Alumna returns to create Expressions

“I am very emotionally Japanese; the events make me feel something. All of my choreography is emotionally-based and that comes out,” Ayana Yonesaka said. “Each dance is specifically inspired.”

The colorful wall hanging swayed as the dancers ran past. The soft sound of rain played while SF State alumna, Yonesaka, whirled across the stage close enough to touch.

Yonesaka waited a year for this moment on stage; her last performance of a showcase she not only danced in, but had the opportunity to choreograph as well.

She used her upbringing in Sapporo, Japan for the three dances she choreographed to create Expression in Constraint: Movement and Color, which she performed from September 1-3, 2017. Each piece was inspired by a different facet of the culture.

Yonesaka’s inspiration stems from her father’s creation of traditional wall hangings. The stencil-painted foxes, a traditional Japanese art form, hung around the room, beginning to tell the story as soon as one walked into the studio in the Fine Arts building.

The dances’ meanings range from female empowerment to the disastrous earthquake in Japan in 2011 that happened while Yonesaka lived in Sapporo.

Mitchell Mylius

Ayana Yonesaka smiles as people from Expression in Constraint: Movement and Color gave her a round of applause in the Creative Arts Building on Saturday, September 2, 2017. (Mitchell Mylius/Golden Gate Xpress)

When Yonesaka realized she could not find a dance school she wanted to attend in Japan, she decided to look elsewhere and came to the United States for college.

Upon discovering SF State’s dance program, she knew she wanted to attend the university. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in dance in 2013.

“SF was just this vibrant art city,” she said. “I loved it here. The department was amazing with really invested professors.”

While in her senior year at SF State, she was able to create a piece inspired by her Japanese background, and in doing so, found her niche choreographing stories of a different culture.

Yonesaka’s parents flew all the way from Japan for the weekend to watch the performance. They brought the wall hangings to complete the piece.

Her father, Toyoki Yonesaka, who has been creating his traditional wall hangings for years now, taught the process on campus for 3 days before Expression in Constraint premiered.

While overseas, he was able to use Ayana’s dance as inspiration for half of the wall art to be displayed behind the dancers in the final piece.

Making the wall hangings can be a long process for her father, lasting as long as five weeks. Before they are done, the dye has to set. If set for too long or too short, they are ruined and weeks worth of work is lost.

Mitchell Mylius

Ayana Yonesaka smiles as people from Expression in Constraint: Movement and Color gave her a round of applause in the Creative Arts Building on Saturday, September 2, 2017. (Mitchell Mylius/Golden Gate Xpress)

Yonesaka’s mother, Suzanne, was also working as a producer for the show. The rest of Yonesaka’s family collaborated with her overseas and were overjoyed to be a part of Expression in Constraint.

“I would love to work with her again, it was pure bliss,” Toyoki said, smiling. “We are both so proud to see her finish this.”

Jesse Ruiz, Yonesaka’s boyfriend, created the music for Expressions.

“I composed and consolidated it into one cohesive piece,” he said. “Working with your significant other is hard because you want to make it the best; we had to be in constant communication about the music. Dance and music [have] a specific relationship.”

Yonesaka was excited to come back to SF State for the performance, which was an opportunity presented to her by her mentor and dance instructor, Cathleen McCarthy.

While looking around San Francisco for places to display her choreography, Yonesaka found the prices to be astronomical. SF State presented the most affordable option with a base of students to revel in her art.

“This was such a great opportunity. I think this is something that should happen more often; students coming back to collaborate with the school,” Yonesaka said.

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