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Mother Nature 

Facing East Dance & Music's new piece

Wednesday, Mar 14 2001
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Facing East Dance & Music, the all-Asian-American female dance troupe, has quite a reputation to live up to after only one production. Its acclaimed debut, Rice Women -- an emotional exploration of roots, rituals, traditions, and cultural history spanning three generations of Chinese-American women -- required lavish light designs and 600 pounds of rice used as a brilliant backdrop for the graceful performance. The company's latest piece, The Nature of Nature, an evening-length premiere incorporating abstract movements, written text, and live music by the acclaimed Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble, is less extravagant: It requires no rice and only modest sets, but equally substantial amounts of dance virtuosity.

Founded in 1999 by choreographer and former Dance Brigade member Sue Li-Jue, Facing East came together with a lofty mission: to "strengthen the Asian-American voice" in the local dance community, according to associate director and dancer Vivien Dai. The troupe addresses the division of our personalities and identities into distinct, neat categories -- ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age, for example -- by creating rich, varied, and nonstereotypical roles for Asian-American women.

Li-Jue, moved by the birth of her daughter and the death of her grandmother, eloquently fashioned Rice Women to physically express the difficulties of navigating a multicultural identity, of negotiating a modern American perspective with an equally relevant ancient Chinese legacy. Although The Nature of Nature does not deal directly with the political issues of being Asian-American, the work explores the connections between mind, body, and nature with an Asian sensibility and visual aesthetic, illustrated in the chosen subject matter and stark, fluid lines of movement. "This is our Asian-American voice, our interpretation of whatever subject we're working with," asserts Dai.

According to the Chinese tradition, a balanced personality is composed of the five elements of nature -- fire, earth, water, metal, and wood -- a concept that is the basis for Chinese astrology and various healing arts like acupressure. Each element represents a specific feeling or personality trait (for example, earth embodies worry, metal symbolizes sadness, and water signifies fear), which is then captured through physical movement: Fear takes the form of shaking hands, fire (which represents happiness) is characterized by sudden, fleeting motion. Composed of five vignettes in which five solo dancers pair with solo musicians, the piece lets their relationships evoke various emotional states.

Visuals play an important role in The Nature of Nature as well, with large bamboo sets designed by Richard Jue decorated with examples of the elements -- a piece of Plexiglas for water, a slab of metal. The troupe is already working on another piece inspired by Angel Island, and its future looks bright. There will be plenty of time to produce more literal translations of the political, but for now, the work is elemental.

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Lisa Hom

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