The first thing I remember when I reminisce over my trip to China is being devastatingly confronted by the pollution. When you live in a pristine country like Australia (even in Sydney) few appreciate how lucky we really are not to be oppressed by smog so thick that it invoked images of Michael Ende’s Nothing consuming the world around me. However the Chinese did not appear concerned - at the time I presumed that with nothing to compare their sunless sky against they knew no better, being more interested in their day to day struggles like anyone else from anywhere else in the world. As I travelled the country, talked with its people (through a friend who could speak Mandarin) and consumed the culture in ramshackle restaurants my hunger and desire to know more about this nation that felt almost forbidden to me grew. As a whitey I would always be an outsider in China, but William Yang (Australian born Chinese) is more the wolf in a sheep’s clothing and I was eager to bathe in his experiences of this mystical and exponentially developing super power of the East.
In premise and performance Yang’s China is as simple as it is effective. Yang takes his audience on his journeys into China where he seeks a deeper understanding of his roots and to expose himself to the culture and people of his spiritual homeland. He does this by presenting his odyssey of photographs with almost metered prose and accompanied by Nicholas Ng, who performs the live score on the erhu (Chinese violin) and pipa (Chinese lute). The ninety minute presentation threatens to be a touch too long and may well have been if it weren’t for Yang’s charisma, humour and the integrity of his voice.
Yang first visited China in 1989 a few months after the Tienenmin Square or the ‘June Incident’, as he advises the audience that it is referred to in China, and this sets the tone for his presentation. Throughout the performance Yang engages with many of the social issues faced by China, but does so in a fashion whereby he presents them refreshingly as they unfolded through his engagement with the Chinese themselves rather than colouring the events with his own opinion. But China is much more that a discourse of the trials and tribulations faced by China in the past few decades in that we meet his acquaintances, share in his meals and trek with him up the sacred mountains he chose to transverse; seeking with him his history that he never experienced before.
For me China was a beautiful voyage of discovery and reminiscence. Like Yang, and so many Australians, the blood of my immediate ancestors lies under foreign soil and there is something so sating about understanding one’s personal history. Having recently travelled to China I found myself empathising with the pleasures and challenges that Yang faced on his journey. China will not appease everyone’s tastes, but if nothing else it is an eye opening cultural excursion into a country that is traditionally closed to outsiders; predominantly due to the vast language barrier that Yang manages to conquer like so many sacred mountains.
Griffin Theatre Company presents a Performing Lines Production
by William Yang
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross NSW 2011
Previews: 15 -16 January 2008
Season: 19 January – 9 February 2008
Times: Monday at 6:30pm. Tuesday to Saturday at 7pm. Saturday Matinee at 4pm
Prices: Full $43. Snr $36. Preview/Matinee/Conc. $32. Group 8+ $35. Under 30 $25
Bookings: MCA-TIX 1300 306 776 or online at www.griffintheatre.com.au