Photo Cred­it : Claire Shovelton

If like me, you grew up think­ing that the ori­gin­al story of Cinder­ella included a glass slip­per, a fairy god­moth­er and two evil step-sis­ters you’ve been mis­taken. Through the power of music and dance not only have I been cor­rec­ted but have come to under­stand that one of the earli­est ver­sions of this fam­ous fairy tale was story of Ye Xian, the Chinese Cinder­ella.

I pre­viewed Untold, the 3rd piece in a series of col­lab­or­a­tions between Brit­ish Chinese com­poser Alex­an­der Ho and Julia Cheng in the stu­dio. There was no clev­er lights or fancy sta­ging to hide behind. The sev­en-piece ensemble stood amongst a sea of instru­ments ready to play, dance or des­troy them. The orches­tral land­scape con­sisted of both west­ern clas­sic­al and Chinese per­cus­sion instru­ments, emphas­ising the cross-cul­tur­al experience/heritage of the cast.  I couldn’t tell who could/would play what or when, fuel­ling the room excite­ment and uncer­tainty. The piece is set in the round, cre­at­ing a world that can be viewed from mul­tiple per­spect­ives, emu­lat­ing the cyc­lic­al nature of the earth, trav­el­ling across coun­tries and through time.

Ho and Cheng chose a cast of incred­ible inter­dis­cip­lin­ary artists who inser­ted their own per­son­al stor­ies of duel iden­tity with­in the tra­di­tion­al story of Ye Xian. This clev­er com­pos­i­tion allows the audi­ence to see the par­al­lels between our own mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion of Cinder­ella and the vari­ance of Chinese iden­tity, both for the naïve west­ern­er and even Chinese people them­selves.

Chinese whis­pers iron­ic­ally came to mind, in this instance, the whis­per was cul­tur­al appro­pri­ation, show­ing how easy it is for stor­ies to be changed and lost. Strangely enough Untold taught me how little I knew about about Chinese tra­di­tions and cul­ture and how often as minor­it­ies we fail to see the sim­il­ar­it­ies in our exper­i­ences with­in west­ern land­scapes. I am eager to learn more and I am sure all who have now seen the piece feel exactly the same.

This clev­er and thought­ful inter­pret­a­tion provided food for thought about pre­ju­dice, lan­guage, tra­di­tion and cul­tur­al iden­tity. The use of text, dance, voice and music really allows the audi­ence to reflect on their own lived exper­i­ence of the world.

Even though this was only pre­view I was brought to tears, par­tic­u­larly by the incred­ible vocal tal­ents of Keith Pun. Such power and grace as his voice filled every corner of the room. I learned of the Yangqin (played by Reylon Yount) and oth­er Chinese per­cus­sion instru­ments that inhab­ited the space as well as the famili­ar­ity of the flute (played by Daniel Shao) and hip hop/contemporary dance cho­reo­graphy which gave this piece an excep­tion­al dis­tinc­tion like no oth­er.

I will end with this. Ye Xian had gold slip­pers not glass. She had one half sis­ter and her help came in the form of a magic­al fish that was thought to be the spir­it of her dead moth­er. A beau­ti­ful story retold through dance and music that is a must see. Edu­ca­tion­al, immers­ive, intel­li­gent and abso­lutely stun­ning. I am excited to see more from the both Ho and Cheng and their teach­ings of Chinese his­tory, past and present.





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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.