The remarkable life journey of Chinese-Cambodian history professor turned dancer and choreographer Xiao Xiong Zhang is the inspiration for a new work by Leigh Warren and Dancers which will premiere at the OzAsia Festival.
“The extraordinary thing about Xiao Xiong’s journey is that he was in total isolation (growing up) and now he has a worldwide dance family,” Warren told InDaily.
“It’s a story of incredible triumph and contribution to cultural life in Australia.”
With a set conceived by furniture designer Khai Liew and a soundscore by Malaysian composer, singer and poet Jerome Kugan, Zhang’s story will be shared through the performance Not According to Plan during September’s OzAsia, which launches its full program today.
Warren says the title of the work comes from the idea that parents set out to give their children the best life they can, but nothing ever goes to plan.
Zhang’s journey began when he was sent to school in China and separated from his family in Cambodia for eight lonely years because of the war in that country. While he was considered an outsider in China and faced a lonely existence there, his parents were lucky to survive the Cambodian conflict.
“His father was chased off a clifftop by the Khmer Rouge and should have died but was caught by a tree halfway down,” Warren says.
The family eventually reunited and established a new life in Australia, but Zhang faced different challenges on his arrival in Adelaide. Although he was a qualified history professor, he was unable to get a position teaching and ended up working at a plant nursery in Port Adelaide.
“He got to work one day and written atop the entrance was ‘Asians out’ … the next day he came back and someone had altered the sign to say ‘take Asians out to dinner’,” Warren says.
“So while there are incredible challenges in this story, there is also triumph.”
Zhang had learnt traditional classical dance in China and it was while he was teaching a community class here that he was spotted by Australian Dance Theatre founder Elizabeth Dalman and encouraged to try contemporary dance. He ended up working with Leigh Warren in the ADT, and now splits his time between Adelaide and Taipei, where he teaches at the Taiwanese National University of Arts.
Warren says the company is seeking to make Not According to Plan a “totally rhapsodic adventure”, with Kugan’s soundtrack comprising a mixture of abstract electronic music, text, songs about actual events and the possible use of a guitalele (a cross between a guitar and ukulele).
Although he is now aged in his 50s, Zhang will be dancing in the work alongside two dancers from Taiwan – Chen Wei and Yuan Li – and South Australian dancers Aidan Munn and Bec Jones.
Khai Liew’s set will depict three scenes (Bloodline, Dreamscape, Growth and Beauty), incorporating sculptural pieces made from Australian oak which are based on Tibetan Buddhist Muyu bells.
“They are gorgeous to look at and you can play them … they balance out the bloodline, which is red neon which forms like a vein that grows very gently like the bows of a tree,” Warren says.
Not According to Plan is one of six world premieres at this year’s OzAsia Festival, which will run from September 13-29. The focus country this year is Malaysia, with the program artwork featuring the Malay tiger.
“Malaysia is an exhilarating and diverse country to explore with a melting pot of races and religions where Malay, Indian, Chinese and ethnic groups create a healthy and vibrant cultural environment,” festival director Jacinta Thompson told InDaily.
“This year’s OzAsia Festival encapsulates this vibrancy and colour through an array of performances, events and exhibitions.”
There will be a total of 28 performances and 47 events encompassing music, dance, theatre, visual art, film, food, literature and lectures. Highlights include:
Moon Lantern Festival: Free family event in Elder Park on September 19.
Kamahl – My Music, My Life: Concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre on September 29.
Meeting with Bodhisattva: Taiwan’s U-Theatre group’s “enlightening whirlwind of athletic drumming, martial arts, Buddhist chanting, and sacred dance” at Her Majesty’s Theatre on September 13-14,
A Mouth-Watering Journey from Penang to Seoul: a banquet-style dinner with chefs Chung Jae Lee and Cheong Liew at Mapo restaurtant.
OzAsia on Page: part of a new literature series with author talks and discussions.
Pasar Malam: A Penang-style night market outside the Festival Theatre on September 28.
Extreme Jump: A madcap martial arts comedy caper by Korea’s Yegam Theatre Company at the Festival Theatre, September 28-29.
OzAsia on Screen: At the Mercury Cinema from September 11-29.
The full program will be online from 6.30pm tonight (June 27).
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