NAKA Dance Theater

About NAKA


The Company

Founded in 2001, NAKA Dance Theater creates experimental performance works using dance, storytelling, multimedia installations and site-specific environments. NAKA builds partnerships with communities, engages people's histories and folklore and expresses experiences through accessible performances that challenge the viewer to think critically about social justice issues. Recent themes include: racial profiling and state brutality, genetic modification of native crops, the commodification of water, cultural colonization, and the human response to overwhelming disaster. NAKA brings together and creates rapport among diverse populations, encouraging dialogue and civic participation.

Since 2001, NAKA has created work involving members of the Latinx transgender community, the local Mexican-American and Japanese-American communities, and San Francisco’s community of Argentine Tango dancers. From 2005-2008, we were artists-in-residence at ODC Theater. In 2006, NAKA was named one of the 25 to Watch by Dance Magazine. In 2007, we collaborated with visual artists from Eastside Arts Alliance, an organization of artists and community organizers of color in East Oakland to create the performance environment for The Revenge of Huitlacoche. That same year, NAKA was invited to present their work at the Hemispheric Institute on Performance and Politics' Encuentro in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2008 and 2014, we were chosen to be the San Francisco representative for SCUBA Touring Network performances in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Seattle. In 2010-11 we were Irvine Fellows at the Lucas Artist Residency Program at Montalvo Arts Center.

In 2014, NAKA created The Anastasio Project, which focused on a community-based creation process. We partnered with Racial Equity Consultant Tammy Johnson, and hosted community forums with Public Defender Matt Gonzalez, activist Cat Brooks, and Mujeres Unidas y Activas a social and economic justice organization.

In 2016, we created RACE: Stories from the Tenderloin, which deepened our relationship to Tenderloin residents and a robust network of artists, non-profits, and advocates who have long worked to support this community. The project created a continuing relationship with the Tenderloin National Forest and Anne Bluethenthal’s Skywatchers program which engages residents of Tenderloin SROs in the arts.

Our work has been presented by Dancers' Group's ONSITE, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, ODC Theater, the Queer Arts Festival, Movement Research at Judson Church (NYC), the Yerba Buena Choreographers Festival, California State University East Bay, the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center Performance Series, the Oakland Museum of California, and the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.



Photo by Faryn Borella

Photo by Faryn Borella

Debby Kajiyama loves repetition, synchronization, chaos and surprise. She was born in California’s central valley, grew up in the walnut and cherry orchards of her grandparents’ farm and also spent several years living in Tokyo. Her interests lie in the intersection of cultural studies, social justice and performance. She is inspired by influential teachers Jenny Bitner (writing), Jimi Nakagawa (taiko), and Anne Bluethenthal (social practice); the movement research of Kira Kirsch, Sara Shelton Mann and Nita Little; and the passion of Susanne Takehara and the cultural workers of Oakland's EastSide Arts Alliance.

Debby’s artistic practice includes an attention to story, objects in relation to the moving body; and the liminal state between the conscious-unconscious. Since 2001, Debby has created nine full-evening programs and numerous shorter works with NAKA that have been presented nationally and internationally. Debby has also performed with Dandelion Dancetheater, June Watanabe in Company, ZACCHO Dance Theater,  the Dance Brigade, and Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble. She has traveled to Cuba to share Obon Festival folk dances and music, and to conduct oral histories of the Japanese Diaspora in Cuba. Debby has been an artist-in-residence at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, an Irvine Fellow at Montalvo’s Lucas Artists Residency Program, and a recipient of an ACTA Apprenticeship to study Taiko with Jimi Nakagawa. She is the recipient of the 2014 The Della Davidson Prize.

Artist Statement

I facilitate collaborative creation processes to manifest performances that evoke an emotional, kinesthetic response. I am a lover of stories hidden beneath the surface because the blurry, unformed, whispered ones are the ones that need to be told. I am interested in practices that unearth the stories that reside in objects, images, the moving body, dreams. 

I look critically at systems of power and how they have become invisible, normalized. How does the practice of humility influence the relationships we cultivate? How can a performance change the lens through which we witness a story? How is a kinetic body shaped by our experiences, relationships and the power structures we live in? Working with dreams, the unconscious, improvisation and intuition as sources, I collide wordscapes, movement and ordinary objects used in unusual ways to sculpt space and welcome the viewer into our world. Creating and witnessing art strengthens our relationships to one another, giving birth to a rich potentiality where the impossible becomes conceivable.


Stevie Sanchez (multimedia, documentarian) is a Chicanx activist-filmmaker who is dedicated to supporting social justice movements and building stronger communities through cultural work. While working at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles they led animation and documentary filmmaking workshops with local Raza youth. In Oakland, they have worked with a number of social justice organizations to produce videos that strategically benefitted their campaigns. Stevie currently works at Eastside Arts Alliance where they document events, manage a digital archive, produce video curriculum, and create politically conscious short films. In conjunction with NAKA Dance Theater's The Anastasio Project (2014-2015), Stevie shot and edited documentary videos about the community's experience with state brutality. They were also responsible for creating large-scale animation and video for the Anastasio Project and mentored aspiring filmmakers as part of the project. Stevie has also collaborated with performance artist Dohee Lee.

Kevin O’Connor is a multidisciplinary artist working as a choreographer, dancer, improviser, circus artist and installation artist from Ontario, Canada and now based in the Bay area. He is involved in a decade long artistic collective exploring participatory de-colonizing performances within polluted watersheds in Ontario. Over the last few years he has worked with NAKA, Shakiri and Skywatchers in the San Francisco Bay Area, Oncogrrrls feminist art collective in Spain, and collaborated with Inuit hunter and designer Paulette Metuq on a project in Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. He has been learning with the axis syllabus community for over a decade and is a biodynamic cranial sacral practitioner. His current research examines anatomies, body performance capacities, interventions and imaginations in relation to science studies, including the becoming bio-capital, on fascia.

