Enemy Lines played in Toronto from May 12 to 14 at The Theatre Centre and runs in Hamilton from May 26 to 28 at McMaster University’s L.R. Wilson Hall. It is produced by Aeris Körper.
Choreographer and performer Mayumi Lashbrook unpacks the impact of Japanese internment camps in Canada from her great-grandmother’s perspective in Enemy Lines. Tackling a tragic event in Canadian history, Enemy Lines focuses less on historical events and more on how trauma can impact multiple generations.
The piece opens with Lashbrook performing a monologue as her great-grandmother arriving in Canada in the early 1940s; we are introduced to a playful yet anxious woman who conveys her dreams through wide-eyed facial expressions. She carries a trunk full of items she will need for her new life, the contents of which become a central touchpoint for expressing her inner world; as she struggles, the objects in her trunk dwindle.
The sudden echo of sirens signals a dark turn in her story as other performers quickly seize the stage and remove her belongings. At this point in the work, Lashbrook’s use of handwritten letters from this time does much of the heavy lifting to provide context for her great-grandmother’s story while managing to avoid coming across as a history lesson. Yukari Peerless narrates the written accounts that detail the decline in the quality of life for Japanese Canadians as Lashbrook mimics the motions of a woman fighting to hold on to what she has left. Lashbrook’s powerful, controlled movements in this section effectively fostered my investment in the story.
Some of the transitions felt jarring; however, the moments when Lashbrook engages with the audience directly, such as when she provides instruction on folding a sheet in Japanese, are captivating. It is incredibly moving to witness an audience member’s hesitancy towards participating in this action dissipate as the instructions became easier to mimic. This exchange felt like a metaphor for the fear of the unknown that much of the work explores.
Lashbrook includes a haunting clip from the film Of Japanese Descent, which attempts to justify the internment of Japanese individuals. While the clip is playing, she sits next to the screen, acting as a proxy to the audience, and perhaps to herself, discovering the footage for the first time. Keeping her back to the audience, she remains crouched with her arms wrapped around her body as she questions how people can be treated so disparagingly. This section provides a window into Lashbrook’s own processing of the trauma her great-grandmother endured.
One of the most powerful moments in Enemy Lines happens when the dancers circle around a spotlight, with each pausing to cite modern examples of injustices committed against marginalized groups around the world. They push each other, fight for the spotlight and increase their pace each time one of them speaks; the obvious parallels between the past and present are affecting. As the performers continue circling each other, their facial expressions, filled with suspicion and intensity, are incredibly engaging as they embody a dangerous cycle of fear. Lashbrook’s choice to make this the final image of the piece is a strong one.
Enemy Lines is a self-aware account of the harm indifference and fear can inflict. The care and time Lashbrook invested in establishing a historical narrative in the first half creates a slow build; however, it’s worth the wait.
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