For "Minorities," the third piece of his "Revolution Game" trilogy exploring social roles, class divisions and constructs of identities in modern China, choreographer Yang Zhen puts in the spotlight performers representing several of the many (officially, 56) diverse ethnic groups that make up China's population, including Uighur, Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese-Korean. With a blend of traditional ethnic, contemporary and classical Chinese dance styles, theater, music and satire, the work ponders how minority identities exist within and outside of mainstream Chinese culture.
"For me, it's really something that's not officially defined," Yang told the Voice in a recent interview. "'Minority' is a very complex concept," he said, a concept that is experienced differently by younger folk than by their parents and grandparents.
"For different generations, there is a very big contrast," he said.
While China's ruling regime officially promotes itself as a harmonious, multicultural nation, its minorities are often stereotyped, romanticized and oppressed. Yang's piece explores the disconnect between propaganda and real-life experiences.
Audiences at "Minorities," which will be performed at Stanford University's Bing Studio Nov. 1-3, can expect to get an introductory lesson in the traditional ethnic dance and culture of the represented "minorities," followed by narratives from the performers on their personal experiences navigating life alongside, within and apart from the dominant culture. Yang drew on his experience studying dance at the Minzu University of China (which translates to something like, "Ethnic Group University of China"), further field research, and on the experiences shared with him by his performers. A mix of traditional and pop music, plus Yang's distinctive blend of satire and dance forms, goes into the interdisciplinary performances, which also include documentary and animated film clips.
"'Revolutionary' sounds very serious but my way, my generation, has some distance from this," he said, explaining his playful style.
Though the artistic language and specific storytelling of "Minorities" focuses on China, Yang said the questions raised by the piece are applicable worldwide, as countries and cultures all over grapple with the issue of "nationality" and "culture."
"This identity question, it is an international question," he said. "All audiences can get some common reflections from this piece."
"Minorities" will be performed Nov. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 3 at 2:30 p.m. at Bing Studio, located below Bing Concert Hall at 327 Lasuen St., Stanford. Tickets are $45.
For more information, go to Stanford Live.