Faculty, MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts
Residency Site: Plainfield VT



Michael Sakamoto creates interdisciplinary performances in butoh-based dance theater and contemporary theater as well as photography, installation, and media art. Drawing on influences as diverse as the dark, visceral physicality of butoh, the weighted presence and minimalism of Zen, and pop culture from around the globe, his works express a subversive yet benevolent multiculturalism caught within an absurdist east/west dialectic. Since 1998, Michael has performed and exhibited his works throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. From 1994-2000, he was also a featured soloist in the Rachel Rosenthal Company. Michael is also a longtime arts administrator and consultant. From 2000-2007, he was Program Coordinator at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA, one of the leading international artist residency centers worldwide. Michael has consulted on arts marketing and sat on grant panels for numerous institutions, including the Japanese-American Cultural and Community Center, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Durfee Foundation, Los Angeles City Cultural Affairs Department, and others.


MFA in Dance, UCLA
BA in Communication Studies, UCLA

Personal Statement

Whether creating an interdisciplinary performance to challenge stage conventions, photographing and writing about spirit mediums in northern Thailand, or presenting a lecture-demonstration on my combined Zen and Butoh training methodology, I live life as a dialectic process of discovery.  As a highly analytical person who loves to dissect details, form strategies, and act with clarity, I also do it all in the service of realizing the ineffable.  I live for unearthing and asking questions that are impossible to answer.  As an artist, curator, and educator, I want to know as much as possible about a subject to the point where my collaborators and I reach a level of fully embodying its life essence.  I want to discover beyond what can be directly captured in words, movements, images, or sounds, but which all of these may yet be utilized to somehow express.

When people ask me why I’m an artist, I say that it’s the best way I know how to be a part of the world.  On the surface, my work may seem to be about everything from pop culture to national stereotypes to mass media effects on identity and driven equally by postmodernism, classical archetypes, and absurd humor.  However, my underlying motivations derive from a humanist belief in the fundamental priorities of compassion, intelligence, utility, and inspiration.  Everyday I am forced to ask myself: How will my work stimulate, benefit, and motivate others?

My artistic process is also dialectic, between myself and my audience, i.e. self and other.  I make art for others, not myself.  I write, direct, choreograph, photograph, film, design, dance, act, and display, often simultaneously.  As an interdisciplinary artist, doing all of these things means doing none of them.  It means being alive, open to possibilities in every moment and using any means necessary to manifest an authentic connection to them, as the most “real” things in life are also the most ephemeral and precious.

The core of my educational philosophy is dialogue, engagement, and empowerment.  In contrast to traditional pedagogy, dialogic teaching (i.e. listening, exchanging, and facilitating) is inherently inclusive, multi-perspectival, mutable with shifting realities and relations, and democratic.  Dialogue implies holistic interaction, opens a framework rooted in self-awareness, and leads ideally to shared knowledge of meaningful priorities, which then determine students’ growth and appropriate goals.  Engagement is involvement with the issues and challenges in one’s life and the lives of others and the wellspring of all action that actually considers social truth.  Whether exploring one’s ideas alone or with studio collaborators or community participants, it tests the student’s priorities and goals in terms of social relevance, thus transforming and infusing them with communal potential.  Empowerment is developing the subsequent ability to take action and effect change as the ultimate test of a student’s relationship with society.  Is what one has to say, show, or embody have value or agency in a social setting, and for whom, how, and why?

I also want my interaction with students to be full of clarity and compassion.  I love to give encouragement, placing primacy on critical thought and awareness of self and other, and asking LOTS of questions!  In the end, I see my job as being a valuable “co-pilot” who cares, and what matters to me most is whether or not students know a little more about themselves and other people, what they might be capable of, and what some fundamental and relevant questions are for their creative processes and lives on this planet.

Artist website: http://www.michaelsakamoto.com