Tonight I was present at the Canadian premiere of Yang Zhen’s third installment of his “Revolution Game Trilogy”, Minorities, a Red Virgo production presented by Canadian Stage.
You will recognize many things in this show.
We watch five female dancers later joined by a singer. We begin with the stillness of a minimalist tableau that reminded me of Robert Wilson’s Turandot, until the cartoon faces unexpectedly start singing, including a comical Mao Zedong. The energy is wildly happy, with the subtlest overtones of disrespect.
And then each one presents herself as a member of an ethnic group associated with a place.
Macao: Lou Hio Mei
Uyghur: Guzhanuer Yusufu,
Tibet: Gan Luyangzi
Chinese Korean: Ma Xiao Ling (I did not know that there were Chinese Koreans)
At times we heard them speaking their language, at least I think so because of the variety we heard. These are very beautiful to hear, whether or not they are also mixed with a few English words. When have I ever heard so many languages in one short evening’s program?
They were dancing their national dance, attired in their folk costume, sometimes singing or playing music. For awhile it moves along very conservatively, each one showing us something about themselves, teaching us about their past even as we get glimpses of complexities & conflicts.
We’re told of the pressure to conform & to blend into the bigger cultures while abandoning one’s authentic language. I’m reminded of the cultural genocide here with the Indigenous populations.
At one point the safe and conservative music is juxtaposed against something wildly provocative, in costuming that’s modern. I won’t say much because I don’t want to spoil the effect, other than to say that they are on the edge of a kind of satire, where lip service is paid to the Cultural Revolution & Madame Mao even as those values are mocked & parodied.
It’s among the subtlest satire I’ve ever seen, from a group of performers who were always positive, smiling & welcoming to the audience.
I had a wonderful experience. Before the show began the young woman sitting next to me said a quiet hello, which I wasn’t sure whether it was directed at me or the person beside me. I think perhaps it was meant for both of us? We both quietly said ‘hi’ back.
A couple of minutes later she said hello again and this time it felt more like it was for me, and so I answered. We began to chat.
I was fortunate to be sitting beside Ma Xiao Ling, who pointed to her picture in the program and said “that’s me” in a very friendly voice.
And so we chatted. I asked her how many languages she speaks (a few… including a fair grasp of English), asked her about her discipline (she’s a dancer, she started at the age of 7 and has been dancing for 20 years… so I concluded she must be 27), and the future of the show (after 10 days here they’re off to San Francisco). After she had told me who she was (pointing at the program) it only seemed fair that I should give her my business card with the blog’s address although I don’t know if she will see this review.
And when the loud music began, she and a few others seated in the audience got up and began to dance ever more vigorously in place before going to the stage. At times it’s the folk dance that conforms to the values of the Cultural Revolution, at other times much more modern & radical.
If you go see this show and one of them addresses you I recommend that you talk to them. You won’t regret it. It’s truly immersive, as we they sometimes came right into the audience to interact with us, and then taking some of us onto the stage to dance later on.
More and more I think that a discipline can be like a fortress that offers a place for people to hide. Canadian Stage have become a company curating experiences that mix disciplines while challenging our expectations, and avoiding the safe & easy pathway. We’re in the presence of music, dance, layers of meaning in the words & images, animation & text.
I didn’t know what to expect when I came in, and indeed am a bit mystified by the cool surface of Minorities. There’s a sentence in the program that I have come back to more than once, as I seek to unpack the layers of irony:
“Yang explores the constant conflict between social prejudice and individual consciousness—how one can express oneself and relate to the world in which they live—and examines how minority identities in China fit, or don’t fit, in the narrative of a harmonious One China.”
At times we’re hearing of the 56 different ethnicities, reconciled into the One China especially in big loud songs that sound like communist propaganda. The dancing is enthusiastic, even if we’re given images to problematize their ideal utopia.
Minorities is a piece of dance theatre to challenge preconceptions & assumptions even while offering you something that feels very sweet & kind, continuing until October 27th at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre aka the Berkeley St Theatre.