Naoko Murakoshi, Dorothy Anderson, Lisa Sandlos in Graham class at the School © Cylla von Tiedemann

Naoko Murakoshi, a 1991 graduate of the School, is originally from Japan, and is now back in her home country, teaching at Mukogawa Women’s University in Nishinomiya, Hyōgo. She started her dance training in ballet in Japan, and eventually came to Canada to join the Goh Ballet in Vancouver. There she met David Earle, who created a work for the company. We asked Naoko to fill us in on her Canadian dance adventures, and on her eventual journey back to Japan. Here are some of her reminiscences.

“I was dancing around the house since I remember, and I taught myself until I was 10 years old. My mother didn’t have the time to take me to dance class. One day, I just took myself to ballet school because I could not wait anymore; I will be too old! I thought.

I met David Earle in Vancouver in 1986; he came to set a new piece for the Goh Ballet Company where I was dancing. The piece was called Cantata, and it was set to beautiful music by Bach. Later David set it on TDT and changed the title to Triumph of Love. The Goh Ballet danced Cantata in several cities in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I enjoyed dancing it so much.

Also in Vancouver, I learned and danced the duet and finale from Baroque Suite. I remember an ex-Graham company dancer; David Hatch Walker, who came to watch my performance of the duet, and he told me, “You should try modern dance”. David Earle said, “You will be good in modern”. I did not believe them at first, but then I went to Toronto, and started to train at the School.

Naoko Murakoshi and Gérald Michaud in rehearsal at the School © Cylla von Tiedemann

I re-discovered how to dance at the School. There was so much to learn in Graham technique. Because I was so hungry for it, I loved being in the studio. I remember I was not happy on weekends and long holidays because I could not dance all day. David, Trish, and Peter inspired me artistically. And my classmates!! There were Susanna Hood, Sasha Ivanochko, André Gingras, D.D.McArthur, Gérald Michaud, Patrick Parson, Jessica Runge, Lisa Sandlos …. So much laughter and tears!!! We were always so emotionally connected. So much love in motion. I learned dedication, rich experience, fullness of life.

Also the accompanists!! I was trained by all those wonderful teachers and accompanists. Musicians taught us with their music and their playing: Ricardo Abreut, Tita Evidente, Geoff Bennett. I brought the composer/musician Sarah Shugarman with me when I came to Japan to teach. I want my Japanese students to have those experiences also. Sarah’s contribution to my students in Japan is huge.

I joined Toronto Dance Theatre in December 1991. I cried every night when I had to learn 10 parts in two weeks. My first performance with the company was in California, and it was memorable for a couple of not-so-great reasons! I fell on my bum after the big jump in Christopher House’s Court of Lions. Then in the same show, I was dancing in James Kudelka’s Fifteen Heterosexual Duets with my partner, Michael Trent. I thought it went well for my first performance, but Michael lost his contact lens on stage during the duet, when I poked him in the eye!!! I thought I was going to be fired the next day.

Clockwise: Andrea Nann, Jennifer Dahl, Graham McKelvie, and Naoko Murakashi in The Four Horsemen Project © Itai Erdal

I enjoyed dancing the company repertoire by David, Trish, Peter, and Christopher. In my first year with the company, we all participated in the Rhombus Media film The Planets, with choreography by Doug Varone. So many threads of my dance life came together in that experience. Years earlier, in 1983, I had seen the Lar Lubovitch Company’s performance in Tokyo, just before I left for Vancouver. I was amazed by those wonderful dancers moving so freely in space, and by the dynamic changes in the works. I still have a program from that performance, autographed by Peggy Baker, Doug Varone, and Christine Wright….. In 1988, at TDT, Peggy showed us a solo from Lar’s repertoire. In 1992, I met Lar and Doug in New York before we started the film; in 1993, Christine taught our company class at the Joyce Theatre….. For me, all of it was just like a dream come true.

My first work after I left TDT was in Japan, dancing in an opera directed by Robert LePage and choreographed by Johanne Madore. Working with those Montreal dancers was very different from what I had been doing. Then I worked with Ross Manson and Kate Alton on their Four Horsemen Project. That was a huge experience. Working on voice with Katherine Duncanson was another phase of my physical and psychological development as a person. We shared this wonderful, playful project with so many talented artists: Ross, Kate, and Katherine; Bruce Alcock’s drawing and animation; and the cast: Jennifer Dahl, Andrea Nann, Michael Sean Marye, and then Graham McKelvie. We worked together on this project for 15 unbelievable years!! I was so proud of being in that cast. I remember the first rehearsal. We were reading the weird script aloud. When my turn came, I was terrified. I have never pulled out that much courage from my body to vocalize something. It was an extraordinary challenge.

Naoko and her students welcome Allen and Karen Kaeja at Mukogawa Women’s University, March 2017

Every performance of my life was so precious. When I performed in New York, I said to myself, “I am dancing on stage in New York City!!” When I performed in Madras, “I am dancing in Madras!!!” I was happy to perform in Tokyo with TDT, and I was thankful to bring The Four Horsemen Project to Europe….. I love dancing and performing.

I also enjoy teaching. I just want to let my students know how wonderful it is to discover themselves through the unexpected journey. I love talking to students about all the wonderful artists whom I’ve met in person. I enjoy watching them fall and then recover in their process. I get so inspired by my students bringing out their imagination, and finding their dance voice. Sometimes I am in tears when I synchronize with their emotion….”

We asked Naoko if she had any thoughts she might wish to offer to current students at the School of TDT: “How lucky they are! The dance training and method keep evolving. Just be curious about things happening every day. Have a great journey.”