Soul Leaves Her Body (10/08/2010)
In today’s digital age, people often communicate with each other via computer and cell phone screens rather than face to face. In recent years, Here Arts Center has taken the difficult leap of transporting this contemporary feeling of being disconnected (and yet overconnected) via the coldness of technology to the theater stage through their resident artist productions. Soul Leaves Her Body is an ambitious multimedia venture that uses choreographed dance and video, creating a production that is highly visually stimulating and innovative in its implementation, albeit somewhat fragmented and confusing in its overall effect.
The concept behind Soul Leaves Her Body is derived from a thirteenth century Chinese tale, The Soul of Chi'en Nu Leaves Her Body, in which a young woman rips her soul from her body in order to pursue a destiny in the city. The work itself is split up into three stories: One set in the thirteenth century, the other two set in contemporary times. The first segment sticks to the original story line of the traditional tale, in which a young woman meets the strange man to whom she is betrothed but to whom her mother strangely refers to as “elder brother.”
Interestingly, the segment opens with a woman obviously not of Asian descent looking out on the audience proclaiming, “I am Mrs. Chang.” Later, an older Asian woman dressed in attire appropriate for thirteenth century China stares out at the audience from a video, a persona which we understand is being embodied by this much younger dancer. An image of a traditionally dressed Chinese man is also later shown on the video screen when we see the Caucasian dancer performing the role of the betrothed. The emotions the characters feel towards one another are conveyed through movement rather than dialogue, and all three performers fully embody the tone of the work in the well-choreographed dances.
For the second segment, Jennie Mary Tai Liu—who also served as the work’s co-director and choreographer—is seen in a film as Yan, floating in an anachronistic fishing boat at the shore of contemporary Hong Kong. While she peacefully drinks tea from an old fashioned tea pot, sitting in the ancient boat, she stares back at the blinding fluorescent lights on shore, trying to find the light of her friend’s apartment amidst the chaos. Her cell phone and MacBook on board prove to be her only links to the modern world she is floating in front of. Later, she and her siblings lose their mother’s apartment, leaving them the boat as their only home, floating uneasily without a sense of rootedness.
In the third segment, Yan rings a penthouse apartment to which she feels mysteriously pulled. The action then returns to the stage as Yan and her elderly relative share similar experiences as Chinese women seduced by foreign men, showing a connection between the past and the present.
Soul Leaves Her Body is a fascinating, innovative work, merging ancient texts with the disconnected, overly technological feel of modern life. However, it nonetheless feels fragmented. Audience members who do not read their programs or have some familiarity with the ancient Chinese fable may feel themselves somewhat lost at sea. Viewing this work is valuable nonetheless, as it successfully merges multiple mediums, creating a work of great visual stimulation.
Soul Leaves Her Body runs through November 23rd at Here Arts Center.