A person lays on rocks by a shore in a white wig and a dress covered with currency
Ray Nakazawa performs in this year's streaming version of the Bridge Festival. Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Bridge Dance Festival returns to Links Hall November 12 and 13 with a digital program curated by Fujima Yoshinojo (Rika Lin) featuring works by artists from Sendai and Tsu, Japan, San Francisco, and Chicago that reflect their individual journeys through the pandemic, as well as themes of identity, aesthetics, and expression. 

The festival was established in 2018 as the culmination of several years of curatorial research by Links Hall as part of the National Performance Network’s Asian Exchange, one of the first endeavors undertaken by former Links Hall director Roell Schmidt upon moving from Links’ original location in Wrigleyville to its current location in Roscoe Village. “We’d never applied for NPN’s exchanges before because the old space was more limited in terms of what kinds of work we could show there,” recalls Schmidt. “What could we do with the new space? One answer was more kinds of programs.”

Selected by NPN along with with Fusebox Festival in Austin, Texas, and the Flynn Center in Burlington, Vermont, and Japanese artists and organizations including Dance Box in Kobe, the Kyoto Experiment Festival, Arts NPO Link, Saison Foundation’s Morishita Studios, and the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network, Links Hall embarked on several years of dialogue and travel to forge artistic partnerships. The Links Hall curatorial team, comprised of Schmidt, Marie Casimir, and Anna Trier, proposed an intensive international residency that would serve as a cultural exchange for two artists, one each from the U.S. and Japan, who would visit each organization in the U.S. and Japan together. 

“We thought they could spend time in each place together and get to know each other’s cultures and cities—how would that feed into their work?” says Schmidt. 

Marina Fukushima Courtesy of the artist

The artists selected for the exchange were Kaori Seki (Tokyo) and Darrell Jones (Chicago), who each created works for presentation in 2018—just as a serendipitous confluence of Japanese and Japanese American artists were presenting at Links—including Rika Lin’s Beyond the Box Festival and Japanese Butoh master Yumiko Yoshioka, at the invitation of Chicago artist Sara Zalek. In a moment of inspiration, Schmidt suggested that the separate performances be combined into a monthlong festival, creating a community and momentum among both performers and audience. 

Originally a performer in Bridge, Lin was approached by Schmidt to continue the festival as its curator in 2019. Now in its third year under her curatorial direction, coproduced with Asian Improv aRts Midwest (and streaming online for a second year due to the pandemic), Bridge Dance Festival has broadened beyond a specific relationship to Japan to include Asian and Asian American choreographers more generally—for reasons that remain consistent with the development of Asian American identity: “When you’re having issues everyone is coming face to face with, we’re Asian,” says Lin. “People are not specific and there’s a lot of layers to that. They say, ‘You all look the same.’ We should make that into a strength.”

Bridge Dance Festival
Fri-Sat 11/12-11/3, 7 PM, $20 (streaming), linkshall.org.

This year,  performances by Yuko Takahashi Dance Company (Sendai, Japan), Ray Nakazawa (Tsu, Japan), Marina Fukushima (San Francisco), and Pranita Nayar and Ashwaty Chennat (Chicago) examine the evolution of tradition, the passing of knowledge from generation to generation, and the fragility and resilience of humans, with pieces that span the fusion of classical dance with modern and contemporary forms, experimental performance, and film. “Last year’s theme was the reaction to corona. The theme for this year was reflection. Corona boiled things down to, ‘How are you going to communicate? With whom are you going to communicate?’ With the break the pandemic forced upon the world, everyone had time to reflect on that.”

“The performances are raw,” notes Lin. “Everyone is still working. It’s amazing how resilient people are and the drive they have to create, despite the difficulties.”