2015 National Heritage Fellow: Gertrude Yukie Tsutsumi

Posted on Jun 9, 2015 in Dance, Folk and Traditional Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Performing Arts, SFCA Grants

Gertrude Yukie Tsutsumi, a long­time collaborator with the State Foundation in Culture and the Arts, has been named one of eleven 2015 National Heritage Fellows, the nation’s highest award in folk and traditional arts. Tsutsumi, also known by her stage name Onoe Kikunobu, is one of the premier nihon buyo (Japanese classical dance) artists in Hawai‘i and is a participant in the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts Folk and Traditional Arts Program.

Each year the National Endowment for the Arts celebrates master folk and traditional artists that embody this strength and diversity of culture. The recipients of this year’s NEA National Heritage Fellowships represent art forms ranging from those born and bred in the United States – such as Honolulu classical dance artist Tsutsumi – to those that are newer to our country – such as oud player and composer Rahim AlHaj, who immigrated to the United States from Baghdad. The fellowships include an award of $25,000.

We are honored to welcome Tsutsumi and members of the Kikunobu Dance Company to the Hawai‘i State Art Museum on August 25th to give a talk and demonstration as part of our free Art Lunch lecture series.

Tsutsumi and the other 2015 National Heritage Fellows will be honored in Washington, D.C., at an awards ceremony at the Library of Congress on Thursday, October 1, 2015 and a free concert on Friday, October 2, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

Tsutsumi began training in Japanese traditional dance when she was eight years old at the Bando School in Honolulu. In 1956, she traveled to Tokyo to continue her dance education with Onoe Kikunojo I and was granted her shihan (master of dance diploma) a year later. She was bestowed the natori (professional name) of Onoe Kikunobu, which allowed her to open her own school and bestow professional names as well.

“Looking back, fifty plus years of studying and teaching Nihon Buyo have been a major part of my life. My gratefulness and humbleness toward this performing art has grown deeper,” Tsutsumi said.

In 1964, she established the Kikunobu Dance Company Inc. as a center of teaching, choreography, performance and training for the next generation. As of 2014, 13 students under her tutelage have been recognized as master dancers. In addition to presenting concerts, Tsutsumi also choreographs new works for the students and holds workshops and demonstrations. She has collaborated with a number of local groups, including the Honolulu Theatre for Youth, the Manoa Valley Theatre, and Kumu Kahua Theatre, helping support local playwrights in the process.

Since 1980, she has been a lecturer in the University of Hawaii’s Department of Theatre and Dance, where she has been the principal dance and movement resource for their productions of Japanese kabuki theater with English translation. Tsutsumi continues to reach students not only in Hawai‘i, but also on the mainland at the request of several of her former students who now teach Japanese dance at universities and colleges throughout the country.

In 2002, Tsutsumi received a Folk & Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant, Tsutsumi as a teacher and Howard Asao as apprentice, from the SFCA. Both have given talks and demonstrations to perpetuate the Kikunobu School of Classical Japanese Dance.

In 2004 she received the Silversword Award for Cultural Excellence from the Pan-Pacific Festival. Internationally, Tsutsumi received the honor of performing on the stages of well-known theaters in Tokyo such as the Kabuki-za, Shinbashi Embujo, and the National Theater of Japan in dance productions produced by Onoe Kikunojo I and Kikunojo II. In addition to running her dance company, Tsutsumi worked as an elementary school teacher for 30 years.

For more information on the NEA award and other winners, visit: National Heritage Fellowship Awards.