The battle for survival & inclusion in an elite Chinese sanctuary in the provocative, darkly funny Yellow Rabbit

En Lai Mah & April Leung, with Amanda Zhou in the background. Set & costume design by Jackie Chau. Lighting design by Jareth Li. Video design by Zeesy Powers. Photo by: Cesar Ghisilieri.

 

Soulpepper presents the world premiere of Silk Bath Collective’s (SBC) provocative, darkly funny, multimedia and trilingual Yellow Rabbit, written by Bessie Cheng, Aaron Jan and Gloria Mok, directed by Jasmine Chen and running at the Young Centre. Set in a post-nuclear apocalypse dystopia, with dialogue in English, Cantonese and Mandarin (with surtitles), contestants are tested and assessed in a life or death competition to gain entry into the Chinese sanctuary Rich-Man Hill. A beautiful oasis from a harsh and dangerous land, competition is fierce and standards are strict—and only those who are deemed worthy are allowed access.

Yellow Rabbit represents the evolution of SBC’s sold-out production of Silk Bath, which debuted at Toronto Fringe and went on to the Next Stage Festival—making history as the first trilingual play at the Fringe. While Silk Bath focused on external stereotyping and oppression of Chinese-Canadians, Yellow Rabbit dives deep into internalized racism and extremism. You have to be the ‘right’ kind of Chinese to get into Rich-Man Hill.

Woman (April Leung) and Man (En Lai Mah) are brought into the testing facility, paired as husband and wife by Rich-Man Hill authorities, as they’ve been identified as a good match to carry on the Chinese race in this post-apocalyptic world. Overseen by Mother (Amanda Zhou), assisted by Child (Bessie Cheng), Woman and Man must pass a series of tests and challenges designed to prove their excellence—and ultimate worth—as ideal Chinese citizens; and the assessment process is a life and death prospect.

Hounded and hunted in the outside world, Chinese survivors are willing to risk anything to get into Rich-Man Hill. Contestants are fitted with collars, which Mother and Child use to manipulate and discipline with painful shocks. In between challenges, contestants view propaganda videos (by Zeesy Powers) showing Mother and Child enjoying a loving, trusting relationship in a breath-taking, verdant landscape highlighted by a refreshing waterfall. The Woman and Man both have secrets they’re keeping from Mother, but share with each other in an attempt to connect and work together to get through the trials. Meanwhile, Mother and Child find they don’t agree on the standards Mother has set; the more narrow-minded, old-school Mother is much more stringent on who is deemed worthy, while Child is more progressive and desires more modern, forward-thinking parameters.

Yellow Rabbit-6
Amanda Zhou & Bessie Cheng. Set & costume design by Jackie Chau. Lighting design by Jareth Li. Video design by Zeesy Powers. Photo by: Cesar Ghisilieri.

Great work from the ensemble, balancing the dark humour with the disturbing nature of the situation. Leung and Mah have great chemistry as Woman and Man; both are strong-willed and determined, but realize that they must try to get along and work together, as all the tests are applied to them as a pair. Both deeply troubled and conflicted, the secrets that Man and Woman harbour speak to the core of their identity; and it’s heart-breaking to watch them try to be something they’re not in order to pass the tests and survive. Zhou gives Mother an ethereal air of mystery—a combination spiritual and community leader spouting wisdom and guidance; but beneath Mother’s nurturing exterior is a harsh and unforgiving authoritarian. Cheng’s Child is an innocent, devoted follower and assistant to Mother; but even Child’s loyalty goes only so far—and, despite her more modern-day views, her model is still based on the totalitarian regime already running Rich-Man Hill.

Extreme standards and isolation breed fear and contempt for outsiders and those not deemed the ‘right’ type of Chinese. And with such strict rules for entry and fewer potential contestants at her disposal, Mother risks weakening the community she’s supposed to be protecting.

