What are the Spotlight Sessions?
I was the child who asked “why” 150 times in a row, to the dismay and occasional annoyance of the adults around me. That curiosity and need for discovery grew with me and became a guide on my artistic path. Determination, inquisitiveness, and the drive to connect with others led me to write, dance, choreograph, produce, and educate.
I started my company, Six Degrees Dance, with the mission of creating community. Embodying the theory that all people are connected through a social network of 6 or fewer degrees, we collaborate in an environment where the exchange of ideas is the building block for innovation and growth. We approach dance making with the belief that the contribution of the individual benefits the group, and results in a body of work reflective of the sum of its parts.
To that end, we have developed several initiatives that connect artists with audiences and with each other, maintaining the idea of six degrees of separation as the foundation for those connections. Our annual showcase brings together national and international choreographers, most of whom have never met. Our Choreographic Commission series allows the dancers of Six Degrees to work with a variety of choreographers in different styles. In The Spotlight Sessions, I will present a different artist each cycle, and through interviews, short feature articles, previews, and capsule reviews, offer a behind the scenes look into their work and their process. I hope you enjoy getting to know these unique, talented individuals as much as I have, and continue to follow them on their creative paths.
Kanon Sugino (she/her) is a Japanese American dancer and choreographer born and raised in New York. After graduating from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Purchase College, SUNY with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Arts Management. She has performed in works choreographed by Bill T. Jones, Jie-Hung Connie Shiau, Jesse Obremski, Norbert De La Cruz lll, Gregory Lau, Frederick Earl Mosley, Peter Chu, Darrell Grand Moultrie, MICHIYAYA, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, and more. She has received additional training at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, New York Theatre Ballet, Earl Mosley Diversity of Dance, MOVE|NYC| S.W.E.A.T, and more. She is currently a company artist with Nimbus Dance in Jersey City. As a choreographer, she has presented work at the We Belong Here: AAPI Festival, curated by Jessica Chen, as well as a split bill performance with Monica Shah, curated by Arts On Site. Her works mainly focus on the uplifting of marginalized voices and the celebration of minority groups and their cultures.
1. How did your artistic journey begin?
As a dancer, I have been exploring any and all artistic possibilities through dance since I was 3 years old. I started off my training at New York Theatre Ballet, where I had the privilege of learning from Diana Byer, who formed the foundation of my technique. While attending New York Theatre Ballet, I began my journey at LaGuardia High School, where I was introduced to modern dance. As my interests shifted from ballet technique to modern technique, I started studying at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, to dive deeper into the Graham technique. After graduating from LaGuardia High School and the Martha Graham School, I attended the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase College, where I was formally introduced to contemporary and improvisational styles of dance. Upon graduating from SUNY Purchase College Summa Cum Laude with a BFA in Dance and a BA in arts management, I joined Nimbus Dance as a company dancer. Throughout my artistic journey so far, I have been extremely fortunate to have been trained in multiple styles of dance, including ballet, modern, post modern, contemporary, improvisation, and more. This versatility in my training has directly affected my own movement style, and how I approach choreography.
2. What drives you as an individual artist? What do you hope to express/convey to the world through your work?
The strong belief that my art has the power to make an impact has continued to be a driving factor in my life as an artist. As a Japanese American dancer and choreographer, my craft has been centered on exploring ways to utilize my art to create a platform for those who do not have a voice. Through my work, I hope to raise awareness on not only the major oppressive and discriminatory issues, but also the microaggressive actions and comments that have lasting effects on minority groups. By expressing the dire need to address these issues through personal stories about myself and my collaborators, I hope to positively influence viewers’ perspectives and their understandings of certain experiences.
3. When do you feel most powerful?
I feel most powerful when I am dancing or creating alongside artists of color, especially my fellow Asian artists.
4. What has been your biggest challenge and your proudest moment during your artistic growth?
My biggest challenge would have to be the acceptance of my own body. As a petite woman of color, I grappled with the idea of the “ideal dancer body.” I have been told by choreographers that I am too short to be considered, teachers have asked me about my diet, and I have often felt invisible in a studio especially because of the stereotypes associated with my race. There were countless times when I felt as though becoming a professional dancer was too extreme of a dream for me, and that I would never fit any choreographer’s ideal image. Fortunately, choreographing has become a healing process for me, and has helped me work through these hardships. My proudest moments during my artistic growth would have to be when I am presenting my own choreography. I have officially created two works, one with an all Asian cast illustrating the struggles of being Asian in America while also celebrating the new found community, and another one featuring 2 short dancers conveying the unacknowledged sufferings that come with being short in the dance industry. By creating these works, I was personally able to reflect upon the challenges I faced growing up in the dance world and in this life in general, and was also able to address these issues in the hopes of healing others and their trauma.
5. Can you describe your creative process?
My creative process starts off with finding a concept that I can sincerely relate to. Next, I find collaborators who have similar experiences or identify with the concept I have chosen to explore. I have conversations with all of my collaborators, asking them specific questions about how they connect to said concept, and listening to any stories they may have. Afterwards, I find music or sound scores that correlate to the concept well, and then start creating movement vocabulary utilizing the information I have gathered. While working with the dancers, I either come in with a task devised for each individual to create material, or I come in with phrase work that is often manipulated and further developed in collaboration. I put emphasis on finding the intention behind each movement, and researching how to guide the dancers to be able to genuinely experience the work. Ultimately, my creative process is a continuous investigation of how to authentically convey the main concept that all of the dancers identify with to the audience, and also seeing how the creation process can lead to individual healing and resolutions for those involved.
6.What do you do when you are not creating? What things outside of the dance industry inspire you and fuel your creativity?
Japanese culture is a major part of my life that has been a constant source of creativity for me. Visiting my family and friends in Japan, eating Japanese food, listening to Japanese music, learning more about Japanese culture, are all things I do to rejuvenate my soul. Embracing and being in touch with my Japanese identity will forever give me a sense of relief and security.
7. What is next for you?
Coming up next for me is a split bill performance shared with Indian-Canadian dance artist Monica Shah, taking place at Arts On Site on November 30th, 6:30pm and 8:30pm. I will be presenting two of my works, “An Externalization of Minor Feelings,” and “4’9.” Additionally, I am currently a company dancer at Nimbus Dance, so I will be continuing the season with them. I hope to continue progressing my career, as a dancer and a choreographer, positively influencing as many audiences and individuals as possible.
8. Is there a piece of advice you'd give to younger or emerging artists?
Do not be afraid to speak up and to use your art as your voice. No matter how long it takes, you will find someone who appreciates you, your art, and your message.
Take a look at Kanon's work