Class of 2011
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts, with an emphasis in Dance (cum laude)
I came to the United States for college and to accomplish the coveted American Dream. I always imagined performing in shows on renowned stages and going home with bouquets of flowers. If you look at my resume today, you’ll see my dreams have changed. I chose Sonoma State University for practical reasons. I needed an affordable school with performing arts programs in a welcoming community for international students. I recall my first day at SSU; the program was small, unlike the expensive conservatories I had contemplated. Kristen Daley was my professor for my first class of Modern Dance. Trained as a classical dancer and being Japanese, breaking “traditions”, making bold choices, and standing out to be wildly unique were difficult things for me to do at the time. After taking more classes from the likes of Nancy Lyons and other SSU faculties, somewhere during my time at SSU, I gave in to become “bold” and express the “raw” side of me. I became a whole new Lisa. It felt good.
My professors cared about me. They took time in guiding me to find an individual movement language; develop my unique artistic voice; and provide a supportive, judgment-free space to explore my creative expression. I interacted with world-renowned guest artists and because of the size of the SSU Dance program made long-lasting connections that facilitated my career. The kindness and genuine care of Nancy Lyons, Kristen Daley, and Christine Cali transcended my check-ins and rehearsals. These were evident in the strong art community at SSU. The people I studied with were cared for, and thus they look after me. My colleagues were committed to my artistic visions, as odd as these visions were at times. The intimacy of the program gave me a sense of acknowledgment, belonging, and community.
After graduated from SSU, I moved to Seattle and later New York City to perform for several dance companies and collaborated on producing productions with international artists. I learned to be more creative there. In 2014, I earned a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Hollins University (VA) in partnership with the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts (Germany), The Forsythe Company (Germany), and the American Dance Festival (NC). That same year, I started the process in developing my own style and established an interdisciplinary art company, Kusanagi Sisters, with my sister JuJu. The work by Kusanagi Sisters has been presented across the world in the USA, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Albania, Kenya, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Chile, Pakistan, China, Taiwan ROC, Indonesia, and Australia. The work has also been shown at venues including the Lincoln Center, Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater REDCAT, AMC Theatre, 92nd Street Y, Movement Research at the Judson Church, JW Marriott Los Angeles LA LIVE, and Cineteca Nacional. Our first original short film, itsy bitsy, has received many recognitions including First Place Award, Best Film Award, and Audience Choice Award. It was officially selected for the BAFTA-qualifying and the 10th Annual Aesthetica Short Film Festival (UK).
The main theme you would see in my work is inclusion. My creative work is both an exploration of a new art form as well as an expression of communicative discovery. I believe art is a social movement, enabling us to gather, exchange, and share insightful thoughts leading to more enriching experiences in the global community. I seek to continue this lifelong investigation, extending and applying it towards the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of others in a more constructive manner.
I have committed my entire life to the study of artistic expression, first as a trained dancer, then as a committed cross-boundary artist, and now as an educator. I have been fortunate to share my passion for art as a professional in academic institutions; during my tenure as Assistant Professor in Dance at the Universidad de las Americas Puebla (Mexico), as a Guest Professor at the Winona State University (MN), and as a Research Associate in Theater and Dance at the J.F. Oberlin University (Japan). I was able to provide instructions on the relationship between performing arts theory and practice, navigate students to explore the possibilities of their expressions and advise on production efforts. I was always excited to listen to my students’ creative and experimental proposals in their performance and film, and brainstorm with them to find a practical approach and aesthetic best suited to achieve their goals.
I would have never learned that without SSU. I fulfilled dreams I never knew I wanted. I learned to be authentically weird and have the confidence to express my rawness and perform on all sorts of stages. I now have the opportunities to share my experience of creation and production with my students and to enhance their skills and assist them in determining their future careers. Nancy Lyons, Kristen Daley, and Christine Cali all had different lessons when they taught me. However, one common thread was “inclusion and acceptance”. I saw that with the care they applied to each student — giving everyone what they needed to become their best selves. We were united in our pursuit of exploring the essence of humanity through physical artistry. I wouldn’t be where I am without the care of the professors and the support of my colleagues from Sonoma State University.