lund Studio of Dance, Broadway dancer Ambere Rogers took the reins from her mother when she retired. The daughter of professional dancer Lee Lund and noted choreographer and dancer Jaime Rogers, Rogers had a busy year commuting between Milford and New York City, where she performs with the Vissi Dance Theater company and teaches dance at Dance New Amsterdam.
This summer Rogers added a new credit to her already stellar resume. With Vissi Dance, Rogers participated in a two-week cultural dance tour to towns in Japan that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Founded by Caribbean-born Courtney Ffrench, Vissi Dance is rooted in modern-Afro-Caribbean styles of movement. However, Ffrench also embraces cultural diversity and welcomed this year the addition of four Japanese dancers to Vissi Dance Theater’s residency program. Rogers said that when the natural disasters hit Japan, Ffrench’s immediate reaction was to ask these women what the company could do for their country.
The Japan tour was launched in dancer Yukari Ikegaya’s hometown. Rehearsals for their show, “The Hoarde,” earnestly began the morning after they flew 13 hours. Costumes had been flown to Japan. However, the company’s set pieces were remade at the theater by Japanese professionals. A dress rehearsal was scheduled for the following day, and the show ran for two nights.
Vissi Dance Theater’s next stop was a small fishing village in northern Japan. This region had been demolished by the earthquake and tsunami. When the mayor of Chiba heard about the dance troupe’s appearance in Japan, he arranged — and paid for — the 15 dancers to travel to Choche to entertain its 1,000 residents.
The mayor housed the dancers in a traditional Japanese hotel that included hot springs baths and sleeping on mats on the floor, Rogers explained. When they first arrived, they were offered green tea served at low level tables. “We had an amazing dinner,” Rogers said. “We had been given traditional Japanese kimonos to wear. All of the sashimi, sushi and lobster were really fresh. It was the most extravagant dinner I ever had.”
Most of the dancers were shocked, though, to discover that one fish dish was served on top of a whole fish that was still alive. “This is apparently the high-end way to serve the food,” Rogers added.
Other delicious specialty foods Rogers experienced in Japan were soba, made with cold buckwheat noodles, yogurts and juices made with aloe and coconut. “I really enjoyed the people, the food, everything,” Rogers said. “Everyone bows to you, everywhere you go. Even at the grocery store.”
Additionally, Rogers observed a silence in the Japanese cities and towns they visited that’s not commonly found in the United States. “The people are very quiet, the cars are even quiet,” Rogers noted. “There’s also a patience in the people. Everything is done at a much slower pace.”
Rogers was also impressed with the work ethic of Japanese professionals. “There’s a certain efficiency present,” she explained. “When we were in tech rehearsals, the people from the theater quickly picked up their cues and knew exactly what they were supposed to do. Also, all of our shows started right on time. On Broadway, shows are notorious for always starting at least five minutes late.”
The mayor of Chiba offered a complimentary performance of “The Hoarde” to its residents and more than 800 people were in attendance.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was spending time in Chiba. Rogers said she has never experienced such an enthusiastic and grateful audience as the one that turned out to see “The Hoarde” in Chiba. “It was really unbelievable,” Rogers said. “Their energy was so positive. They were so happy to have us there. It was a different kind of connection than I’ve ever seen.”
In fact, the audience actually demanded a second show from the American dancers. Rogers said that villagers continuously came up to them while they were eating in a restaurant after the performance. It was only after awhile that Ffrench realized they were repeatedly asking for an “encore.”
“They couldn’t speak English but they kept repeating this word and we finally realized this is what they were saying,” Rogers explained.
Overwhelmed by the village’s response, Ffrench quickly rewrote the dance’s ending, and a second show was performed.
“Working in Japan not only reinvigorates the notion that dance is a culturally transcending form, but that it can elevate, inspire and connect the collective consciousness of any willing audience,” said Ffrench.
To raise funds for the Japan tour, Vissi Dance Theater performed “The Hoarde” at a gala in New York, sponsored by the company’s friends and benefactors in the Japanese and Jamaican-American communities. (Ffrench is of Jamaican descent.)
Vissi Dance Theater is collecting money to send to revitalization efforts in northern Japan. “We’re also committed to going back in year or so to perform,” Rogers said.
Upcoming performances of the dance company are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20, at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn and Sunday, Dec. 16, at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. For more information, go to Vissidancetheater.com.