'Minidoka' interprets poems about an internment camp

Poet Lawrence Matsuda was born in a Japanese internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho.


Whitman College will present a dance performance based on Seattle poet Lawrence Matsuda's poems about his parents' experiences in internment camps in Minidoka, Idaho.

"Minidoka" will be performed 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Cordiner Hall on the Whitman College Campus. It is free and open to the public.

The U.S. government sent Matsuda's parents, both of Japanese descent, to the internment camps during World War II.

Matsuda, who wrote a book of poems titled "A Cold Wind from Idaho," will read some of his poems before and after the performance. He looks forward to seeing his poetry translated into dance.

"Poetry deals with images, memories, stories and emotions through oral interpretation and the written word. Dance deals with images, stories, memories and emotions through movement and music. I am very anxious to see how the emotions and stories in my poems translate into a different medium. I am honored to have my work interpreted in this fashion," Matsuda said.

Matsuda wanted his poetry to show the effects that the internment camps had on actual people.

"I tell the story so that the injustice has a face. Without a face, the injustice becomes more like a statistic a number without a story or emotion. My poems put emotions into the facts and talk about the immediate and lasting effects of the injustice," Matsuda said.

Whitman professor Vicki Lloid choreographed the dance along with Whitman students. She has choreographed dances based on poetry before.

"I've always been interested in poetry as related through dance due I suppose to the condensed and intense imagery typically found within poems. Poems and paintings are a great place to begin when thinking about dance," Lloid said.

Lloid found Matsuda's poetry easy to translate to dance.

"Due to their tremendous facility with words, I found many of their ideas easy to latch on to due to the sheer beauty of their presentation. Their ideas gave me ideas and so on and so forth. That simple process is the essence of collaboration," Lloid said. "I think the description of Larry's mother, pregnant in Minidoka gave me the feeling of hope and transcendence I needed to address the other painful issues and events set forth in Larry's poems. There are many other images throughout his poems that I have used and layered and combined with other research and ideas to create a form for the dance."

One unique aspect of the performance is that Whitman students played a large role in choreographing the dance.

"There are long sections of complete improvisation. Other sections were choreographed in part or wholly by the dancers themselves. So, I would say that would be the most unique aspect, the degree of participation and input on the part of the dancers," Lloid said.

The dance performance includes music from the time of World War II, along with original radio broadcasts from the attack on Pearl Harbor. There will also be an exhibit of the photography of Minidoka by Teresa Tamura.


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