By Lyn Zelen.
An immersive evening of contemporary dance, video and live music considering the influences of ancestry, performed in the historical Abbotsford Convent, Magdalen Laundry at the 2020 Asia TOPA festival.
What Happened in Shanghai is the incredibly intuitive choreography by Victoria Chiu; a fusion of interpretive emotional vignettes and human movements exploring time and culture. The three-mediums performance piece is based on her grandmother’s true tale and how Victoria came into existence.
Four Chinese and Australian dancers, (Alice Dixon, Liu Yanan, Janette Hoe, Isabelle Beauverd), executed extraordinary and acrobatic arrangements to the haunting Guzheng, played by the mesmerising Mindy Meng Wang, Chinese electronic artist Ma Haiping and multimedia productions by video artist, Guo Jinxin. Together they take us through consuming dance, English and Chinese text, personable video projections of past trauma, love and integral ingenuity, all expressed to live music.
Victoria Chiu introduces the impetus for the basis of her multidisciplinary collaboration, which she derived from her grandmother’s humanitarian decision whilst studying piano at the Shanghai Conservatorium during the Japanese occupation. Chiu performs a distinctive solo to Jinxin’s 3D hallway footage, which is captivating.
The intriguing show began in the convents ‘L’ shaped Magdalen laundry building lit by a faint solitary light—the remaining two thirds were in darkness. The audience were ushered into the smaller third and asked to sit on the floor in undesignated positions and the eerie ghosts of young girls and women laundering linens in the 1950’s, hung high above near the rafters.
Victoria and Mindy enter from the shadows and step amid the audience to the centre to appreciative smiles. They told Victoria’s grandmother’s humbling tale in both English and native tongue how “Her best friend Chiubik perished in the turmoil and her dying wish was for my grandmother to replace her as wife and mother.”
Chiu then invites members of the audience to share any similar ancestral stories. Three people shared their passionate stories to gentle applause, of how their relatives added spice and deep cultural connection to their lives.
The audience shifted slightly to view a short video projected on the far laundry wall before Chiu joined the accomplished and versatile ensemble of dancers announced their grandmothers’ country of origin and cultural connections and proceeded to dance.
A seated Mindy Meng Wang lifted her bow to caress the strings of the rectangular Guzheng, as the four dancers mingled amongst the audience entwining their forms in an amalgamation of bodies. Keeping close to the floor, they effortlessly placed their hands in a side-by-side ‘stepping stone’ or ‘domino-effect’ on the floor, traced their hands up and over another dancers’ foot, leg, torso, down their arm and back around their bodies to the floor again. Then just as deliberate, yet respectful, they transferred the sequence onto a few members in the audience shoulders and arms.
The humming resonance of the Guzheng’s strings softly vibrated the laundry floor as the dancers continued to fold-over their hands and move into another third of the laundry. Here, the audience was able to smoothly shift aside to accommodate the dancers journey, where light projections of black and white photos fell upon their bodies or the laundry walls.
This was effective and perhaps deliberate and not unlike their grandmothers’ steps— having to surmount change, climbing and clinging to their cultural identity in another country or continent.
Chiu’s perception gives the audience a time-travel glimpse into past and present culture and the lingering virtue of women from all nations. The clever production incorporates the convent confines, encapsulating the residual grief and heartbreak of both the dancers grandmothers’ hardships and those of the women forced to launder linens during their pregnancies for ‘intimate indiscretions’.
The troupe flowed into the last third of the laundry and like their forbearers; the four women work their bodies up and down the laundry walls and floor in a repetitive momentum of “death and new life”.
There was a particularly stand out projection of “walking images” on the agile bodies of the troupe as they pulsed, writhed and melded into one, as was the powerful frenetic energy of the women jumping and whooping up a storm of camaraderie.
What Happened in Shanghai is a delightful relationship of three-mediums, audience participation, human legacy and tenacity.
Performances: 4, Costumes: 4, Sets: 4, Lighting: 4, Sound: 4, Direction: 4,
Images: Gregory Loren