reflections on the enriching past week of shows and radical vagina

This past week, I was very pumped to see Vancouver’s art scene so happening, I lined up 7 shows  to see in 4 days and shared them on my facebook:

The Nether – to see David Bloom‘s acting, James Coomber‘s music/sound, Jonathan Kim‘s lighting, plus the lovely Firehall Arts Centre
This piece makes us question about our own ethic, morality and the responsibility in our imaginations as well as virtual extensions. It makes me question how far do we go with imaginations and when does it become excessive, forbidden and crossing the line.

NeOn ね音 – part of Vancouver Fringe Festival, Japanese director Mayumi Yoshida, performs bilingual, transcultural work, most casts are POC, unconventional casting, the production team are full of people with really wonderful heart and soul, especially the producer Hayley Gray. I’m happy to help out as a video consultant on the project and bring on Fringe’s most wanted LD Jono to do lighting. The piece deals with the theme of memories, space, time and transculturalism, as well as the complexity within the juxtapositions between them through story-telling and simple conversations.

食盡天下/ A Taste of Empirerice & beans theatre, Derek Chan + Pedro Chamale, SFU theatre alumni, also transcultural work and bilingual approach, POC, under-represented group (Asian male), written by the Artistic Director of the Gateway Theatre. This type of work seems to me are the future for Vancouver. It is catching up with the gap between the actual new culture in Vancouver, that isn’t so removed from the actual people who lives in this city, they become visible from the invisible, they’re voicing out from the silence, it decolonizes main stream media and even pokes fun of it, it pinches you, tickle you, then press you down and make you reflect on what the society is really making us think about the culture today, encompassing the issues of migration, colonization and  contemporary culture–even though it was wrote a few years ago, it is still very relevant today.

Sawdust Collector presents Not Yet Yeti & Mine Agente! super rad performance artist Kelly McInnes and all the way from Berlin Lisa Simpson using sewing machine to create live music + crazy drummer Ben Brown. The piece provokes the result of industrialization, consumerism and our greed shadowed by the mass media–this has been a ongoing message that Kelly has been bringing to the world. It’s a piece that has experimental performance elements, like watching a regular noise/experimental concert where you simply feel, fusing with the deeper context that it seeks to reveal from within the form. It’s one of the rare situation where the form and the context just really make sense together, why the sewing machine, why processing the sound, why using repetitions, why the bodies on stage, why stillnesses…

Collected, Traces, and Still HereCo.ERASGA /choreographer Alvin Erasga Tolentino‘s new work. It’s a profoundly beautiful and unique piece, not something you get to see often. wonderful casts like Sophia Wolfe, Olivia Shaffer, Ralph Escamillan, Walter Kubanek & Molly McDermott, as well as all the way from Philippines Kris-Belle Paclibar & Ronelson Yadao (who I saw him performed for Cloud Gate 2 in Taiwan) amazing performers, this is a dream team. I wanted to describe this work, but it would be a poetry that I recite while lucid dreaming in a trance-like ritual.

Janet Smith wrote a review on it – feel free to read here

Veteran film artist Pia Massie also wrote a response, something like this:

“This documentary noise grounds the movements in stories
which are constantly trying to race off, rising in waves
showing us our fears and desires: how much we can bear
like the mirror of a lucid dream

A single square of cloth – a malong –
becomes a comforter, a shield, the birth of a baby, a flag
a screen for so many types of desire and rejection,
a whip, a routine job, a weapon, a history of colonialism,
a chrysalis, a crown, a death wrap, a kite, a noose, a shelter,
a trap.  But these are just things.

And as we know full well, things don’t matter.  

Who are you at work, at home, in your dreams, in the world?
How does that change with each space you occupy,
each person you encounter
each relationship you forge?
What binds you? Your mother tongue, your father’s expectations,
your size and shape and color, the experiences that have marked you,
your country, your lover, your tangle of strength and weakness,
your need for safety, for sleep, for clean air and water, for risk?

