My Year of the Pig
I finally get to say: Happy Chinese New Year! Why finally? Because I "bumped into" the Year of the Pig long ago. And it all started seven months before Chinese New Year came around the corner.
Last June, Shen Yun’s touring members just returned from short though satisfying post-tour vacations to our various home countries around the globe or from exotic travels to the places of dreams.
I got to explore charming Slovakia. I visited extended family, relaxed in a wooden koliba B&B in the Tatra Mountains, made unexpected wildlife encounters (from intimidating bears to adorable porcupines), explored giant ice caves, went castle hopping, and ate the most delicious dew-kissed sour cherries straight from the drooping branches of over-laden trees (organic and non-GMO abundance!).
From my fellow Shen Yun dancers and friends, I saw photos and heard stories from the deserts of Morocco, the ancient ruins of Greece, the hidden gems of Italy, the living rooms of New Zealand, and more.
But I digress. After two weeks, everyone came back to New York to start making the all-new 2019 program. One of the first dances to begin rehearsal was inspired by a Journey to the West episode. The creation of Shen Yun choreographer Gu Yuan, Queendom recounts an episode from the classic novel, where the Tang Monk and his disciples Monkey, Sandy, and Pigsy arrive in a remote land of only women.
As befitting the Year of the Pig, Pigsy has a special role in our 2019 dance. So what kind of character is Pigsy? He's half-man half-pig, but personality-wise he's a stereotypical pig—a glutton—and a wacky one at that. Here's a typical Pigsy scene from the original Journey to the West novel:
Pig did not worry about anything as he relaxed his belly and ate for all he was worth. He did not care whether it was jadeflake rice, steamed buns, sweet cakes, mushrooms, gill fungus, bamboo shoots, tree-ear fungus, day lilies, agar, laver, turnips, taro, devil pepper, yams or sealwort: he wolfed the whole lot down together. Then he drank some six or seven goblets of wine and shouted, “Fill it up, bring me another. I want a big goblet. Give me a few more drinks, then we can all go off and do what we've got to do.”
Excerpt from the WJF Jenner translation (Beijing, 1955) by Collinson Fair
So in this episode of their adventures, the pilgrims have a ludicrous encounter with the Lake of Fertility. And getting the antidote is no easy feat. In the end, Monkey champions a scorpion demon, Tang Monk is saved from being eaten, and thanks to the Lake of Fertility, Pigsy almost has piglets!
One of my roles in Queendom is a little girl who runs into Pigsy in the opening scene. It seems simple: I skip on from stage left with a sunshine yellow pinwheel, blissfully unaware, then at an exact moment in the music, make a full-body collision with Mr. Pig. Shocked, I scurry back to hide behind my grandma, and the story goes on.
But simple it is not. When rehearsals first began, I wasn’t very comfortable slamming myself into our Pig, usually freezing up within inches of actual impact. This didn’t last long, because one day after running through the dance with Choreographer Gu Yuan, he called the two of us out and said to me:
“You have to crash into him. Actually crash. Go ahead now, crash. CRASH!”
Standing there barely two feet away from Pig, with the choreographer’s orders and under his no-nonsense glare, I had no choice. Two feet isn’t much of a running start, but I closed my eyes and made a good, solid hit. Phew, job done—ice broken. Thank you, Mr. Gu Yuan!
From then on, I (almost) always made impact. Though throughout the early rehearsal process, there were many factors to resolve for optimum impact: understanding how the conductor controls the tempo of the music, determining the best position for Pig to be at, coping with downstage lights that impair peripheral vision, my movements, his stance, my speed, etc. During our first on-stage rehearsal with orchestra, I was very determined to succeed. However, I was anxious and over eager. I did manage to crash—but so hard that I bounced back and crumpled onto the ground under Pig. When Pig turned around he still saw a shocked little girl, but a bit more shocked than usual… and definitely at an angle a whole lot more below eyelevel than usual.
When the scene ended, I was still pretty dumbfounded. Although funnily enough, I realized afterwards that no one noticed my personally traumatic incident. None of the choreographers watching in the audience mentioned anything. Pig himself said not one word. Even my own “grandmother” said: “Oh! I thought you changed your movements. It was pretty realistic.”
Well, I wonder why!
From this little incident, I realized that there’s no such thing as a no-brainer role. You always have to put your heart into figuring out your character, movements, acting, timing, music, coordination with other dancers, and inner dialogue. No one can run on unprepared and hope for the best.
All in all, I don’t know how many times I’ve had to slam into Pig during rehearsals or how many laugh-out-loud practice crashes I’ve had, but for the 2019 tour Shen Yun World Company will have over a hundred performances throughout the U.S. and Asia-Pacific. Here a phrase comes to mind: 豬年大吉 (zhū nián dà jí), meaning “best wishes in the Year of the Pig.” But for me, it’s sounding more and more like 豬年打擊 (zhū nián dǎ jī) or “knocking into the Year of the Pig!”
From Fukuoka in Japan, Happy Chinese New Year everyone. To you and yours (and to every little girl in Queendom): May every endeavor be a smashing success!