At Hubbard Street, we are passionate about pushing the bounds of what is possible in dance, which includes mining what is understood as canon in search of new creative possibilities. To that end, we decided to challenge a dance steeped in tradition: the Chinese Tea variation from The Nutcracker.
To investigate this question, we joined forces with two of the leading voices already calling for change on this issue: Phil Chan and Georgina Pazcoguin, the experts behind Final Bow for Yellowface.
This past winter, in partnership with Final Bow for Yellowface, we asked choreographers Yin Yue, Edwaard Liang, and Peter Chu to use their voices and vocabularies to reimagine the Chinese Tea variation on their own terms. These Asian and Asian-American dancemakers engaged in three-day workshops with the Hubbard Street Dancers. Their processes were not only artistically fascinating, but they also prompted the deep exploration of fundamental questions:
"My Chinese dance background — the ballet, the classical Chinese dance, the folk dance — all play a huge role in my choreography. Whenever I think of creating something, there’s always a trace of classical Chinese dance. In the three-day process with the Hubbard Street Dancers, I listened to the music, and I did find that it’s very tightly constructed. And immediately I felt like, it would be fun to make the dance on the music — on the note — to challenge your body as if you’re talking with your body, with the music.”
"I don’t think that any artist wants to be boxed into any sort of title or boundary. I cannot be myself if that doesn’t come along with being a Chinese Asian American. Getting this chance to reimagine the Chinese variation triggered a lot of different things for me. I didn’t realize how much responsibility I started giving myself — I wanted to do it justice. Unboxing, undoing, unbounding these restrictions and labels and constructs that have been a part of my life felt really heavy. I’ve never been so self-conscious analyzing my movement. At the same time, I loved having my button pushed to really self-reflect."
"Jazz dance and Qigong were both built off of oppression — to heal the body. When I came back from Europe, I guess I’d been searching for my lineage, and, being biracial, you’re always battling “Who do I fit with?” But — enough with being apologetic! I don’t want to be apologetic with who I am. I’m going to combine the yin and yang of these two worlds — this Jazz energy and the Qigong energy."
subversive + vital
"Hubbard Street's Unboxed project reimagines a classic dance, The Nutcracker's Chinese Tea, but on our own terms as Asian American creatives. To see the leadership at Hubbard Street make space for three exemplary Asian American artists to take ownership of this work is not only subversive but vital for those of us who are in the trenches, trying to bring our Asian families and communities along to fall in love with dance just as much as we have. Unboxed also aligns with our goal of exposing the artistic leadership of ballet organizations to new choreographic talent that otherwise might not be on their radar, helping them commit to commissioning a mainstage work by a choreographer of Asian descent by 2025."
— Phil Chan & Georgina Pazcoguin, Founders of Final Bow For Yellowface
“The idea for Unboxed was always about challenging conventions and stereotypes. But my main focus initially was really to create a fun way for Hubbard Street to interact with great choreographers while playfully researching this one-minute variation. I couldn't have foreseen how meaningful and timely this project would eventually become, as people of Asian descent in this country are now fighting more than ever for acceptance and visibility.
Creating space for Yin, Ed, and Peter to engage in conversations of experience, identity, perspective, and appropriation with the Hubbard Street artists unearthed within me reflections on and connections to my own experiences. It has been wholly moving and humbling to hear how impactful this time together has been for everyone. Consequently, it has relieved in me a certain weight, a protective shield within me personally that I didn’t even know I was holding tight to.”
— Jessica Tong, Associate Artistic Director