CanAsian Dance Festival 2015 Feature #4: Denise Fujiwara, Festival artistic director

Denise Fujiwara wears many hats. An imaginative choreographer, a profound performer, a generous and rigorous teacher, artistic director of Fujiwara Dance Inventions and artistic director of CanAsian Dance Festival. She is resourceful, fiercely intelligent, uncompromising and nurturing. She knows what she's talking about. She knows what she's dancing about.

And luckily, amongst the many demands from her multiple jobs, she took the time to answer a few questions for me about this year's festival. This year the CanAsian Dance Festival offers one program featuring all the artists in the festival. The talent in the 2015 festival is staggering.

LR: The program for the CanAsian International Dance Festival this year is dynamic —it’s an overused word I suppose, but there is a real sense of dynamism between the artists, their aesthetics and drive, not just varied but radically diverse and yet still connected somehow. How did you come to this programming?

DF: The mixed program highlights the diversity of the Festival’s pan-Asian perspective.  I love the way that each artist on the programme comes with such a very different perspective and that the questions and insights they provoke cause us to consider what is involved in living and creating from that particular perspective.  I like to think that when we are given the opportunity to be challenged and refreshed in this way, it stimulates doubt in our habitual ways of thinking, empathic understanding, our very humanity.

We put out an international Call to Artists and then our Selection Committee views all of the submissions.  When we meet to do the selections, we look for outstanding work that represents diverse perspectives.

LR: What was the original motivation for founding the CanAsian Festival? 

DF: CanAsian Dance Festival was a child of the Toronto Asian Heritage Month Festival created by Saeed Khan in the mid-1990’s.  When that festival folded, Allen Kaeja and I decided that the dance component of the Festival had too much unfulfilled potential to let die, so we re-conceived it, registered it and started to develop it. 

LR: Has this changed or evolved over time?

DF: It started out as a small biennial concert featuring mainly local artists.  Over the years it developed into a larger international festival.  There are probably people who think that it is an ‘ethnic’ dance concert rather like the old Toronto Caravan shows.  Actually, the work evinces sophisticated contemporary perspectives. 

CanAsian has always kept a rather fluid format for the alternate years, with different kinds of presenting activities.  We have always had projects that involved commissioning choreographers.  For the past four years we’ve been holding Kick Start, a commissioning project that challenges Canadian choreographers to develop new choreographic ideas and approaches with mentorship, dramaturgical support and presentation.  We help some of those works to tour and some of them are chosen for our International Festival.  I would like to continue to develop this aspect of CanAsian.

LR: What inspires you as a presenter/festival director?

DF: My interest is in presenting, supporting and creating dance that is at once intelligent, meaningful and engaging.   As the Artistic Director of CanAsian, I look for work that investigates something essentially Asian, and that can be around a practice, aesthetics, a philosophical idea, a proposition or a question.  We look for work that has potency, that is unusual and refreshing, and goes deeper than exploring notions of dance form or style.

LR: What is your dream for the CanAsian Festival? 

DF: That more people get involved and that we will be able to continue to evolve our work.

2015 CanAsian International Dance Festival
April 30 - May 2, 2015 at 8:00pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queens Quay West, Toronto

CALL 416-973-4000
or online:

photos of Denise Fujiwara courtesy of Fujiwara Dance Inventions.


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