Turkish born, Japanese by ancestry and international in outlook, Mireki Jasmine Okubo is one of Bali’s youngest and most celebrated dancers. Photos by Yaeko Masuda.
Hi, what’s your name?
Mireki Okubo. But since birth everybody has called me Jasmine.
How old are you?
I’m 21 yrs old.
Where are you from?
Japan, but I grew up in southern Turkey, on the west side of Asia minor in the Bodrum Peninsula.
What styles of dance do you perform?
Balinese traditional and contemporary dance…
Where did you study?
I studied for one year in primary school in Turkey and the rest of my time travelling in other countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Madagascar, Egypt, Greece, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, China, Hawaii and Japan. I visited Bali in 1990 and later started regular appearances at Padang Tegal in 1997, performing the Barong dance for tourists with local girls. I also appeared regularly at the Ubud Palace, starting as a member of Sekaa Gong Bina Remaja in 1998. I performed Legong Kraton, Taruna Jaya, Kebyar Duduk, Oleg Tambulilingan, Kupu-kup Tarum and Ramayana, all of which are popular with locals and tourists alike.
What was it like being a foreigner studying Balinese dance in Bali?
Hmm…some people have been really supportive of me in Bali, but it’s really hard to express the way I feel because I am still a foreigner here. I can tell you that it was harder when I was younger, compared to now. This year, I got chance to meet one of Bali’s dance maestros, I Gusti Ayu Raka Rasmi, from Peliatan, Ubud. She really wants to teach me her movements to save her technique and style for future generations in Bali. Of course this makes me really happy.
What was it like being a Japanese girl growing up in Turkey?
Mostly I just grew up like other Turkish girls and I’m proud of it. Because Turkish girls are really talented and they can do many things from a younger age. I am grateful to both my parents for choosing that country as my birthplace.
How do you feel when you go back to Japan?
I feel very strange. Like a tourist. It doesn’t feel as if I am going back home.
Is Bali your home now?
Well, I love rujak, so the answer must be yes! Sometimes I still miss Turkey.
Which dancers inspire you?
Actually many dancers can be inspire me. From beginners through to professionals…they each have their own talents and characters and I can learn from all of them. In 2001 I met a jazz ballet dancer called Duane George from Seattle, USA. He was one of the dancers that made me realise I needed to open my eyes to create my own movements. He is an incredible dancer, even though he is now 60 years old. I will never forget what he taught me.
When did you first start to dance?
When I was nine years old. But I have been dreaming about being a Balinese dancer since the age of three.
Did your parents support you in your desire to dance?
Yes, they have supported me a lot. I mean, we moved from Turkey all the way to Bali so I could learn!
Have you ever fallen while performing?
Yes I have. Nobody’s 100 percent perfect.
What goes through your mind when you are dancing?
Nothing, mostly. Sometimes ideas do race through my head, of course, but I try to just focus on what I need to do.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a performing artist?
If you don’t work hard, you’re poor.
Have you won any awards for your dancing?
Yes. I won first prize at Oleg Tambulilingan Institute Art University of Indonesia (ISI) in Denpasar and second prize for Indonesia’s first dance competition on TV, Gemerlap Penari Indonesia.
What makes a good dancer, in your opinion?
We all need to be challenged, and to work hard. The human body is an amazing creation and we must fully explore what it is capable of doing. I live by the idea that movement is my body, and my body is movement.