Yellow Rabbit continues for its final week at the Young Centre, closing on December 1. Get advance tickets online or call the box office: 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188. Advance tickets are a must; if a performance appears to be sold out online, check again—as some tickets may be released close to or on the day of.

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Adventures in arts & culture in Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014

Arts adventures continued last night at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014, as audiences roamed the night to view and engage with various arts and culture exhibits around the city.

A lot of the exhibits I saw (along with pals Lizzie Violet and Zoltan Hawryluk) were part of the Night Circus series. Here’s what we saw last night, followed by a slide show:

All Together Now – Group Exhibition @ Hart House. Video and live performance with choirs, featuring LGBTQ choir Singing Out, among others.

Queen’s Park was rockin’ with a cosplay rave vibe, with a DJ, fire juggling and eating, peeps in animal costumes and clowns. Dancing, music and a fun, energetic atmosphere.

8th Wonder – Michael Oatman and Brian Kane @ Union Station

A very cool interactive light box installation (will see if I can find title/artist).

Un/natural History: Drowning Captiva 2014 – George Bolster

The Melodious Malfeasance Meat-Grinding Machine 2014 – Dana Sherwood

Night Suite – lightsweetcrude

Big Top Grand Stand 2014 – SuttonBeresCuller

Cascade – Ananadam Dance Theatre, Brandy Leary, Eamon MacMahon, James Burton

Impressions – Mina Vedut, Alice Song, Andrea Ng, Alice Chen @ Wychwood Barns

Hive (2.0) – Hopkins Duffield @ Wychwood Barns

Dried Beans Models of the Universe from the Department of Household Sciences and Advanced Proverbs – John Shipman @ St. Matthews United Church (which also included a helping of very tasty vegetarian chili)

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Transformation, inspiration & glam rock in Lisa Anita Wegner’s STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night

july29_lawegnerI dropped by The Black Cat Gallery (2186 Dundas Street West) last night for the Transformation at Lisa Anita Wegner’s opening of STARDUST: Life on Jupiter?, on until August 6 (no worries about what it says on the poster – I confirmed the date with Wegner).

Described as a Transformation/ Projection/Live Art Making/Live Collaboration project, here’s what the Haus of Dada Laboratory had to say about this exhibit:

A one-of-a-kind event, Stardust: Life On Jupiter? incorporates the focus on re-birth, redemption, transformation, and search for truth through the adoption of personae that has been a key part of Lisa Anita Wegner’s art practice in her journey to reclaim her life from the personal darkness into which she was plunged six years ago.

Friends, family and Ziggy fans alike hung out together in an intimate, casual atmosphere, sharing a drink and chatting as Wegner’s transformation happened in the middle of the room as Ziggy videos played on the wall behind her. The hair colour came two days earlier, the eyebrow waxing that afternoon (along with a mani-pedi). Stylist Wanda MacRae (who freelances as a makeup artist and colourist, and just got a new gig at Parlour Salon at their Queen Street East location) used a straight razor to shape Wegner’s hair into a Ziggy mullet, then hair spraying to get the volume up front on top. After a break, Wegner returned to the chair, her white lab coat now covering her costume, so Wanda could do the makeup. Hair and makeup were followed by ceremonial milk consumption and a cosmetic dusting with white face powder – a nod to Ziggy’s diet of milk and cocaine.

Then, the reveal. It’s quite remarkable how much like Ziggy she is. Confetti and noise makers announced the emergence from the transformative process.

Here are some images from the STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night event, transformation process:

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Wegner will be at The Black Cat Gallery every day (from 2 – 6 p.m.) for the duration of the exhibit, as she continues to explore the project live and in real-time. The process will culminate in a closing night event (Aug 6 at 7 p.m.), featuring a special, one night only “Stardusted” version of Wegner’s Queen of the Parade installation (a collaborative work with fashion designer Vanessa Lee Wishart, which appeared during Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2013 and ArtRageous in Motion).

In the meantime, you can also find Wegner on Facebook, Twitter and on her YouTube channel.

And check out the first interview I did with her.