Today we’d like to introduce you to Marissa Osato. A Los Angeles County native, who danced competitively for ten years before attending UC Irvine and double majoring in Dance and Literary Journalism.
Marissa, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
A Los Angeles County native, I danced competitively for ten years before attending UC Irvine where I double majored in Dance and Literary Journalism. The UCI dance department, as well as the prolific hip-hop dance community in Orange County, strongly influenced my choreographic voice and drive for creating movement art. After graduating, I co-founded Entity Contemporary Dance, an LA-based dance company rooted in a fusion of urban and classical dance techniques that has performed original repertory in the U.S. and Asia.
Over the last ten years, I have continued to develop as a choreographer, director, and educator working across both commercial and concert dance platforms. I have held master classes at—and created choreography for—over fifty dance studios, and college dance programs across the U.S., and have taught guest contemporary dance workshops in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, Guam, and South America. Through my choreographic work and teaching, I aim to bridge gaps across cultural and artistic communities. Being able to travel while practicing my passion has been deeply fulfilling and eye-opening. I recently earned my MFA in Choreography from the California Institute of the Arts which greatly expanded my movement and theoretical research. I am inspired to explore new platforms for dance and experiment with different types of creative collaborations.
Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I am a Los Angeles-based choreographer, director, and dance educator who creates emotionally-driven embodied narratives through a sociocultural lens. My choreographic work and pedagogical approach reflect the hybridity of my identity and training. When creating, I aim to capture the energetic spirit of the mover by fusing contemporary, jazz, and street dance stylistic elements. My movement language tends to be rhythmic, grounded, quick, and precise. I play with the contrast of high and low energy dynamics and oppositional tensions within and around the body, working with a mix of quiet and explosive gestures.
Through my recent graduate study in CalArts’ MFA program in Choreography, I further refined my purpose as an artist-citizen. To that end, my current work probes questions of identity, assimilation, appropriation, and community. I aim to use my craft to contribute to the larger conversation surrounding issues of social justice and social consciousness. My MFA thesis project, “The Spectacular Society,” used the U.S. government-sanctioned Japanese internment camps during WWII as a dramaturgical framework to explore how ethnicity and identity can be negotiated and performed.
The work re/presented an embodied archive of the past while provoking questions about present societal repetition. I encourage my students to consider their art in greater societal contexts and to think about how their practice relates to their immediate dance community, the wider social community, and the greater global community. How have dominant systems of power influenced the way we carry and portray our bodies? What kinds of liminal spaces do we exist in and how do our movements display and interpret that ambivalence or anxiety? I seek to collaborate with dancers and artists who bring different cultural points of view and push my artistry by challenging my choices. Through these collaborations, I aim to expand my choreographic and pedagogic breadth of experience and create impactful work on both local and global platforms.
In your view, what is the biggest issue artists have to deal with?
I think the negative comparison game that we play in our heads has been amplified tenfold by social media apps, and it can be really damaging to the creative spirit. “Likes” and “follows” often cause us to equate popularity with value, and it is easy to feel like a less relevant or less purposeful artist because of these clout metrics. The temptation to compare what I’m doing to what others are is ever present, so I try to limit my time on these apps and stay focused on my own trajectory. I love the access and connectivity that social media allows and I am definitely grateful for the opportunities it has brought me. I just warn young artists to not get too caught up in the hype and to remember that lasting respect comes from years of foundation-building and creating work with authenticity, integrity, and compassion for others.
What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I am consistently making work for my company, Entity Contemporary Dance, and we will be premiering a new evening length work in the spring 2019 in Los Angeles. People can visit entitycontemporarydance.com and marissaosato.com to see upcoming projects and how to support them. I also teach open classes at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Hollywood and on the national dance convention, West Coast Dance Explosion, if students are interested in taking my class.