[DANCE] Maile Okamura of the Mark Morris Dance Company
- From Pointe to Point
By Joyce Nishioka, AsianWeek Dance Critic, Sep 05, 2003
My interview with Mark Morris dancer Maile Okamura didn't get off to
an auspicious start. I asked the 29-year-old how to pronounce her
Maile Okamura was born and raised in San Diego. She was a member of
Boston Ballet II and Ballet Arizona before moving to New York in
1996. Since then, she has danced with Neta Pulvermcher, Zvi
Gotheiner, Gerald Casel, and others. Okamura began working with MMDG
in 1998 and became an apprentice in 2001.
Okamura: It's Miley
AsianWeek: Mai Li
Okamura: Uh, no. Miley. You stressed the first part.
AW: Oh OK, Ma Molly
AW: Mi Miley
AW: OK, Miley. Sorry.
That settled, I asked Maile Okamura about her journey toward joining
the Mark Morris Dance Group. Okamura, who grew up in San Diego,
started ballet lessons when she was 11. Her decision to pursue dance
as a career didn't surprise her parents, both professors. Her older
cousin, Kimberley Okamura, had already led the way, dancing with the
San Francisco Ballet for more than a decade.
As a teenager, Maile joined Boston Ballet II and soon after, Ballet
Arizona, based in Phoenix. She stayed there for three years before
moving to New York to study modern dance. Since becoming a member of
the Mark Morris Dance Group, she has danced in 20 of Morris' works,
including six that were choreographed for her and the current
AsianWeek: Was it difficult transitioning from ballet to modern
Maile Okamura: It was a big change because moving to New York, most
of the people I danced with came from a background of studying
modern dance in college. I felt really insecure about not having the
right information in my body, not having a natural and more
intuitive way of working
For a long time, I didn't tell anybody that I had danced in ballet
companies. I was embarrassed about that. It's like when the
classical violinist tries to get down and do jazz.
AW: What was it like when you moved to New York?
Okamura: I wanted to try everything. It's easy to get yourself into
an uncomfortable situation in New York because there are so many
people with so many different ideas. One day I was Irish jigging;
the next day I was rolling on the floor. That was my goal, to move
myself, experience different things.
AW: How did you get involved with Mark Morris?
Okamura: I auditioned in '98 and was hired to dance in L'Allegro for
a tour. I really didn't know that much about Mark, but I loved what
we learned in the audition. It felt familiar to me in a way that
there was something, not necessarily classical about it but, I
guess, classic. I understood it
With many modern choreographers, it's difficult to understand what
they're trying to communicate and with Mark's choreography it felt
very clear. It was another layer that complemented the music and
lifted the music up. With most of Mark's work, the music will tell
you everything. It's really right there for you.
AW: How many dancers auditioned?
Okamura: Fifty auditioned. They only needed one dancer and I was
chosen. Back then, the audition was by invitation. Now, there are
open auditions so anyone can come which means it's a mob. There
were 400 people at the last audition for one spot.
AW: I read that when Mark created his solo "Serenade," he first
choreographed it on you to see how it looked as opposed to how it
felt. What was that like?
Okamura: It was really fun. Mark made up some great steps for
himself Most of the dances we learn, they're filtered through
everyone's personality and that changes how the steps look or what
they feel like. When it's just Mark doing a solo, you see the
intention of the step right there in his body. Even if the step
changes or the count changes, the feeling of the step is always
right on. It's not overanalyzed. It's exactly what he wanted it to
AW: What else did you observe?
Okamura: Well, I feel like he is easier on himself than he is on us.
Seriously, though, one thing I learned is that he makes sure he's
having a good time when he's dancing His imagination is always
involved when he's dancing. He's very playful. He's alive in the
AW: Has being Asian Pacific American affected your career path in
Okamura: Well, yeah I was hired because I'm Japanese American.
AW: That's funny did you know one of Mark's girlfriends was
Japanese and they went to obon festival together?
Okamura: What!!?? Hey, maybe that is why I got hired. That's cool; I
AW: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Okamura: Uhmmm I would like Mark to choreograph an obon. No, just
kidding. That would be pretty cool, though. It could happen. You
can't do many steps in kimono but we're good with restrictions.
Reach Joyce Nishoka at jnishioka@....