Arts

New Performance Combines Hip-Hop With Ancient Chinese Folk Dance

Chinese dance and hip-hop collaboration shares message of unity in diversity with upcoming production.
Chinese dance and hip-hop collaboration shares message of unity in diversity with upcoming production.
Credit Still from Video by AJ Paug

A message of unity through diversity is at the core of a one-of-a-kind new dance performance presented by the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company.

Together: Yingge and Hip-Hop Unite” will showcase Chinese folk dances and hip-hop and modern dance. The finale will end with a presentation of the two dance troupes dancing side-by-side. The show takes place Oct. 2-3 at Gas South Theater in Duluth.

Atlanta Chinese Dance Company’s Co-Artistic Director Kerry Lee and dance choreographer A.J. Paug joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about this adventurous combination of musical and dance traditions.

“Together: Yingge and Hip-Hop Unite” cites as its central theme “unity in diversity” and cultivating a culture of social justice to defeat “universal threats to humankind.” The universal threats addressed include, according to Lee, “the Covid-19 pandemic, and just in general, the division in our country, and racism, natural disasters.” Paug added, “I like to think it’s, overall, just the fear of it all, that creates that chaos in our mind, that creates that separation.”

Lee described the narrative arc that emerges throughout the performance. “First, you’ll see the Chinese dance group, and we encounter the hip-hop dancers at first; we kind of view them as possibly an intruder or an enemy, and so we push them away. But they’re insistent, and they come back, and we get pushed away by them,” said Lee. “At the end of their section, we surround them, and then we clash.”

The clashing confrontations find resolution after both groups confront a common enemy; in the dance, it’s represented by a monstrous creature. “It’s only through coming together and joining hands together that we’re able to defeat this creature… Then we celebrate together,” said Lee.

“It is, kind of, created like a ballet,” said Paug. “There’s a story involved, there’s conflict, and then there’s resolution. I’ve always to create a ballet…. Some of my history in dance comes from classical dance and concert dance. So I thought it was an amazing opportunity, when Kerry presented it to me, to make my ballet dance choreography dream come true.”

The yingge, or “hero song,” folk dance tradition comes from Lee’s ancestral home in the Teochew region of Guangdong in South China. “They’re channeling ancient heroes from a famous classical novel called ‘Shui Hu Zhuan,’ or ‘Water Margin,’ and the folk dance style originated from the Ming Dynasty,” said Lee. “They’re kind of like ancient China’s versions of social justice heroes, so that’s why I had this thought that, ‘What if these ancient Chinese social justice heroes met their modern-day American counterparts?'”

She continued, “It’s a style that’s rarely been performed in the United States, as far as I know, so it’s really exciting for us to be able to share it.”

The show’s finale brings the two universes of dance style together in a burst of rhythm. “For the celebration section at the end, we decided to use drumline music,” said Lee. “During the George Floyd protests [in 2020], I had seen a group dancing to drumline music, and they were spinning their drumsticks, and it reminded me of the movement that we did in the yingge.”

“I really loved being able to combine … our styles, coming together, and we are all dancing it together as one. That was something that was really important to both of us — trying to represent that togetherness through movement,” Paug said.

More information about and tickets for the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company’s new show “Together: Yingge and Hip-Hop Unite” are available at www.gassouthdistrict.com/events/detail/together-yingge-and-hip-hop-unite.

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