Friday, June 9, 2023

Injustice & Intergenerational Trauma Find Movement in Enemy Lines

It’s May 2020. The isolation created by the global pandemic has allowed many artists the time to consider their next projects, develop their works, or rethink projects already in progress.

Choreographer and dancer Mayumi Lashbrook was deep in creation mode during this time. Her initial inspiration was her grandfather, who was one of twenty-two thousand Canadians of Japanese descent who were forcibly removed from their homes in British Columbia and placed in an internment camp during World War Two. Family possessions were sold without consent and they were excluded from returning to the coast until 1949. 

“I could sense his distance in social settings with others and began to look at where it came from.” Lashbrook recalled. “The answer rang out as I looked at his childhood experiences of the internment. Each discovery felt like uncovering a part of myself.”

The death of George Floyd later that month brought Lashbrook’s work into laser-precise focus.

“It helped me see the larger picture and the ongoing existence of hate and fear that perpetuates these cycles. It placed my singular family history as a key piece of the larger opportunity for change.”

As the pandemic continued, Lashbrook dove deeper into the experiences of her family and others in internment camps. She documented the process and choreographed for a self-recorded camera with guidance from filmmaker Christian Peterson

Choreography was developed further, as Lashbrook’s research became the structure for a solo dance film commissioned by CanAsian Dance, which actively supports choreographers. The initial work was presented at a 2021 Festival. With the support of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and several granting bodies, Lashbrook was able to transform her solo work into an ensemble for a residency.

No longer a work in isolation, or for one, the latest iteration is called Enemy Lines, a multi-disciplinary dance piece that premiered this past weekend at Toronto’s Theatre Centre, and will make its Hamilton debut from May 26-28 at LR Wilson Hall. 

Through dance, Lashbrook revisits the story of her ancestors; specifically, her great-grandmother’s experience, and examines the intergenerational trauma that she- and a displaced community- is forced to work through. 

“It was always a surprise the moments that would bring tears to my eyes. Seeing the address of the farm my family was forcibly removed from. . .Recognizing my great aunt’s foresight at age sixteen to bring a shorthand typing book to the camps in order to advance her career options. The kindness of a neighbour. . .My great grandmother’s goal to return and reclaim her belongings. I couldn’t have predicted when or how these hardships would affect me. I kept reading, listening and looking for those moments as guideposts.”

In addition to physical movement by Lashbrook and a dance ensemble including Brayden Jamil Cairns, Miyeko Ferguson, Michael Mortley and Denise Solleza, Enemy Lines also tells the story through visual elements, which Lashbrook says helps to embellish the narrative arc and transport the audience to different eras.

“I utilize projection, sound and costume design to point to time, location and character.” Lashbrook explains. “The designers have been welcomed into the dance studio to seamlessly integrate their ideas with the choreography for a rich and layered experience.”

At the same time as Enemy Lines was being developed, Lashbrook continued her responsibilities as co-Artistic Director of Hamilton-based Aeris Korper Dance Theatre. The dance-theatre company has an established reputation for dynamic works and impactful movement; something that was exemplified during the pandemic as they produced socially-distanced “window performances” as part of their efforts as Performers-in-Residence at Hamilton Artists Inc. 

For Lashbrook, there were parallels between the pandemic and her ancestors’ experiences; namely a climate of fear and fear-based action that resulted in negative repercussions. While Lashbrook reiterates that she couldn’t have predicted when or how her family’s hardships would impact her, she notes her gratitude “for each unexpected swell of emotions.” 

Although not everyone may relate to Lashbrook’s story or specific circumstances, her through line- the consequences of fear and repercussions of fear-based actions hold a universal message that has become all too-entrenched in our current society. Lashbrook hopes that Enemy Lines will address this and serve “as a reminder of the fractures of our collective past and the possibilities for our shared future.”

Who: Aeris Korper Dance Theatre
What: Enemy Lines
Where: L.R. Wilson Hall (1280 Main Street West)
When: May 26 & 27 at 8pm; May 28 at 3pm
Tickets: $0 – $32.50 (sliding scale) at

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