Leslie Kimiko Ward’s “1,000 Cranes” at Out North this weekend & next
by Melissa S. Green
Out North Contemporary Art House presents Leslie Kimiko Ward’s 1,000 Cranes, an exploration of f isolation and interdependence, grief and healing, social media, and the transformative powers of collective art — through the end of August.
Based on the true account of Leslie Kimiko Ward’s experiences in rural Alaska when a village tragedy inspired a global gesture of creative connectivity, “1000 Cranes” incorporates theater, movement, recorded and live capture video, real-time social media, plus music by Alaska supergroup Pamyua.
To harness the essence of what it means to reach out and connect, a vital skill in a state with the highest national suicide rate, creator/solo performer Ward and director/clinical therapist Tami Lubitsh set forth on a harrowing adventure to dark places, hopeful places, lonely, lovely, human places to map the emotional landscape of isolation, through a creative process that Ward has likened to climbing and belay — a tandem act of both risk and trust between Ward and
The production is ponsored by the YWCA, and supported by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
Ward’s 1,000 Cranes project was initially created for the village of St. Michael, a small predominately Yup’ik Eskimo village on St. Michael Island in Norton Sound off the west coast of Alaska. Ward, a dance professor at University of Alaska Anchorage, was in St. Michael as an artist-in-residence on June 11, 2011 when she became part of a failed attempt to rescue JohnnyPrince, a young man who drowned after failing to “skip” his snowmachine across a lake next to the school. Many village residents, including children from the school, were witnesses and participants in the rescue effort. As recounted in The Northern Light, the UAA student newspaper,
“Everybody started trying to dredge the pond,” said Leslie Ward, a UAA Dance professor, “Then all of a sudden, the whole crowd just erupted in screams, and people were falling on top of each other, and waving their arms in front of their faces. You could tell that they’d found him, and that it was not good.”
Prince’s death did not result from suicide, but St. Michael had lost three people to suicide in the previous year, and there were concerns that grief about Prince’s death might lead others to consider suicide. Ward decided to take the means by which she personally sought to cope with her sorrow over the young man’s death, and teach it to the village’s children. As Ward explains on the 1000 Cranes for Suicide Prevention blog,
That night, out of my own feelings of helplessness, I began a project to fold 1000 origami cranes in a gesture of healing and support. I got the children involved right away, and through the network of social media, I included my students, friends, and family remotely, asking them to fold cranes with us then post their pictures and words of support to a facebook site I created called “1000 Cranes for Alaska”. I promised to share the posts with the children of the village in the hopes that this would help cheer them up.
In less than three days, our story had gone global, and hundreds of people from as far away as Switzerland and Greece were sending pictures of cranes and words of hope. As we looked through the hundreds of posts, one of the children asked me “How do these people know who we are to care about us?” It was a huge “aha” moment for me, and I realized how powerful our collective gesture of healing had become.
Ward observes that Anchorage’s suicide rate is twice the national rate. In some rural Alaska Native villages, the suicide rate is even higher, up to 7 times the national rate. But in the time since the 1,000 Cranes project began, there have been no further suicides in St. Michael.
But her story didn’t end there. Six months after Ward returned to Anchorage, her romantic partner made an (unsuccessful) suicide attempt. Ward decided she needed to continue to use her creativity to grapple with the deeper issues of isolation and grief that, for some, can lead to suicide, and make use of the transformative powers of collective art that can lead to healing. She created and performed a 30-minute piece about my experiences in St. Michael as part of Out North’s 18th annual Under :30 show, and brings her longer one-woman show to Out North’s stage beginning tonight and continuing this and next weekend.
As many in Anchorage’s LGBTQA community continue to grieve the death of Mya Dale in June, I can’t think of a better place for us to be.
- Date/time: Thursday, Aug 16 (pay-what-you-can preview), 8:00 PM; Fridays and Saturdays, Aug 17–18 and 25–25, 8:00 PM
- Location: Out North Contemporary Art House, 3800 DeBarr Road, Anchorage (see map)
- Cost of admission: $25/$20 at the door, or in advance via CenterTix.
- Further info: see Facebook events page, the 1000 Cranes for Alaska Facebook page, or the 1000 Cranes for Suicide Prevention blog.
See also the following article:
- 17 Aug 2012. “St. Michael tragedy fosters a new performance piece —’1,000 Cranes’ opens Friday” by Mike Dunham (Anchorage Daily News).