All these questions were rigorously danced

Interrogating us on how we go about making meaning of our lives. “

After the show,  at the company’s gala part, film artist Yasuhiro Okada made a surprise video installation from the piece, it was like memories and dreams magically melting together and just adorably appeared in front of you.

Also at The Dance Centre a day before that, Choreographer Wen Wei Wang also showed a work-in-progress version of his new dance work for Ballet BC called Swan, which I’ve been creating the sound score with him in the past month. The process has quite satisfying and fulfilling. It’s so nice to see our imaginary work that’s embedded in the our sound score actualized into choreographic reality within less than 2 weeks of time…


If you know Wen Wei’s story of how he became a choreographer and how he came to where he is today, you’ll respect him even more.  I will be touring with Wen Wei next month for Made in China, a piece that shares different perspectives on East Asian culture and memories through the contemporary scope, to slowly strip away cultural stereotypes and connect on a more immaterial level.

Sharing a small excerpt

The biggest news for me this past week is actually that our dear artist friend Natalie Tin Yin Gan is on the cover of The Georgia Straight. While our artist-friend circle were all cheering for her, I bumped into her dearest friend/collaborator Milton Lim after watching one of the Fringe show, who empathically suggested me to get to know the stories behind the cover page. On the same night, we all went to watch Co.ERASGA‘s show, after the show, I immediately went to talk to Natalie to find out what happened behind the “cover page”. She shared with me lightly on what she had to go through on the process on being on this cover, it was a bit too emotional for her to get into. What stood up for me is her appreciation and gratitude towards our community that is so supportive and empathetic towards injustice, that as a women of colour, she feels safe enough to express her voice and still being able to sleep at night. This struck me and reminded me that, it is true that at different time and space that’s not too far away from us, many minorities still suffers from systematic discrimination of all kinds. Right now, we’re talking about racism and sexism, and it is still very prevail, on many layers and different levels… I held her hand and thanked her for her bravery and selflessness–someone like her to be able to think beyond the ego, beyond fame, and constantly thinking for the world, voicing out these important issues that needs a change, I encouraged her to share it as soon as she can.

to share what Natalie posted:

(a shortened version of a longer letter to you all))

I want to thank everyone for the love and support re: the Straight cover— it means more to me than you know. This photoshoot was not easy. All the emails led me to believe that i was walking into a highly sexist, racist, and toxic space within which I was expected to feed and be eaten whole by the photographer’s bastardized idea of what female dancers must act and look like.

I was told by the photographer that “they want their dancers looking like dancers”. I was told that “you’re not from here”. I was asked to come dressed in my Chinese cheongsam, adorned in jade. I was fucking livid. And in fear. I knew that I had to arrive with my voice and my guns a-fucking-blazing. It was up to me to carve a safe space, to acknowledge/promptly disregard the violence of his gaze, and to leave when I had had enough.

The photoshoot went just as i feared, an hour long power trip where the he was oblivious to his ASSUMPTION of my voicelessness, my powerlessness. That vagina costume was my sheath, my shield, my plea, my power, my subversion. My I-DO-NOT-CARE-FOR-YOUR-VIOLENT-OLD-WHITE-MALE-GAZE-YOU-PICKED-THE-WRONG-VAGINIE-TO-MESS-WITH.

If i am being given space to speak, then i best wield it. Leverage it. Because I have the privilege of safety. Of my own whiteness. And most of all, of support. In doing the work, I feel the support of my tribe. I feel my community behind me. i feel love. and solidarity.

To my community, that spans across cities and continents. Thank you. There’s so much work to be done. My vaginal pose on the Straight cover is for you.

 

I was definitely more interested in her true story than just the fact that she’s being on the cover, this is why i’m sharing this story here. Can you imagine how hard it is to take on this risk? For professional artists like her and myself, we make a living off our image, identity and even branding if you want to call that, every moment of exposure can be vital for our career. Before we make it up there like Ai Wei Wei did, to be able to have a whole lot of capacity, professional agency and the say on our presentation in the media. We know that’s a long battle and we need to be sharp, smart, act fast, seize opportunities and endure pain for sacrifices when necessary.

