Odyssey Dance Theatre’s Dancers, as well as Derryl Yeager the Founder and Artistic Director, met with representatives of Utah’s Asian-American community Monday, November 19th, to personally apologize for an incident that happened in an on camera live experience last week. Mr. Yeager said, “Odyssey would also like to extend this apology to the entire Asian Community and anyone else whom we may have offended.”
“The entire Odyssey Dance Theatre Organization welcomed the opportunity to meet with these community leaders to ensure that Odyssey is not perpetrating harmful and hurtful depictions of their community,” said Mr. Yeager. “We were interested and anxious to learn from those involved about our misinformed cultural stereotypes so we can adapt our works to accommodate current sensibilities moving forward.”
After a heartfelt apology from Mr. Yeager and all Company members, everyone involved engaged in a very enlightening and productive 2 ½ hour discussion. Mr. Yeager and the Company thanked all nine representatives present from several interested affiliations, for caring and educating all those involved. Odyssey then presented their costuming, scenic design, music, as well as choreography, for the Chinese piece that was the center of the controversy. The intent was to ask for specific feedback along the way and confirm what parts of the piece might be culturally incorrect and/or offensive.
There were suggestions made for costuming to fit proper social class distinctions as well as other choreographic adjustments. The group even came up with a brilliant new cultural element that the Company is planning on implementing for this year’s show. According to Mr. Yeager, “We really appreciated their thoughtful ideas and look forward to presenting a new and improved Chinese Dance this year!”
The group parted with a new appreciation of each other – the guests with an appreciation of the dancers of Odyssey Dance Theatre – and the Company’s appreciation for their guests and their deep-rooted love of their history and culture.
Moving forward, several changes will be made according to the suggestions at this meeting. After Thanksgiving, it was agreed that Odyssey Dance would proceed by sending the participants a recording of the changes to get their continued feedback and approval. Based on the guidance the company receives at that time, Odyssey will finalize the piece, and that is the one that will be included in performances at Kingsbury Hall, December 12th to 22nd, 2018.
On behalf of the following individuals and organizations, I give thanks to the hundreds of people who signed and shared our petition seeking for support for our efforts address our concerns with Odyssey Dance Theatre.
We met with ODT yesterday. Present were a number of our community partners and members of ODT, including Board member Marlies Burns, Media Consultant Susie Carlson, Artistic Director Derryl Yeager as well as the company of dancers. Derryl began by apologizing for what the dancers did. I believe that the apology was sincere.
It was clear to me that this incident was grounded in ignorance and not malice. I say this as someone who has had over 250,000 cases come through his court, has heard tens of thousands of defendants speak about their crimes, heard apologies and denials countless times. I feel somewhat confident in my ability to spot B.S. being shoveled my way.
We watched a performance of the “Tea” dance. Then we had a candid discussion on some anachronism inherent in their staging and costuming. They seemed to want to present a portrayal that is not culturally insensitive. But they will definitely need our help to get there.
We should remember that people make mistakes, especially young people. It is rarely productive, and can be counter-productive, to seek to extract a pound of flesh. We have a wonderful opportunity to take a teaching moment and develop it into a long term relationship to ensure that future productions are free from derogatory, harmful or false depictions of, not only our community, but all communities.
There are, no doubt, other characterizations that are objectionable or problematic. We can have more input, more influence, and better results by not vilifying the company. We must hold them to their word that they do not want to cause harm or offense. We will hold them accountable for their choices.
As I said at the outset of our first community conference call, I am particularly sensitive to avoiding the appearance of seeking to censor or engage in prior restraint of their artistic choices. I don’t like all art, but even to those which I find most objectionable, I would not seek to prevent or prohibit it from being created or presented.
We can and must bring our concerns and objections to the artists attention. We can and must continue to educate the artists and the community. ODT has opened the door for us to consult and advise. I hope that we will take this opportunity and make the most of it.
Aristotle believed that “Art imitates Life”. Must true Art mirror society, the bad as well as the good in order to beArt? Or, does “Life imitate Art” as Oscar Wilde believed? Does Art inform, does it lead and do we as a society model what we see in Art? I’m not as smart as either of those gentlemen, but I believe it’s a little of both. Sort like Yin & Yang, there are times when Art merely reflects to us how we are. There are also times when Art leads us by showing how we can be. I may be waxing philosophic but I do know that I need Art; We need Art. Even Art that we find personally offensive.
I’ve been dealing with this . . . stuff for a long time. It doesn’t end. It never will. We can reduce it by building allies. Some of our staunchest supporters and most ardent defenders have been people that first encountered us in adversity.
We will continue to engage in dialog with ODT to help them better understand our community so they can better represent us in their performances. It is easy to understand that race relations have changed dramatically since the Nutcracker & the Mouse was originally written in 1816. Through it’s many interpretations, artists have been hesitate to stray from the original story line. But, times have changed and we have a better understanding of one another.
ODT, to their credit, has committed to continue to update their performance to truly bring this story into “the present day” for modern audiences including more accurate portrayals of the various racial communities. We will work with them to ensure that they fulfill that commitment successfully. We will keep you updated as things progress.
Again, Thank You for Your Support!
Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association
Asian Association of Utah
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates – Utah Chapter
Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA) – Utah Chapter
Chinese Association of Science & Technology of Utah
United Chinese Association of Utah
Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce
Jung Hing Lion Dance Association
Philippine American Association of Utah (PAAU)
Kulturang Pilipino Ensemble of Utah (KPEU)
The Vietnamese Community of Utah
Utah House of Representatives Karen Kwan
Spike 150 Foundation
UTAH PACIFIC ISLANDER CIVIC ENGAGEMENT COALITION
Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR)
Utah Chinese Folk Orchestra
NAACP – Salt Lake Branch
UCLR | Utah Coalition of La Raza
Utah House of Representatives Minority Caucus