State of the Arts Episode 23: Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Special; Ballet Director & Choreographer Marla Hirokawa and The Nisei Project


In celebration of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, State of the Arts welcomes this week’s guest, ballet director and choreographer Marla Hirokawa. A Cum Laude graduate with a degree in dance from the University of California Irvine, she has been the Artistic Director of Covenant Ballet in Brooklyn since 1987, when she founded the prestigious dance school. Since the creation of the Covenant Ballet Dance Theatre in 1989, she has created many original ballets. This episode focuses on The Nisei Project in particular, which premiered in 2001. The Nisei Project was a heartfelt tribute to her late father and his fellow Japanese American World War II veterans. Japanese American soldiers were put in segregated units. These units were the most highly decorated in the war and suffered the most causalities. Many of these young Japanese American men, especially those in California, were already living in government sanctioned incarceration camps with their families when they were drafted. They nobly served the United States despite the disgraceful discrimination they faced. They embodied the Japanese spirit of gaman (patience, loyalty and perseverance). The Nisei Project is a masterful dance dramatization of one of these brave soldiers’ journey from innocent Californian teenager with a happy home life to a trained patriotic fighter whose family was ripped from their home and relocated by the government he was fighting for. With the help of Marla’s sister, Laurie Hamano, The Nisei Project was brought to her home state of Hawaii for a traveling performance in 2003. At the end of every performance Japanese American Veterans were welcomed onto the stage to be thanked by Marla, the cast and the audience. In 2014, the ballet was revived and selected to be in The New York Fringe Festival. I am so proud that my Uncle Lawrence Lam was a part of this masterpiece which I watched enthusiastically with a group of friends and family members. I feel blessed, honored and privileged to have Marla Hirokawa on my podcast this week. Tune in for a larger-than-life episode with one of the most incredible artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing.      




  1. retha campbell says:

    This was such an inspiring interview. Marla, thank you for sharing what the Nisei project was about and what you’re about. You’re an awesome wonderfully delightful human! Leigh’s soft voice reflected her passion in listening and absorbing what Marla was relating. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing


    1. Hi, Retha. I appreciate your feedback so much! I am so honored that you listened to my podcast episode and was so touched by it. Wishing you the warmest of regards! All the best, Li


    2. Thank you, Retha! I appreciate you. This was a beautiful episode that I was so moved to be a part of!


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