Former Tribune critic Howard Reich writes ballet about Japanese-Canadian internment

Howard Reich (Photo: Pam Becker)

For more than 40 years Howard Reich covered music and the arts for the Chicago Tribune with passion and sensitivity, adding six books and three documentary films to his prodigious credits as an award-winning critic.

Now, nearly one year after he accepted a buyout from the Tribune, the treasured Chicago journalist is about to unveil perhaps the most inspiring project of his career — to be presented in an entirely new realm.

Reich has written the stage scenario for “Kimiko’s Pearl,” a new multidisciplinary work to be performed by principal dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Commissioned by the nonprofit Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts based in Ontario, Canada, “Kimiko’s Pearl” tells the fictionalized family story of Bravo Niagara! co-founders (and mother-daughter team) Christine Mori and Alexis Spieldenner, whose Japanese Canadian ancestors were interred during World War II.

2022 will mark 80 years since the forced uprooting, internment and dispossession of 22,000 Canadians of Japanese ancestry.

Reich’s story of heroism and hope in the face of racism is told through the eyes of Kimiko, a 15-year-old Toronto girl who discovers an old family trunk containing her great-grandfather’s diary. As Kimiko reads the diary, her family’s tale comes to life.

Audiences will get a peek at the production of “Kimiko’s Pearl” with the premiere January 8 of a short film featuring the opening scene. Reich will be on hand at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre for the screening.

“Working on ‘Kimiko’s Pearl’ is turning out to be one of the most inspiring projects of my career. The tantalizing challenge has been to write thousands of words laying out a story that will be told onstage with no words at all,” Reich told me.

“One of the many reasons I agreed to take this on is because ‘Kimiko’s Pearl’ confronts the racism that made Japanese-Canadian internment during WWII possible. That same kind of bigotry also triggered the internment of Japanese-Americans. And that degree of hate similarly laid the groundwork for the Holocaust, which both my parents survived.”

Reich, who grew up in Skokie and graduated from Northwestern University, achieved worldwide acclaim for Prisoner of Her Past: A Son’s Memoir, his book about the lifelong trauma his mother suffered from her ordeal in the Holocaust, and the 2010 Kartemquin Films documentary it inspired.

Mori, co-founder and artistic director of Bravo Niagara!, said in a statement: “We hope audiences come away with a deeper understanding of and desire to learn more about this important, yet often untold, chapter in Canadian history.”

Friday’s comment of the day: Kenneth Rudd: I could not be happier for Nick [Digilio]! He is what radio and podcasts should be about. He’s passionate about his interests, engaging, accessible and a joy to listen to. When WGN unleashed their bloodletting he was the worst casualty. Never has a man loved his employer more, thus making me gleefully remove them from my radio presets. I’ve already set a reminder for January to help Nick on his next journey.

Kimiko’s Pearl