A Look Back at Great Leap’s Beginnings

Songs from Great Leap’s rock musical “Chop Suey” were performed by (from left) Denice Kumagai, Marilyn Tokuda, “Atomic Nancy” Sekizawa, Nobuko Miyamoto, Deb Nishimura, Peter Kwong, Michael Paul Chan, and Mike Hagiwara.

Great Leap celebrated 40 years of art and community on March 11 at Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles.

Covering the period from 1970 to 1982, “Finding Voice” was the first of four “Gatherings” focusing on the journey of Great Leap co-founder and artistic director Nobuko Miyamoto and her performing arts organization. As Joanne Miya, she appeared in such mainstream productions as “West Side Story,” but as a community artist, Miyamoto sought to express Asian American identity and issues. Over the years, Great Leap grew to include different ethnic groups and religions as well as environmental concerns.

Tim Dang (left), who went on to become artistic director of East West Players, shares his memories of Great Leap.

The program started with a performance of “We Are the Children,” composed by Miyamoto and the late Chris Iijima, which was one of the songs on the groundbreaking album “A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggles by Asians in America” (1973). Miyamoto was joined in the performance by Genie Nakano, Quincy Surasmith, Lisa Abe Furutani, “Atomic Nancy” Sekizawa, Carla Vega, Anne Ito and Marsha Furutani.

The program opened with “We Are the Children,” a song by Nobuko Miyamoto and the late Chris Iijima.

Miyamoto and Iijima, appearing as Yellow Pearl, performed the song on national television in 1972 as guests on “The Mike Douglas Show” when John Lennon and Yoko Ono were co-hosting for a week.

Following opening remarks by long-time Great Leap associates Warren Furutani and Dr. Deborah Wong, members of Miyamoto’s dance class (1975-1987) reunited for a brief performance. Miyamoto was joined by Nakano, Vega, Lisa Furutani, Marsha Furutani, Vicki Takeuchi Wynne (who came from the Bay Area to participate), Vivian Matsushige and others. Nakano read her poem “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” (see text below).

The band Warriors of the Rainbow was reunited. From left: Danny Yamamoto, Alan Furutani, Nobuko Miyamoto, Benny Yee, Taiji Miyagawa.

Vivian Matsushige, Nobuko Miyamoto, Rev. Mas Kodani and George Abe share memories.

The dancers, who used to practice in the same social hall where the anniversary event was held, shared their recollections in a “Story Circle” facilitated by writer/actor traci kato-kiriyama of PULLproject Ensemble and including Rev. Mas Kodani of Senshin, musician George Abe, and Sue Oda Omori.

The next performance, “West to East,” was by the band Warriors of the Rainbow (1974-1982), featuring Miyamoto (vocals), Benny Yee (composer and keyboards), Danny Yamamoto (taiko), Alan Furutani (saxophone) and Taiji Miyagawa (bass). Their Story Circle was facilitated by Tuesday Night Café producer and Tuesday Night Project lead curator Sean Miura.