Shion Skye Carter wins Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award

The SFU alum shares upcoming performance plans

Carter’s choreography is inspired by her heritage. Photo courtesy of Shion Skye Carter

By: Carter Hemion, Staff Writer

Shion Skye Carter, SFU alum, is the winner of this year’s Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award. This summer, the queer, Japanese-Canadian choreographer and performer worked with Kisyuu, a Vancouver-based Japanese calligrapher, to create Flow Tide, an interdisciplinary art piece. And next year, Carter will perform a solo piece titled Residuals.

Carter and Kisyuu’s work is inspired by and plays out as a conversation between dance and calligraphy. In 2019, Carter began taking lessons in Japanese calligraphy after not practicing it for years. Now, she continues to take online lessons twice a month. In early 2020, Kisyuu suggested working together, and Carter was eager to start. 

Before Carter and Kisyuu could create a live performance, the first lockdown began, so they created a short film together instead. The two each filmed their parts separately, with Kisyuu’s writing and Carter’s dance becoming Flow Tide. They presented their work at last year’s Powell Street Festival, an annual celebration of Japanese-Canadian arts and culture. 

According to Carter, Flow Tide is an “abstract conversation that we’re having, and it’s a way for us to have connected together and brought our art forms together and also connect to both of our Japanese ancestry and heritage.” The pair chose Japanese Kanji characters to write and interpret movement around. They selected “some specific words that resonated with [them] in that early part of the pandemic,” including “distance” and “collaboration.”

Carter and Kisyuu revived Flow Tide for this year’s Powell Street Festival with a live performance and video. They are “approaching it from a meditative place” by taking approximately “15 minutes to write one Japanese word onto a large sheet of canvas.” 

The live performance utilized tall brushes with which to write and dance. Carter explained the performance is “about being in the present moment and taking the time to slow down and appreciate this traditional art form of calligraphy but from a new, modern and contemporary perspective.” 

Working with calligraphy has also influenced another one of Carter’s upcoming performances. In 2022, she will perform her work Residuals at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. The SFU alum started creating Residuals in 2019 during a mentorship with choreographer Ziyian Kwan, who runs Dumb Instrument Dance. Kwan is “also an Asian Canadian artist and has strong ties to her heritage.” Carter said, “Seeing how she allows that to inform her work in a very organic and natural way is very inspiring.” 

Carter lived in Japan until she was six years old and continued visiting family there every year after moving. “The most consistent space of home for me has been my grandparents’ house [ . . . ] in a little city called Toki in the Japanese mountainside,” she said. Her time living in Japan and her connection with Kwan helped Carter connect her heritage and identity with her movement. In Japan, “everything is lower to the ground,” she said, recalling images of sitting on tatami mats in her old house. “So the choreography involves a lot of stuff where I’m very low to the floor.” 

Residuals is a way for Carter to explore memory. For example, she recalls her grandfather smoking while squatting in his bonsai garden, a memory which “lies in [her] hips” and is “a really visceral way to connect with [her] body” when dancing. Using tension and resolution, she explores her identity “as a queer person, having a lot of tension with [her] Japanese heritage and identity” and “seeing where [she fits] in these different spaces and different situations.” 

Carter previewed her solo Residuals in Halifax in early 2020 and is excited to bring it to the Scotiabank Dance Centre in 2022.