Mitsuko Verdery and Anya Clarke are the cofounders of MICHIYAYA Dance, an all-women, improv-based contemporary dance and visual arts company based in New York City. MICHIYAYA is making history by empowering women and girls through their dance classes and improvisational sessions that are designed to make participants more comfortable in their own skin. Learn more about this inspiring duo who are promoting body positivity, self-confidence, and freedom from judgement for women through their dance and performance art.
Names: Mitsuko Verdery and Anya Clarke
Company: MICHIYAYA Dance
Job Title: Artistic Directors
Currently based in: New York City
Originally from: Both of us are from New York City.
Anya: My superpower is seeing the potential in individuals who exude purpose; to recognize those who want to learn and grow through their talent.
Mitsuko: My superpower is getting things done! Sometimes I can be impatient – which I’m working on – but I think the Capricorn in me is always determined to get our MICHIYAYA work done. I know that if we don’t invest the time in our practice, it will never improve.
Name a woman in history that you admire & why:
Anya: Pina Bausch, because she was a boss-ass bitch haha 🙂 In all seriousness, Pina was an amazing woman who broke boundaries in dance, and this is something that I hope to accomplish in my career.
Mitsuko: Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu, also known as Hina Wong-Kalu or Kumu Hina. She is a Native Hawaiian leader and teacher. I discovered her on Netflix in a documentary, Kumu Hina, that followed her story as a māhū, or transgender woman. The documentary tells the story of how Kumu Hina teaches a young girl to be a leader in an all-male hula group. This girl is such a boss! I can’t wait to see what she does as she gets older. Hina Wong-Kalu is an incredible leader. I also have family in Hawaii, so seeing her doing great work to preserve Hawaiian culture was very inspiring.
What inspired you to start your current venture?
Mitsuko: At the time me and Anya met, I was unsure of whether I wanted to pursue my own dance career, be a visual/performance artist, or audition and work for other choreographers and artists. I have always been a creator, since I was young. Once we met and decided to work together, I realized I want to continue to create and make my own path. I really just wanted to make things!
What is your company doing to make history today?
Anya: We are showing dance and performance work that is relevant to today.
Mitsuko: Making artwork that is meaningful or potent for others. Our contemporary dance classes and improvisational sessions are designed to make people more comfortable in their own skin. We want to promote body positivity, self-confidence and freedom from judgement.
What is one project you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
Mitsuko: We are currently working on our newest self-produced work titled /wē/. It premieres April 6-8 at Gibney Dance Center in Manhattan as a part of their POP (Performance Opportunity Project) series. This work will feature our full company of six women dance artists and our music collaborators, slowdanger. This work dives into gender studies and examining the gender binary. We are focused on blurring masculine and feminine energies, encouraging freedom of expression, and redefining the physical body through contemporary dance and performance art.
What, in your opinion, is one of the biggest challenges facing your industry today?
Anya: The dance world is really struggling to get proper funding. It is a challenge for many dance companies to sustain their practice, and as a growing company, we are still figuring out how to make it work.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced at this job?
Anya: We have screwed up in the past by not being detailed enough with our collaborators. It led to conflict and forced us to make a sacrifice to our art. We now make an effort to be very clear with each person we work with to define their role, our role, and how we will work together.
What were you doing before your current role?
Anya: I went to Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. After graduation, I worked at a BBQ spot as a meat cutter.
Mitsuko: I went to Carnegie Mellon University and attended the Alvin Ailey Dance School for two years. Both during and after college, I had a lot of freelance jobs – babysitting, hostessing, Pilates instructing, video editing, photography…too many things!
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to other female founders & change-makers?
Anya: Don’t let the struggles of your ancestors stop you from achieving your goals. Allow those struggles to guide you through your own path. Art will blossom with ease.