minorities is an incredible and thought-provoking work
Unapologetically bold and powerfully provocative minorities makes its Canadian debut at Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre. Choreographer Yang Zhen questions the personal disconnect of social identity within the new generation of ethnic minorities in China through dance, theatre, and vocals.
The space bathes in red. Red painted microphones within red circular hoops, and small red chairs sit at the front of the stage. White mannequins with different traditional garb have red tape covering their mouths, eyes and private parts near the back. The backdrop has a red wash, and a video projection of figures appearing to be drawn occurs during the pre-show.
As the show is about to begin, the drawing on the backdrop starts to take on more colour and shape more details. The center of the image is Chairman Mao. Rock music plays, dancers thrash around as the on-screen figures are given animated mouths, including Mao, to sing to the music and dance around the screen. With this shocking transition, I knew I was in for some incredible theatre.
minorities is the third installment by Yang Zhen. The first dealt with the abolishment of the “one-child policy in China, the second the hopes and ambitions of the younger generation in Mainland China. minorities focuses on the social circumstances of ethnic minorities in the new generation of China. It asks the question of: What is minority? Majority? Nationality? Social identity?
The show presents a powerful all-female cast expressing their voices and dance traditions from the Tibetan region, Inner Mongolia, the Uyghur Autonomous Region Xinjiang and Macao, as well as a Korean-Chinese dancer and an opera singer from Hunan Province. Each expresses their relation to their identities, speaking in both English and their native language which is translated at the back of the stage.
My guest describes it as Tarantino-esque. You never quite know what is going to happen next. The performance jumps from humourous dance lessons about flirting with the audience to the emotional background of a performer not being accepted for being gay within her culture.
The performers were incredibly personable. They were able to smoothly interact with the audience as a whole, awkwardly asking questions to the group of their name, age and background, receiving some answers (rather than the typical silence).
Although red is a motif through the work, the colourful costumes and video footage are striking. The show is a mix of all different types of dance – from traditional to freestyle, mixed with performance art, singing, lip-syncing, theatre and much more. The audience is thoroughly stimulated, through both flashy entertainment and challenging topics to ponder.
Part of me has a hard time reviewing this show as so much happens that an encompassing impression is hard to pin down. As I write this review my mind is jumping from one image or moment to the next, wishing I could sit down with the performers and choreographers to talk about it. I take this as a sign of incredible and thought-provoking work. I highly encourage anyone and everyone to go see minorities. I thoroughly look forward to more work from Yang Zhen and know the young choreographer has a bright career ahead.
Photo by Dahlia Katz.