One nicety of living so close to the UC Berkeley campus is the ease of dropping in on lectures, international performances, rarely screened movies at Pacific Film Archives, openings at the Berkeley Art Museum, and the occasional, delightful student presentation.
Last Friday, I attended the Berkeley Dance Project 2008 student performance of Torelli by Twyla Tharp, MELT by Kim Epifano and two premiere works -- Ouorboros by Ariel Osterweis Scott and Symmetry Study #8 by Jess Curtis.
To my surprise, none of the female dancers were anorexic wraiths as we've come to expect from ballet, but possessed bodies that were -- well, real like those Dove women in that billboard campaign that splattered giant real natural beauties in all sizes and shapes across the metroscape of America. I had actually seen that launch while crossing the East River into Manhattan late one night, each of many billboards well-lit against the Big Apple's mountain range like cityscape. Yet, B-Project's dancers; bodies were obviously as flexible and strong, and in their modern way, they equally twirled, leaped, entangled, "fell" into heaps on the floor, and flapped extended arms jarringly.
In Symmetry Study #8, starting in various, still positions, the dancers very slowly stirred and then paired off into a series of body contact improvisations that in some cases were quite sensual.
But the most delightful surprise to me was the presence of several Asian American women in the troupe -- and gasp of several Asian American men. Back in the day at Cal, in the early 1970s, I was among the new school Asian Americans -- of countercultural life-stylists and community empowerment radicals who launched Asian American Studies. The old school set was still strong then and as it is to this day -- get into a safe major like pre-med, business, architecture, or business. Given the Jim Crow times then, this wasn't a bad survival strategy.
Still back then, except for political street theater and protest poetry, few if any of us moved into the arts. In my own case, I became a lawyer and didn't start writing until 2000. Yet, here I was watching not one or two, but at least four Asian American women and three Asian American men completely dedicated to dance performance. And they were excellent!
So finally, this is sizable enough to call them the Third Wave of Asian American students -- those majoring in the performance arts, music, film and so on.
A special shout-out to Kiki Cheng who performed in every dance and also in the lobby site-specific body sculpture movement preceding the show and also to Maura Tang who surprisingly sang a sweet spiritual. Maura Tang also performed in three pieces, and the lobby pre-show (with Kiki - yeah, it was HOT!). And give it up to Danny Nguyen and Wayne Tai Lee for their strong, tall, and gorgeous presences.
Berkeley Dance Project is playing through next weekend at the Zellerbach Playhouse, that small theater on the west end of big Zellerbach hall. Tickets for non-students are $15.00. Visit www.theater.berkeley.edu.
Also, next weekend there is a series of free (I think) workshops and lectures around the related Dance Under Construction Conference at UC Berkeley. Kiki and friends' performances inspired me to take a movement workshop next Friday afternoon.
On dying stereotypes and kinder times, please catch Arthur Dong's new documentary, "Hollywood Chinese." What makes this film fresh and quite intelligent instead of just another exploration of damaging stereotypes (important breakthrough work back in the day) are his interviews with the new wave of Chinese American directors and actors: Ang Lee, Justin Lee, B.D. Wang, and with Caucasian actors who have played Chinese roles, Louise Rainer who played Olan the Hollywood b/w movie version of Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth" and Christopher Lee, who played Fu Manchu in several 1970s films. Ms. Rainier spoke clearly of how much work she put into learning the body postures, speech nuances, and other cultural aspects of playing a traditional Chinese woman. Christopher Lee spoke of the physical discomfort of "gluing" his eyes into an epicanthic fold so he would look Chinesey (not difficult if they had only casted on of many Chinese American actors although I truly look forward to a new day of color-blind casting that is a two-way street).
B.D. Wang in particular opened up in a surprising and deeply personal way of his many breakthrough roles in film, stage, and TV. Justin Lin spoke of that the Q&A following the Sundance screening of his film, "Better Luck Tomorrow" and Roger Ebert jumping up - two thumbs up and two arms flailing -- defending Lin's right to portray Asian American characters and plots anyway he wants to, redeeming social values or not.
Joan Chen speaks freely about aging and seeking new and groundbreaking roles. She confesses that the only time she ever felt she deserved the acclaims was when she produce her critical and box office success, her first movie "Xiu-Xiu: Sent-down Girl," where she was in total control.
In a similar arc, but in her own fashion, Nancy Kwan shares her own True Tales of Hollywood Horror. I had forgotten how gorgeous she was in Flower Drum Song and The World of Susie Wong. In retrospect, there were actually some progressive scenes in Flower Drum Song (although not the chop suey song). The Suzy Wong character, while a hooker, was not submissive, but brassy, in control of her clients, and apparently supported her family on her earnings.
Arthur Dong has clearly mastered the craft of letting people speak, perhaps surprisingly more revealingly then they had planned on. There are many other great interviews, including with Wayne Wang, Henry David Hwang,and James Hong hilariously mimicking Peter Lorre -- and all nicely interspersed with film clips. Playing in SF Bay Area through most of this week at the Grand Lake and Sundance Kabuki theaters.
Check www.HollywoodChinese.com or deepfocusproductions.com for other showings nationally and internationally.
Well, off to Harbin Hot Springs tomorrow for another bone-deep soaking and a lot of nature.
(C) 2008. William Poy Lee
Causes William Lee Supports
Kim Baptiste's Culture Clash Hip-Hop Clubs for Youth, SF Bay Area East Bay Meditation Center, availing Buddhist wisdom to inner cities Belladonna Sanctuary...