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Asian Provocateurs

Chen and Dancers
Wetwork: Chen and Dancers premieres "Transparent Hinges" at Theater Artaud.

Photo by Carl Rosegg



Theater Artaud's safe space
for dangerous work

By Christa Palmer

When Theater Artaud general director Dean Beck-Stewart said that Theater Artaud was a safe place to see dangerous work, he wasn't just kidding. In countless performances, audiences are pulled to perilous heights by artists who aren't afraid to challenge their viewers with socially, culturally and politically adventurous work.

That's also the goal of the seven world and Bay Area premieres in the Asian and Asian American Performance Series, which presents interdisciplinary works inspired by each artist's cultural and artistic experience in a broad range of new contemporary and classical dance.

But is it dangerous?

Beck-Stewart explains: "What is considered dangerous is the perception of the audience, and although Theater Artaud supports new and world premiere material that most often deals with complex contents, like the Asian series, the work presented is not confrontational and dangerous, but breaks down monolithic perceptions of people and cultures while at the same time defines a cultural aesthetic."

"We nurture performers and take a risk in providing a forum for not just dangerous work," he adds, "but beautiful and honest work, which may seem dangerous because it's just different than what symphony, ballet and opera-goers and/or mainstream audiences are used to. Artists know they can experiment and express what they feel from their hearts on our stage."

If not for the illimitable perimeters that Theater Artaud sets for its non-traditional performers, audiences would never be able to experience the multiple faces of the Asian diaspora that this particular series offers. "It's very interesting because I am from Shanghai but live in the United States, and Pit Fong Lo of Bi Ma Dance Company is from Malaysia and lives in the United Kingdom," says Bay Area Chinese dancer Lily Cai, who integrates her classical folk Chinese technique with modern dance.

"When someone wants to see something different, they come to Theater Artaud," Cai says. "It's a place that makes you want to change your artistic direction, and it encourages you to do something different. 'Candelas,' which each dancer performs with lit candles, is still Chinese dance because it's an element used in folk dance and in Chinese poetry, but set to Western classical music, which gives it a complete new look. Modern dance gives me much more room to experiment and create. You know, out of a totally experimental work comes a wonderful experience."

And for the bicoastal dance group Chen & Dancers, known for their integration of modern dance techniques with Chinese opera and theater forms, founder and artistic director H.T. Chen chisels out a defined figure of what the Asian and Asian American experience really is. The company's slated "Transparent Hinges" is a compilation of research and firsthand conversations with Asians, presented on a narrative level. General Manager Ricco Siasoco, talking over the phone from the group's New York studio, attests that Chen's work "definitely challenges audiences' notions of Asian and Asian Americans because audiences need to learn about where his movements are coming from."

As Dean Beck-Stewart says: "If people need to be classified, let them do it themselves."


At Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St. Chen & Dancers: May 8­11 and May 15­18, Lily Cai Chinese Dance and Bi Ma Dance Company: May 29­June 1. Shizen Dance Theatre: June 19­22. Call for times and tickets: 621-7797 or BASS outlets.

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From the May 1997 issue of the Metropolitan

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