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Different Layers of Taste: Dance a Dance from My Yellow Skin

Different Layers of Taste: Dance a Dance from My Yellow Skin

PHOTO ©吳凱怡


A friend once gave me a yellow-brown, palm-sized pastry. At first, I assumed it had a red-bean filling and so just took a bite without thinking twice. But I was surprised to find that inside were three distinct flavors: salty pork floss, sweet mochi, and sweet red-bean puree. This combination of salty and sweet enveloped in the springy, al-dente pastry prompted me to take a close look to see what a rarity it was for its capacity to hold so many different flavors in such a small space.

I got this same feeling upon seeing CHOU Shu-yi's Dance a Dance from My Yellow Skin.

Upon seeing the Chinese name of the piece, (which directly translates as "The Place I Started Dancing"), I assumed it to be about such places as stages, classrooms, or the street. But the English name gave me the real clue to its meaning. "Place" in the Chinese name in fact refers to the body, that is, the dancer's roots, culture, and how they influence him/her. 

Right after being introduced to the four Taiwanese dancers, CHENG Chih-chung, YANG Ya-chun, LIANG Chun-wen, and YU Yen-fang, and the five from Singapore, CHIEW Pei-shan, CHUA Chiok-woon, HONG Guo-feng, NG Zu-you, and TUNG Ka-wai, CHOU asked me, "Can you guess which of them is from Singapore?" I felt pretty confident at first, but in the end, I only got three right.

His question along with my incorrect answer were a perfect representation of the meaning behind the piece: the migration and dispersion of people with Chinese heritage. All of the performers have the appearance that goes with their heritage (making it hard to guess which country they are from), but they use different languages – English, Cantonese, Mandarin – which intertwine as part of their individual and family histories. During the piece, stories of their government's policy on language gradually emerge.

When Europeans first came to East Asia, they viewed East Asians as white-skinned for a time (describing them as "yellow" did not come until later). Ideas on race were much different back then. In other words, the Europeans had not yet started distinguishing people based on skin color; instead, they designated their closeness to another people based on the latter's culture (such as whether one was a Christian or not). The later use of "yellow" is interesting in that the Chinese associated that color with royalty, so they not only embraced being called that but started using it to describe themselves, which is quite in contrast with how other races strongly resisted being defined by their skin color.

Dance a Dance from My Yellow Skin explores through language and the body the similarities and differences among people with Chinese ancestry. It begins with individual stories, and then intersection takes place. I love it when one dancer asks another, "When you think of a dragon, does it have wings?" Such a seemingly simple question goes straight to the heart, because it uses a shared symbol, the dragon, to point out a difference in the cultures of varying groups of Chinese ancestry. I can't think of a cleverer way of doing it.

Though language is an important part of the piece, let's not forget that it's a dance. I especially like how the dancers take turns issuing commands in different languages: "sit down," "站起來" (Mandarin for "stand up"), and "phak" (Taiwanese Hoklo for "get down"), and everyone does those movements in different ways – after all, everyone is different physically. In such a short part of the piece, there is such a richness of language and diversity in bodily movement.

The beauty in Dance a Dance from My Yellow Skin is the distinctive flavors in each part. We learn some history from the stories presented by the dancers, and our fascination with dance is more than satisfied by the different ways the nine dancers use their bodies. The migration and dispersion of people with Chinese heritage is by no means an easy theme to tackle, but the piece is just like that pastry I had: in the choreography, CHOU has properly and with great care maintained the flavor of each of his ingredients and placed them in exactly the right spots so that the audience may fully experience them with a lingering aftertaste.



CHOU Shu-yi - Dance a Dance From My Yellow Skin



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