An opportunity to be on the cover of the biggest media portal for the arts and culture in Vancouver means a lot to artists like us, it helps you to make a leap in your career in many ways. Can you imagine how hard it is for Natalie to go through these thought process? Yes, it’s one of those classic Cinderella or Notting Hill stories, how we all want to transform and elevate, classic scandals of how Hollywood producers takes advantages of the actresses who are desperate for opportunities, or in many job environment in general, when it’s run by this chauvinist, colonialist, racist/sexist society. Do I endure this pain for this rare opportunity and just follow what they say, give them what they want, or do I follow my heart and resist? What if they strike me down, banned me, muted me, I become invisible, then are these voices worth it if it doesn’t get heard? Or should I just seize the opportunity and work on the fight later? I can imagine these struggles if I was in Natalie’s shoe. But she did it, they asked her to dress to look like “a dancer” or presumably some “exotic Chinese girl”, she fucking showed up in a vagina costume.
It makes me want to drop this song that I just encountered.

To me, a voice that expressed true and honest story is far more valuable and interesting than a mere week-of-fame on the cover page– superficial and sad– if it’s any media still fabricate with this kind of discriminatory and superficial image–we need to continue to fight the good fight, and create supportive environment so people like Natalie can continue to feel safe and to be so brave and true to themselves–to support this kind of authentic voice and woke spirit.

Yes, we need to wake up from this bad dream that the past generations have left for us to work hard for, and they’re still lingering in our world today. One way to do it is to continually voicing out, calling out bullshit, express genuine concerns, feelings, finding universalities as human-being, connect on person-to-person level and being in the arts and culture community–create good art and see good shows. Well, at least the art work that are coming from a honest place, seeks to challenge the norm, makes you question, think beyond the box, yes, we still need to withstand this overwhelming authority that the 1% still possesses over the mass media, and recognize how it is still distorting our reality, ideology and true value.

To sum up this post, I’d like to share another song that this young radical Asian-Canadian women named Sam Truong whom I met after the show 食盡天下/ A Taste of Empire at the Gateway Theatre, she shared lots of radical views and spirits, as well as sharing our communities and groups of social activists and radical thinkers, I realized it was an important moment that an “old woke Asian” bridges with the young woke Asian, as she puts it. She shared with me the last song and this song that I’m going to drop really hard in here. It fucking speaks to my heart, so loudly.

To get up there, to change the system, how much do you have to go through, how much do you have to change yourself and compromise to fit into the system? When you’re given this chance, what would you do? sell out? Many women have to show their skin to get a say, and the perpetuate this enslavement by the discriminatory system. Many women had to literally showed their vagina for fame, and Natalie showed hers, but in a completely opposite way, this radical women of colour does not conform to the overarching power of colonialism and sexism. For the discrimination against Asian males, it is also an even more invisible issue, yet, I’ve been waiting, waiting for issues for women of colour and Black Lives Matter as well as Islamophobia to be resolved before the focus can shift for me, mean while, I’ll be yelling and standing up loudly and proudly with these group and allies that are seeking changes, because the sources of these issues are all interlocking together.

After this intensive show-attending week, I became even more assured with one thing, keep voicing out, keep making changes, keep connecting with people, keep following your heart as well as your dreams. Don’t fall back. Don’t fall back to the easy and comfortable mess that the lazy/greedy world has left for us. I have hope, because all these shows that I saw, none of them falls back to those pitfalls, they don’t play on easy stereotypes for profiting, for their insecurity and lack of confidence/ability to grasp audience’s attention, they don’t consume and profit off the actor/performers and treat them like tools. They are works with honest expression, authentic voice and vision, that, is already a huge step to take on, that’s rising above from the main stream media and fighting against the normative social ideology. It sounds easy, but it’s not, especially when you’re putting in the position of power and various responsibilities, and when you realized that the power of this outdated/conservative system is still so huge and overarching. But I have hope, from the shows that I saw, I have hope, knowing what Natalie did with her vagina, I have lots of hope.

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