|In October, 1972 Ping Chong gathered
a group of artists at Meredith Monk's loft in lower Manhattan to
make "Lazarus," his
first independent theater work. Twenty years later, during a residency
at Artist Space, he brought together a group of "new" Americans
to create "Undesirable
Elements," the first in what became an ongoing series of oral history projects
exploring the effects of history and identity on the lives of individuals living
between cultures. "UE92/02" will be the sixteenth premiere by Ping
Chong at La MaMa, which has been his theatrical home since it produced his
"Humboldt's Current" in 1977. His "Kwaidan" (La MaMa, 1998),
a puppet work which dramatized Japanese fairy tales, was widely considered the
outstanding production of the that year's International Festival of Puppet Theater
and was voted the number one production of the 1998-99 season by critics of
the New York Theatre Wire. He created "SlutforArt, a.k.a. Ambiguous Ambassador"
for choreographer/dancer Muna Tseng as a sequel to their 1997 La MaMa collaboration,
Ping Chong has created
16 works of his undesirable elements series, that last being "Secret History"
(Ohio Theater, December 2000). The series has also appeared in Chicago, Cleveland,
Minneapolis, Seattle, Long Beach, Newark, Upstate New York, Southern California,
Washington DC, Rotterdam (Holland) and Tokyo (Japan). The Twin Cities Reader
wrote, " The cumulative power of these stories is nothing short of astonishing,"
and The Seattle Post cheered, "This show is a blessing." A Japanese
version, titled "Gaijin" (the Japanese term for foreigners), was named
one of the best plays of 1995 by the Yomiuri News Service. Reviewing "Secret
History," the Village Voice (Alisa Solomon) praised the work's sincerity,
commending how it confronts "the question of how one engages one's life
as a subject of history." The New York Times (Sarah Boxer) called it "a
seance for six lost pasts." Whereas "Secret History" was an invocation
for six Asian New Yorkers, "UE92/02" is a first bringing together
of memorable women from "Undesirable Elements" productions nationwide,
with Chong himself joining the cast for the very first time.
Ambiguous Ambassador" is a multimedia dance theater work by Ping Chong
and Muna Tseng reflecting on the life and times of her brother, the late photographer
and performance artist Tseng Kwong Chi (1950-1990). Posing in a Mao suit, which
gave him the aplomb of a Chinese diplomat, Tseng Kwong Chi gained oeuvre to
many guarded events and inserted himself into public and private places with
startling and unexpected effects. His self-portraits before the Eiffel Tower,
Niagra Falls and Disneyland, and his poses with such unsuspecting figures as
Henry Kissinger, offered a unique and unsettling perspective of the alienated
Asian as a "cultural tourist." He was an integral part of the East
Village art scene of the 1980s along with Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Ann
Magnuson and was Haring's official documentarian, creating over 50,000 slides
of subway drawings and public art commissions. He died of AIDS. The piece was
awarded a 1999 "Bessie" Award for Best Production and has since toured
Ping Chong was born
in Toronto and raised in New York City's Chinatown and is now considered one
of the foremost directors of American performance art. La MaMa has premiered
Ping Chong's "Nuit Blanche" (1981, 1985), "Anna into Nightlight"
(1982), "A Race" (1984), "Nosferatu" (1985, 1991), "Kind
Ness" (1986), "Skin A State of Being" (1989), "Brightness"
(1989; two Bessie Awards, 1990), "Elephant Memories" (1991), "Deshima"
(1993), "Interfacing Joan" (1996), "After Sorrow" (1997)
and "Kwaidan" (1998) and "Pojagi" (2000). Ping Chong's
awards also include an Obie Award, five National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships,
a Playwrights' USA Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two McKnight Playwriting
Fellowships, a TCG Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship and a 1992 Bessie Award
for Sustained Achievement. Altogether, he has created over 27 works for the
stage, seven visual arts installations and three videos. His work has been
presented at major museums, festivals and theaters throughout the Americas,
Europe and Asia.
Muna Tseng was born
and raised in post-revolutionary Hong Kong, was educated in Vancouver and moved
to New York in 1978 to become a leading dancer in Jean Erdman's Theater of
the Open Eye. She was closely associated with Erdman and her husband Joseph
Campbell, the famed mythologist, for about seven years, during which time
she danced many of Erdman's own roles in dance classics from the 40's and
50's. One of the leading Asian-American choreographers, she has created over
30 original works in an original cross-cultural style, rich in ritual, that
juxtaposes contemporary American vision with the timeless imagery of her
Chinese heritage. She founded Muna Tseng Dance Projects Inc. in 1986. Its
productions include "The Silver
River", "SlutForArt, aka Ambiguous Ambassador," "98.6"
(Bessie, 1999); "Liquid", "The Idea of East", "The
Pink", "Water Mysteries", "Post-Revolutionary Girl"
and "Earth Mysteries". Her collaborators have included composers Bright
Sheng, Tan Dun and Phill Niblock, directors Ong Keng Sen and Ping Chong, and
visual artists Tseng Kwong Chi, Winston Roeth, Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring.
Her La MaMa debut was in the First Asian Contemporary Dance Festival (1993),
performing "SHATTERED, Hymns for Mortal Creatures," a danced elegy
about AIDS. Her "The Pink" (La MaMa, 1994), a collaboration with composer
Tan Dun, was based on the banned classical erotic novel Jin Ping Mei (The Golden
Lotus), offering a contemporary view of passion and repression and using dance
movement together with the mystique of paper sounds and imagery. In 1996 at
La MaMa, she choreographed two comic musicals by Elizabeth Swados, "Flashbacks"
(based on Garry Trudeau's "Doonsbury") and "The Emperor's New
Clothes" (based loosely on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale).
Participating in the 30th
Anniversary celebration of Ping Chong and Company will be a photo exhibition,
"Tseng Kwong Chi: Ambiguous Ambassador,"
October 1 to November 2
at Chambers Fine Art,
210 Eleventh Ave., 2 fl.
(at 25th Street)
The exhibition contains key works of the late photographer's career,
including: "Disneyland, California" (1979), "Grand Canyon, Arizona"
(1987) and "The Gang's All Here - Puck Ball" (1983).