Culture  Silken movements

QuebeAsia uses dance to explore the heritage of the Silk Road

The first QuebeAsia Series, a weekend of dance performances that reflected the fluidity, pervasiveness, and power of Asian dance forms, came to a close Saturday night at Art Neuf. QuebeAsia was organized by the Silken Dance Company, a group that focuses on dance styles from the Silk Road in Central Asia, which stretched from China to the Middle East. The mission of Silken Dance, according to the company’s web site, is to “nurture an artistic reflection that contributes to an informed political and cultural dialogue in the contemporary context.” The group incorporates classical training and contemporary expression to create a new, dynamic interpretation of Silk Road dance styles. 
Manijeh Ali, the founder and artistic director of Silken Dance, and organizer of the QuebeAsia series, participated in the event along with five other Quebec-based choreographers. Each of the series’ three evenings examined a different theme, from Asian history to culture to politics, through a combination of dance forms. The final night of the series, dedicated to an “exploration of historical and social themes through diverse Asian dance aesthetics,” included work by six participating artists: Ali, Reena Almoneda-Chang, Anne-Marie Lanthier, Catherine Cédilot, Justine Ricard, and Roger Sinha.

The four pieces presented on the festival’s final evening encompassed a range of creative styles, including dance, speech, and theatre, to delve into a common theme – nomadic identity and the search for cultural and historical roots. “La Mariée”, the opening piece, interpreted this theme with the lightest touch; the work was described as an expression of “the deeper…and lighter sides of a travel through our interior.” Choreographers Anne-Marie Lanthier, Catherine Célidot, and Justine Ricard made the work for a single performer – Célidot performed the part – and created a moving canvas by projecting video footage of birds onto the dancer’s white wedding dress.

Ali’s own choreographic contribution, a work titled “Under the Blue Sky of Genghis Khan”, approached the concept of migration much more literally. The piece traced the life story of the historical figure of Genghis Khan through four tableaus, and was executed in a more classical South Asian style.  
Final performer Roger Sinha used mixed media to enhance his piece, “P-DJ #2”. He closed the show with a multidisciplinary work that used speech to convey the feelings of alienation and overt racism that he confronted upon immigrating to Canada in 1968. Throughout P-DJ#2, Sinha fused movement and spoken word; he often sang lyrics that centred on the “cultural collision” he experienced as a person of colour immigrating to the Canadian prairies, and his struggle to reclaim his identity as a South Asian. This explicit exploration of identity, literally vocalized through the song, was a unique addition to the piece, but left little room for individual interpretation of Sinha’s message. 
In contrast to Sinha’s more explicit approach to issues facing immigrants to Canada, choreographer Reena Almoneda-Chang’s “L’arbre Nomade” offered a subtle exploration and understanding of the struggles facing immigrants and first-generation Canadians. Almoneda-Chang, a Canadian dance-maker of Filipino and Chinese descent, often takes issues of immigration and cultural identity as inspiration for her work; in this case, she used the metaphor of a nomadic tree to explore the idea of reclaiming her cultural roots while retaining her identity as a Canadian. She found inspiration for the piece through dealing with her grief following the death of her Chinese grandfather. “There are all these customs around funerals that are so close to you and yet so far,” Almoneda-Chang said. Coming to terms with these customs and their effect on her identity as a Canadian, she explained, was an important part of the creation of the piece.  
Almoneda-Chang employed a combination of African, Indian, and Asian dance forms in “L’arbre Nomade.” “The fusion of styles connects to feelings about my identity,” she remarked. However, her exploration of these themes is often “not literal,” but rather an exploration through the juxtaposition of dance styles. The more abstract nature of her work provided space for the viewer’s individual interpretation of the movements, rather than spelling out each of the choreographer’s intentions, feelings, and inspirations fully.

The QuebeAsia performance series, under the umbrella of the Silken Dance company, offers a unique opportunity for choreographers and dancers who specialize in Asian styles of dance to showcase their work in a program specifically for Quebec-based performers. The intimate nature of the event allowed performers to interact with the audience on and off the stage and provided exposure for new artists with a contemporary spin on classical dance styles and cultural themes.