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In creating her "Something Old, New, Borrowed But Not Blue," dance performance scheduled for May 18 and 19 at the Richard Perry Theater at Poly Prep Country Day School, choreographer Marla Hirokawa has drawn on both her artistic preferences and her own past, most particularly her Japanese ancestry.

The concert consists of three separate pieces: "Prism," a 20-minute modern dance interpretation of how light is reflected through a prism; "Concerto," a 15-minute neo-classical ballet set to a three-movement piece taken from two oboe concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach; and the premiere of "Nisei," a 50-minute tribute to Japanese-American World War II veterans - a mix of ballet, modern and swing dancing.

All three works are highly personal for this 38-year-old native of Hawaii who has spent much of her adult life bringing dance to adults and children living in Brooklyn through such groups as the now defunct Dig Pointe Ballet Company and her own Covenant Dance Studio and Covenant Dance Theatre company on Sheepshead Bay Road.

"Prism" represents something borrowed, says Hirokawa. When she was working towards her bachelor’s degree in dance at the University of California-Irvine during the early 1980s, Hirokawa danced in a friend’s graduate degree project that was similarly themed. Then last year, the fifth grade class she was working with at PS 321 at Seventh Avenue at First Street in Park Slope, through the Board of Education Arts-in-Education program, participated in a dance project called "Coloration" inspired by what the kids had learned in science class. This experience brought back the memory of what her friend had created, and Hirokawa reshaped the theme a third time.

"Prism" is set to music by Tangerine Dream and performed by an 18-member, all-female cast of four professionals and 14 girls ages 12 and older - all dressed in costumes in the colors of the spectrum.

"’Concerto’ is something old and new because it’s an old ballet form with a new look," explains Hirokawa. "I love this piece of music and I wanted to do something en pointe." "Concerto" stars a cast of three soloists en pointe and a lead male and female dancer.

"Nisei" is everything but blue. "It’s not intended to make people feel blue, but to inspire them," says Hirokawa. "And the biggest inspiration for me was my dad, Lawrence Hirokawa."

Born and raised on the island of Hawaii where his Japanese parents had immigrated, Lawrence Hirokawa was a Nisei (second generation Japanese-American) while his daughter is a Samsei (third generation Japanese-American). During World War II, he joined the 100th Battalion, the first all-Japanese-American battalion to serve in Europe, later nicknamed the "Purple Heart Battalion" for its record of bravery in battle.

Although neither he, his family, nor any Japanese were interned on Hawaii (Hirokawa says there were far too many Japanese working on the island at that time to intern them without causing the native economy to collapse), he and his fellow soldiers did suffer from the anti-Japanese feelings that were rampant at the time.

"In ’Nisei’ the story line follows the memory of an older Japanese man who recounts when he was inducted into the army and when Pearl Harbor was attacked," says Hirokawa. "It alludes to the internment and shows how he was segregated from the rest of the squad. But he gains the confidence of his commanding officer and is placed on the front lines of the war. The final scene is when he and his granddaughter attend a Veteran’s Day parade with her Girl Scout troupe."

A professional cast of 38 men and women, as well as World War II veterans of all ethnic descents whom Hirokawa is recruiting for the performance, will perform "Nisei" to original music by percussionist and leader of the jazz quintet The Groov’tet, Keith Hall, Johann Pachelbel’s "Canon" and the official song of the U.S. Army, "The Caissons."

Hirokawa says using a story format helps her blend the dancers’ different ages and technical abilities. She’s been using this device since her 1989 dance, "The Heirloom Doll," which gave birth to Covenant Dance Theatre. Since then, she’s created and produced seven story ballets drawn from history and her imagination, and performed for Brooklyn primary and junior high schools each winter at Kingsborough Community College’s MAC Playhouse Theater.

The company’s most popular ballet is "Orphan Train," which depicts the first "placing out" foster care movement in the 1850s established by Rev. Charles Loring Brace, founder of the New York Children’s Aid Society. It was performed last May at the national Orphan Train Rider Reunion hosted by the Children’s Aid Society at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

Designated Asian Pacific Heritage month, May also brings Memorial Day. On June 29, the Monument of Patriotism, commemorating Japanese-Americans’ service in World War II as well as their internment in American concentration camps, will be dedicated in Washington, D.C., according to Frank Sogi, a boardmember of the National Japanese-American Memorial Foundation which facilitated the construction of the memorial at New Jersey Avenue and Avenue D.

"So many people don’t know about the Japanese American soldiers and how bravely and exemplarily they fought," says Hirokawa. "My father was one of these soldiers. Their inspiring story is part of our history that needs to be remembered."


Covenant Dance Theatre’s "Something Old, New, Borrowed But Not Blue" will be performed at 8 pm on May 18 and 2 and 8 pm on May 19 at the Richard Perry Theater (Poly Prep Country Day School, Seventh Avenue at 92nd Street). Tickets are $15, $12 seniors and children under 10, and are available at and at (800) 965-4827. Call (718) 891-6199 for more information.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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