They’re back: Nanda debuts show June 3

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 5/23/17

Before each of their exuberant acrobatic shows, Port Townsend’s four Nanda ninjas have, for over a decade, stood in a circle, put their fists together and slowly chanted “Omdighaben.”

While …

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They’re back: Nanda debuts show June 3

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Before each of their exuberant acrobatic shows, Port Townsend’s four Nanda ninjas have, for over a decade, stood in a circle, put their fists together and slowly chanted “Omdighaben.”

While the origin of the preshow power-up chant recently caused some confusion among troupe members – it’s not a term adopted from an invented religion, as one member had thought – the “totally made-up” word has been uttered hundreds of times by Misha Fradin, Chen Pollina and brothers Tomoki and Kiyota Sage at shows across the Northwest.

And when they come together next Saturday to chant yet again, it’ll be before a show named for their ritual: the first new, feature-length theater show Nanda has performed in its hometown since 2014.

The orchestrated whirlwind of juggling, acrobatics and “kung faux” they’ve called “Omdighaben” is set for 7 p.m., Saturday, June 3 at Fort Worden’s McCurdy Pavilion.

CATALYST

The PT natives grew up doing fight routines in their backyards. And they never stopped.

For some time, they performed together in different combinations before becoming a four-man troupe in 2004.

A 2001 act by Tomoki and Misha for Stars of Tomorrow – PT’s annual youth talent show – was followed by Tomoki and Chen performing fight scenes at dance competitions in the Seattle area and Los Angeles.

They competed in an “other” category and would always win.

“It was like – yeah! First place!” said Tomoki. Laughing, he explained that they usually were competing, against one other group. Other times, against nobody.

Kiyota also had done fight routines with his brother before the four came together and formed Nanda.

“Everybody had done something with Tom – he was kind of a catalyst,” Kiyota said.

ACROBATICALISM

As Nanda – a Japanese term that’s used as a reaction to something unusual (translation: “What?!”) – they’ve performed in venues across the Northwest, and also brought “Port Townsend flavor” to Iceland, Canada and Mexico. “We would love to do an actual world tour,” said Tomoki.

The troupe coined the term “acrobaticalism” to describe what they do, creating shows that foster imagination, collaboration and creativity

“It’s very high energy,” said Kiyota of their action-packed shows, which they've performed in cities and at festivals to enthusiastic crowds. Performances include juggling, sketch comedy, kung faux fighting and parodies of action movies. They recall one show, performed to an upstate New York elementary school crowd, that did cause some panic from the teachers – there was a bit of postshow commotion caused by rambunctious kids.

“It’s just a real high-energy fake fighting,” said Chen. “It’s not like we’re using weapons.”

And while the fighting could be portrayed as violence, “it’s really not what we’re promoting at all,” said Tomoki, noting that the routines they’ve developed express the urge to fight in a safe way in which no one gets hurt.

“I’d say the fighting is more comical than anything else,” said Kiyota.

CULTURAL AMBASSADORS

Troupe members credit community encouragement as a significant factor to the success they now have.

“We had massive community support,” Tomoki said. “People showed up and supported us again and again.”

And Port Townsend was and is a community with a culture that nourishes their unique brand of creativity, they said. “It’s this super weird, wacky, goofy thing that may not have worked in the same way without that community support that Port Townsend brings,” Tomoki said. It's also a place whose culture they've brought to other communities: In 2011, they were named official cultural ambassadors by then-Mayor Michelle Sandoval of Port Townsend.

The show on June 3 marks their first full-length performance in Port Townsend since 2014. While that previous show had a narrative arch, this one is more of a variety show, which gives Nanda the freedom to use any act they like, including ones from their early days.

“It’s action packed and high energy,” said Kiyota. “It’s good for anybody,” he said, noting their audiences tend to represent a wide demographic.

“Their whole performance is all about creative expression – sharing laughter and joy and inspiration with the world,” said longtime friend and current Nanda manager Danny Milholland of “Omdighaben.” “It’s going to be an amazing show.”

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