A message of unity through diversity is at the heart of a unique new dance performance presented by the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company.
“Together: Yingge and hip-hop uniteWill feature Chinese folk dances, hip-hop and modern dance. The finale will end with a presentation of the two dance troupes dancing side by side. The show takes place October 2-3 at the Gas South Theater in Duluth.
Kerry Lee, co-artistic director of the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company and dance choreographer AJ Paug joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about this adventurous combination of musical and dance traditions.
“Together: Yingge and Hip-Hop Unite” cites as a central theme “unity in diversity” and cultivating a culture of social justice to overcome “universal threats to humanity”. Universal threats addressed include, according to Lee, “the Covid-19 pandemic, and just in general, division in our country, and racism, natural disasters.” Paug added, “I like to think it’s, on the whole, just the fear of it all, that creates this chaos in our mind, that creates this separation.”
Lee described the narrative arc that emerges throughout the performance. “First you will see the Chinese dance group, and first we meet the hip-hop dancers; we see them as somehow an intruder or an enemy, and therefore we push them away. But they insist, and they come back, and we’re repelled by them, ”Lee said. “At the end of their section, we circle them, then we confront each other. “
Conflicting clashes find resolution after both groups have faced a common enemy; in the dance he is represented by a monstrous creature. “Only by coming together and giving each other’s hands can we defeat this creature… Then we celebrate together,” Lee said.
“It’s kind of created like a ballet,” Paug said. “There’s a story involved, there’s a conflict, and then there’s a resolution. I always have to create a ballet…. Part of my dance history comes from classical dance and concert dance. So I thought it was an amazing opportunity, when Kerry introduced her to me, to make my dream of ballet choreography come true.
The tradition of the yingge folk dance, or “song of heroes”, comes from Lee’s ancestral home in the Teochew region of Guangdong, southern China. “They channel the ancient heroes of a famous classic novel called ‘Shui Hu Zhuan’ or ‘Water Margin’, and the folk dance style originates from the Ming Dynasty,” Lee said. “They’re kind of like the ancient Chinese versions of social justice heroes, which is why I thought, ‘What if these ancient Chinese social justice heroes meet their American counterparts today? “”
She continued, “It’s a style that has rarely been performed in the United States, as far as I know, so it’s really exciting for us to be able to share it.”
The finale of the show brings together the two universes of dance style in a burst of rhythm. “For the celebration section at the end, we decided to use drumline music,” Lee said. “During the protests of George Floyd [in 2020], I had seen a band dancing to drumline music, and they were spinning their drumsticks, and it reminded me of the movement we were doing in the yingge.
“I really loved being able to combine… our styles, come together, and we all dance together as one. It was something that was really important to both of us – trying to represent this unity through movement, ”said Paug.
More information and tickets for the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company’s new show “Together: Yingge and Hip-Hop Unite” are available at www.gassouthdistrict.com/events/detail/together-yingge-and-hip-hop-unite.