The collaborations of San Francisco’s Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater and Shanghai’s Reckless Moments will be Speaking Chinese through dance at 4 p.m. Sunday in Mondavi’s Studio Theater.
UC Davis is hosting the world premier of Speaking Chinese with the traditional and orchestral music of Shanghai composer Jian’er Zhu. The production will then travel to San Francisco, where it will open the Fifth Annual International Arts Festival on Wednesday.
Executive director of the festival Andrew Wood said, “Artists have always been critical thinkers as well as cultural ambassadors. When they collaborate they allow one culture to better understand another.“
Kim Epifano, a 2006 UC Davis graduate school alumna and choreographer of the production, based dance movements and plot upon the writings of Ailing Zhang’s Love in a Fallen City.
Epifano said the title of the production portrays how people communicate when they are from two different places socially and emotionally.
Speaking Chinese stars C. Derrick Jones, an established theatrical performer in Los Angeles, and Honglan Hou, a principal soloist prima ballerina in the National Ballet of China. Both Jones and Hou are experienced actors.
“From a Chinese point of view, this kind of production is quite radical – a Chinese person and a Black American dancing on stage together,“ said Lynette Hunter, professor of the history of rhetoric and performance.
Epifano describes the show as telling a story with abstract ballet. It is a challenge for the actors to translate these characters without words. Jones and Hou come from different artistic backgrounds that benefit how the story translates and becomes something new.
Set in the 1940s, the novelette follows the life of a girl (Hou) in Shanghai who does not want to become a concubine. The man (Jones) chosen for her sister by a matchmaker falls for her instead. In a land of warfare, the two find comfort and love in one another. However, she forever questions whether their love emerged because of the fear and violence around them, making it impure.
Zhang’s story of love and struggle inspires a journey that can be told through movements of the body rather than just words on paper.
Many of Zhang’s works have been transferred onto the big screen and onto the stage, including Lust, Caution which was recently released on DVD.
“Her writing is sexually and emotionally explicit about emotional love, grief and death,” Hunter said.
While earning her Master of Fine Arts degree at UC Davis, Epifano enrolled in Hunter’s graduate course in traditional and contemporary Chinese movement. To Hunter, Epifano’s experience with cross-cultural productions made her a clear candidate for choreographing a Chinese/American fusion show.
This past fall, Hunter set Epifano up with dramaturge Barry Plews from Reckless Moments. Epifano said they corresponded through Skype – an online program that allows users to make calls over the Internet – for the entire initial process. Epifano and Jones then traveled to Shanghai for three weeks to meet and rehearse with the China team. They recently just returned from practicing in Beijing.
The two teams sparked a much hoped-for synergy.
“It is a genuine collaboration between two completely different cultures trying to make it exciting for everyone to see,“ Hunter said.
Performing in the United States this week will be Reckless Moments‘ first time working on Speaking Chinese across the Pacific Ocean. The company plans for shows in China, the U.S. and eventually further international travel.
Three events of discussion and a dance workshop by Epifano are open to the public in days preceding the premiere of Speaking Chinese. For more information, go to theatredance.ucdavis.edu.
Tickets are available at the Mondavi Center Box Office. Ticket prices are $10 general and $5 for students and youth.
JUNE QUAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.