“Home is where my parents live.” “Home is a place you go back to.” “Home is where I sleep at night.” These definitions were part of Alaine Handa’s creation Chameleon. Like the creature that changes color, we acclimate to our environs. What makes Handa’s production intriguing is that she has researched and interviewed Third Culture Kids (TCK), people who, like Handa, have lived in diverse cultures and integrate elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.
During the mixed-media performance, excerpts of TCK interviews were projected on the back wall of the stage, providing stories of continuous transplantation: childhoods that were spent in four, five, eight different places. The question “What is home?” was part of one interview. Another question “What is your favorite food?… [long pause] What would you select as your last meal?” stumped a TCK. She ended up with a combination of sushi, dim sum, Mexican food, an Italian dish and a French dessert.
Interspersed between videos were choreographed sections performed by Handa, Jun Lee and Ivilisse Esguerra. Each dancer had a concentrated and graceful demeanor, but their movement phases seemed more cluttered than coherent. It takes a discerning choreographer to distinguish between fusion and confusion. Unlike the specificity presented in the interviews – where respondents recalled particular anecdotes, tastes, moments, flavors – the choreography meshed diverse styles without much discretion.
As a choreographer, Handa draws liberally from movement vocabularies of India, China, American modern and post-modern dance. While the spoken stories offered morsels of wisdom and interesting thoughts to ponder, the movement left me confused about intent. If we were to admire the pretty shapes made by Jun Lee, this was accomplished. But if we were to recognize how our gestures and actions can be as idiosyncratic as the accents of our voices, this point was jumbled. In one phrase, Handa seems to incorporate the hand movement of Bharatanatyam – which evokes a specific language of communication – but in this context the mudras appeared like decoration on a phrase.
What did Handa hope to accomplish by weaving together these vocabularies? Were we to know the roots of the dancers’ actions?
If the performance set out to recognize the experiences of TCK, dance can be a powerful representation of cultural identity. Rather than explore how our bodies absorb memories and present knowledge about history and heritage, Handa seems to use dance for visual display. In one of the interviews, a man remembers a specific run he had as a child: his teacher told him to hit his bottom with his heels as he moved. Don’t the dancers’ movements also connect to specific places? What unique perspectives are embedded in their movement?
A beautiful moment occurred when a projection of a house’s interior appeared on the back wall and Jun Lee stood in front of the image: rather than thinking of the house as the constant or stable element, her body caused the image to expand and stretch as the light refracted off her body. The relationship of dancer to picture shifted the conventional definition of home to resident: rather than the home staying still and the resident changing, here, just as in the case of many TCK, the person is constant and homes move frequently. Third culture kids take their hopes, dreams and memories with them wherever they go: change is the constant. Since the dancer did not remain long in this moment, I do not know if Handa intended us to make this connection but it was a gorgeous integration of media and movement.
This production could be an affirming event for people who share experiences like Handa’s and who grapple with issues of identity. In this version, there were moments of clarity that resonated, other sections were more muddled. The props — plastic-like straps which the dancers used to wrap around their bodies as if they were lassoes or binds – could have been more clearly integrated into their stories, and the transitions between media – from video to live performers — were rough and jarring. Perhaps these kinks will be smoothed as the performances continue. According to the program, the cast and sections vary in the July 23 to 25 performances.
created by Alaine Handa
performed by A H Dance Company
reviewed by Kate Mattingly
[Learn more about Third Culture Kids at TCKWorld]
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?