June Watanabe has created contemporary dance theater works and collaborated with distinguished artists from diverse disciplines
including taiko masters, visual artists like Ruth Asawa and Sandra Woodall, and choreographers Remy Charlip and Alonzo King.
Her work incorporates and illuminates the Japanese American experience and explores ritualistic formalities and womanhood.
June and her family were held in an internment camp for three years, and her internment works have been used to teach students
and the general public about the relocation and displacement of Japanese Americans during WWII. The June Watanabe Papers contains
documentation highlighting Watanabe's extensive career in dance, the history of her troupe, June Watanabe Dance Company (1980-1985)/June
Watanabe in Company (1985-2006), and her teachings. The collection is arranged as follows: I. Administrative Files; II. Public
Relations; III. Collaborators; IV. Choreographic Works Chronology; V. Production; VI. Notebooks; VII. Photographic Materials;
VIII. Mills College Faculty Oral History Project; IX. Other Professional Work; X. Posters; XI. Audiovisual Materials and Other
Media; and XII. Costumes.
June Yoshiko Watanabe (née Tsukida) was born on June 7, 1939 in Los Angeles, California. From 1942-1945, June and her family
were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming as part of the Japanese American displacement and imprisonment
during World War II. After returning to Los Angeles (LA) in 1945, Watanabe studied dance at the West Coast School of Music
and Dance with Elizabeth Gilman in 1948. After a few years, she transferred to the LA Conservatory of Music and Arts to begin
studies with Patricia O’Kane, with whom she studied for most of her ballet training. June also attended the Eugene Loring
School of American Dance, and most critical, studied with and was most influenced by Gloria Newman and Dr. Alma Hawkins &
Carol Scothorn at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1955, at age 16, she auditioned for and was chosen by Jerome
Robbins to dance in the film version of The King and I. In 1956, Watanabe enrolled at UCLA, graduating in 1960 with a BS degree,
focusing on dance. Watanabe then served on the faculty at El Camino College (1960-1962) in Los Angeles, then at UC Berkeley
(1973-1975) and Mills College full-time from 1975-1979, returning in 1986 years at part-time until retiring as Professor Emerita
24 years later.
In 1979, Watanabe began her dance career at the age of 40, driven by her need to dance and speak out about the internment
experiences and heritage she had shunned as a child because she wanted to be "so American". In 1980, she became the director
of her own company, June Watanabe Dance Company/June Watanabe in Company (JWIC). The company initially performed annually
in Marin, where she received support from the Marin Community Foundation throughout the company's existence. Her company also
performed heavily in the San Francisco Bay Area with East and West Coast tours from 1982 to 2006.
According to Watanabe, "life informs [her] dance and [her] dance informs [her] life", in dealing with issues of bondage in
womanhood, reclaiming one’s cultural heritage and the survival of the human spirit. This has led to the creation of seven
versions of her internment works regarding "the unjust, unconstitutional betrayal of the Japanese American culture because
of racism". She felt a responsibility and commitment to teach students and audiences about the incarceration because many
did not know of or understand the shame that was placed upon innocent people, being imprisoned unconstitutionally.
Watanabe is recognized for her starkly focused contemporary works which incorporate artistic, cultural, and historic elements
through a one- of-a-kind, interdisciplinary approach. Her Japanese-American heritage illuminates and informs her contemporary
modern dance works, as she captures the human condition within an Eastern temporal and spatial framework with elements which
characterize her works. These include the energy of the Noh Theatre, the architectural use of space, emptiness, all with an
inner strength of concentration. She has created dance theater works and collaborated with distinguished artists from diverse
disciplines such as Noh Master Anshin Uchida, Intangible Cultural Asset of Japan, Taiko Master Seiichi Tanaka; musicians such
as Pauline Oliveros, Denny Zeitlin, David Rosenbloom, Kronos Quartet, Bun-Ching Lam, Kirsten Vogelsang, Alvin Curran, Carl
Stone, George Yoshida; visual artists Ruth Asawa, Jose Maria Francos, Douglas Rosenberg, Kerry Vander Meer, and Sandra Woodall;
writers/poets, such as Leslie Scalapino and John Woodall; and dancers/choreographers such as Ed Mock, Alonzo King, Remy Charlip,
Daniel Nagrin, Livia Blankman, Karen Attix, Sharon Kinney, Frank Shawl, Helen Dannenberg, and all the company dancers, among
As of the publication of this finding aid, Watanabe is retired from active performance and living in the San Francisco Bay