David Molina is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, sound designer, music producer, and recording engineer. He has created music and soundscapes for theatre, video, film, dance, performance art, radio, television, installation, and multimedia productions for the past 20 years. His work in theater has allowed him to collaborate with companies across the country, and garnered him many awards, including an LA Ovation in sound design for Lydia, at the Mark Taper Forum (2009), and a Creative Capital Grant (2009) with his interdisciplinary troupe Secos Y Mojados. He frequently provides music for video installations by Cause Collective. In 2010 he began inventing instruments and interactive sound sculptures which are displayed at galleries and festivals, including a solo exhibit Transience: The Work of David Molina, at Asterisk Gallery SF (2013), and The McLoughlin Gallery (2015). As a musician he has performed throughout North and South America and his recorded music has been presented in Europe and Japan. He performs with Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids, and as Ackamoor/Molina Duo. The later has been commissioned by Gilles Peterson to create a new piece for the upcoming album "Havana Club Rumba Sessions-Remixed". Molina's music and bands: Ghosts and Strings, Transient, and Impuritan are available on Resting Bell (Berlin,) Dorog Records (Peru,) Black Note Music (USA,) Distant Spore (USA,) or through his own D.I.Y. releases.

Scott Tsuchitani is a multidisciplinary artist and doctoral candidate in cultural studies at UC Davis.  He has exhibited his work in ten museums across the United States, and his public and online guerrilla art interventions have impacted racial discourse through the generation of dialogue and debate in social and mainstream media, as well as academic press, including publications in Queering Contemporary Asian American ArtRoutledge Companion to Museum Ethicsthe Art Newspaper (London), Impaction (Japan), Social PolicyJournal of Asian American StudiesWorld Art, and more.  As a documentary filmmaker, Tsuchitani has worked alongside Oscar and Emmy Award-winning Asian American directors on long format transnational productions such as First Person Plural and Refugee.  His own film Meeting at Tule Lake aired on national cable television and regional PBS outlets.  He began his professional life as an engineer in the medical device industry, where he co-authored patents on two critical care medical devices. More at

Emelia Martínez Brumbaugh (Project Coordinator / Tour Manager) honors and hones the unknown for choreography of a more just reality. They meld critical inquiry & strategic thinking with play & ritual in their creative practice as a coach/consultant and project manager. They have supported several liberatory projects and organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area including Physical Intelligence, Eye Zen Presents and Fierce Allies. Their commitment to creating platforms where creative practice and social renewal meet extends to their work as an educator, currently being contracted through LEAP: Arts in Education; a performer, their ongoing solo work, The Mouth, has been shown at Pro Arts Gallery, Temescal Arts Center (TAC), and will premier in new form this Fall at SAFEHouse Arts; and a creative collaborator, dancing with LXS DXS, a collective of 6 emerging artists from distinct diasporic heritages healing lineages in community, in movement, and in queer conspiracy.

Adria Otte is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and sound designer whose musical practice began with classical violin studies, continued as an electric guitarist in rock bands, expanded with free improvisation, electronics and traditional Korean drumming, and currently integrates all of the above. She recently received an MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College and her current projects include sound design for dance, theater and video, and the electro-acoustic duo, OMMO.

José María Francos (lighting designer) has designed for opera, ballet and theater, including the Oakland Opera, Oakland Ballet, The Wallflower Order, the Dance Brigade, June Watanabe In Company, Ellen Bromberg Ensemble, Joanna Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Theater, Robert Moses’ KIN, Dohee Lee Performance Projects and Amara Tabor Smith. He has received two Lighting Artist in Dance grants from Dancer's Group. In 2001 he became the Production Manager and then Director of Production and Technical Services for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, a position he retired from in 2016.

Simone Nalls (performer-collaborator) has a BA in Africana Studies from San Francisco State University. She was born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland. Simone has worked at EastSide Cultural Center, where she was once a student, facilitating E.Y.G. (EastSide's Young Guards), a youth leadership program with a focus on social justice, police brutality, and third world influences. She is currently a graduate student at NYU studying Mental Health.

Hector Torres (performer-collaborator) is a student at the College of San Mateo, studying Multimedia & Film. He was an artist in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Young Artists at Work program from 2010-2012. He is a native of San Francisco’s Mission District and works as a gardener and landscaper with the Garden Project in the County Jail. He made his theatrical debut in Campo Santo’s “Nogales” at the Magic Theater.

Michael Turner (performer-collaborator) lives in San Francisco’s Bayview District. He was an artist in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Young Artists at Work program from 2009-2012. He enjoys performance, but sees visual art as his real love. Michael has been editing games and creating animation. He is currently a student at the College of San Mateo studying Graphic Design. He thanks his previous art mentors, who have inspired him to want to continue to be exposed to all kinds of art.

Ian Winters (Media artist, Isadora programming) is an award-winning media and performance artist who often collaborates with acclaimed composers, directors, and choreographers to create both staged and open-ended visual and acoustic media environments in performance. In recent years he has received commissions from EMPAC, Rainin Foundation and the Creative Work Fund and also worked with artists such as Francis Ford Coppola, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Britten Sinfonia, opera director Netia Jones, choreographer Brenda Way/ODC, pianist Myra Melford, and many other US based artists. He maintains an active worldwide teaching practice leading workshops in live media and the integration of sensors, physical performance and site-based pieces. He studied video and performance at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts & Tufts University, followed by training in dance / physical theater and architecture. He is also the co-curator of Oakland’s MilkBar with Mary Armentrout.