Dan Kwong’s Latest Performance Piece Based on His Mother’s Life

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Dan Kwong with a photo of his late mother, Momo Nagano.

SANTA MONICA — Solo multimedia performance artist Dan Kwong will present his newest multimedia show, “What? No Ping-Pong Balls?,” on Friday and Saturday, June 14-15, at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St. (at 18th Street Arts Center), Santa Monica.

Kwong collaborates with reknowned taiko drummer Kenny Endo to celebrate the life of Kwong’s mother, Momo Nagano (1925-2010), an eccentric Japanese American woman who prevailed over sexism and racism as a single mother and artist through a period of social upheaval.

Borrowing the title of her autobiography, “What? No Ping-Pong Balls?” traces Nagano’s journey from all-American girlhood in Los Angeles to a World War II internment camp; defiant marriage with a Chinese immigrant to divorcee with four young kids; urban housewife to Venice Beach hippie artist. Nagano’s story is one of courageous border-crossing, fierce motherly devotion and the power of human spirit.

Highlighted is Nagano’s turn as an Asian American single mother in the 1960s, set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the rise of counter-culture and the birth of modern feminism.

In researching the topic of single motherhood in the U.S., Kwong was amazed to find virtually nothing written, researched or documented about the Asian American version of the experience. For whatever reasons it seems to be an invisible story. To address this omission, Kwong has interviewed other Asian American single moms from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, including aspects of their stories in the piece.

Kwong incorporates a multimedia arsenal of home movies, documentary footage, archival family photos, period TV clips along with his trademark comical props and compelling monologues.

A gallery exhibit will feature weavings created by Nagano between the 1970s and the ’90s.

Kwong, who associate artistic director of Great Leap and a resident artist at the 18th Street Arts Center, is known for such one-man shows as “Secrets of the Samurai Centerfielder,” “Monkhood in 3 Easy Lessons,” and “Correspondence of a Dangerous Enemy Alien.”

Endo — himself raised by a Japanese American single mother — contributes on taiko, percussion and fue. He got his start with L.A.’s Kinnara Taiko and San Francisco Taiko Dojo, earned a natori (stage name) in classical drumming in Japan, and established the Taiko Center of the Pacific in Honolulu. He has released seven CDs of original taiko compositions.

Admission is $20 general, $15 for members, students and seniors. For more information, call (310) 315-1459 or visit http://highwaysperformance.org.

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