Women of Vancouver – Yayoi Hirano and the Yayoi Theatre Movement Society

Photo courtesy of Yayoi Hirano

Yayoi Hirano was honoured at Vancouver Asian Heritage Month’s (VAHM) Virtual Recognition Awards Ceremony 2020. VAHM’s vision is to recognize and promote the inclusion and social integration of Pan-Asian Canadian communities in Canada.

Born and raised in Japan, Hirano moved to Vancouver in 2002 after spending a number of years setting up her theatre company, the Yayoi Theatre Movement Society since 1990.

Even as a child, Hirano was always very active and interested in performing for an audience.

“Since kindergarten, I often called my friends home where I made up stories and we played together,” she says.

Hirano began performing in front of a much larger audience from Grade 2 and onwards, in school plays. For a play in her first year of junior high school, she managed to memorize all the lines of her school’s annual play – every character’s lines – and had the luck of playing the main character during the final performance. During high school, in Osaka, she went to watch the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company and their rendition of the Merry Wives of Windsor. Thereon, she was even more fascinated with theatre and the performing arts.

Miming requirements

One of the prerequisites to qualify for the Toho Gakuen College of Drama was to mime. Even though Hirano knew nothing about this field of performance arts, she learned it to get into college. After completing her education, she found herself teaching this lost art form. Hirano’s favourite thing about this style of art was that messages can be conveyed without uttering a single word.

“No matter the language you speak or your nationality, you can express your feelings and tell a story,” she explains.

Miming may be a lost art and, contrary to popular belief, Hirano explains, “Mime is not just clowning but telling a story or even sharing philosophy without words.”

A global connection

Yayoi Hirano. | Photo courtesy of Yayoi Hirano

Hirano came to Vancouver for the first time in 1986 on a performance tour with a few of her friends. She was also offered a fellowship in Cologne, Germany to work with artists Milan Sladek and Maria Formolo in Canada. After studying in Germany, she happened to perform at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, replacing a show.

It was after all of these experiences and the many positive reviews of her performance at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, that she established her theatre movement. After the establishment of her group, Hirano went on to collaborate with various Asian, North American and European artists.

Along with her current honour, Hirano has also won various awards globally, including the Experimental and a Vanguard Art award from the Annual Prize of the Union of Bulgarian Actors for The Daughter of the Snow.

The Yayoi Theatre Movement Society today

Comedia was the latest performance put together by Hirano and her group. It was performed in February this year at the ScotiaBank Dance Centre in Vancouver. Fortunately, this was performed before COVID-19 affected everyday life.

For these performances, she has made 20 unique Noh-style masks herself which have been used in most of her career’s performances. Noh is a form of classical Japanese dance-drama that has been performed since the 14th century. These masks signify the character’s age, gender and social ranking.

However, COVID-19 did affect some of the Movement Society’s plans. Every year, they perform in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival and, since 2011, they have been participating in the Canada Day parade where they present a traditional Japanese festival dance, Vancouver Ondo, with over 200 dancers.

Even though the global climate seems unsure, Hirano’s spirits are not dampened.

“Now is a good time to plan,” she says, taking the time off now to envision the future of her Movement Society.

For more information, please visit www.yayoitheatremovement.ca.