By David Walters

The J. Chen Project, a modern dance company founded in 2008 by Artistic Director Jessica Chen, took over the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), located at 215 Centre Street, March 30th and 31st to present their world premiere of AAPI HEROES: MYTHS AND LEGENDS, directed and choreographed by Jessica Chen.

Seeking to change perspective in the past, present, and future of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) in America, the program consisted of eight eclectic time-embracing pieces. Several were assembled from past performances (Revival of the Lost Legacy) and some were specifically created for MOCA as the evening was interactive in that the audience is asked to move to several spaces in the museum during the course of the show and spaces are reconfigured to be used in different ways. The dance pieces were:

Rising Dragon, is fun and expressive, embracing the legacy of Bruce Lee and his belief in martial arts as a conduit to self-awareness and personal growth.

NüWa was drawn from the myths of the mother goddess who reconstructed the Pillars of Heaven and created the first human, illustrated in the use of dough and its kneading intertwined into the choreography.

Down the Rabbit Hole, a Pied Piper dance that led the audience to other spaces in the museum where we walked in on a performance of the song Splendor Dysphoria by the guitarist and singer SuperKnova.

Reclaim is about the aspects of the things we lose, both personally and societally when we leave one place for another.

Be Curious is a dance-assisted monologue (performed by Joy Chen) chronicling the life and work of Anna May Wong (you may have seen her face on a quarter). She was the first Chinese-American movie star in Hollywood and was the lead in the first-ever US television show starring an Asian American (she was a detective).

A reprise of Down the Rabbit Hole guided the audience back into the reconfigured lobby space of MOCA.

I Can Almost See You, utilizing a Chinese bamboo hat that hid the face of the compellingly fluid dancer (Chieh Hsiung), wove together aspects of Chinese folk and modern dance and expressed the sense of not really belonging anywhere.

You Are Safe closed the evening out with the intricacies and strong ensemble work of the company, tackling oppression and racism that became prominent in the beginning of 2020. Their costumes plainly illustrated the themes with the words Target, Dignity, Belong, and Attack, emblazoned across the dancer’s bodies.

None of us is where we are today having not stood on the shoulders of those that have come before and the evening reflected that in its tributes. The choreography reflected past, present, and future in the stories it was telling and the moving pictures it portrayed. The performance was thought-provoking, informative, strong in its depictions, and graceful in execution.

It’s great to see talent like Ms. Chen’s in its stages of growth knowing that there is more to come. More truth to be revealed, a stronger context to be discovered, and the beauty of constant stretching beyond what has been done before. Incorporating modern techniques with traditional Chinese classical dance, blending cultures and ideas, and addressing current dilemmas in society make this a company for you to keep on your radar as their work continues. The J. Chen Project is on the forefront of reflecting a hopeful change in our society about who and what is an American.

AAPI Heroes: Myths and Legends. Director and Choreographer: Jessica Chen

Dancers include: Carl Ponce Cubero, Sumire Ishige, Maya Lam, Chieh Hsiung, Fang-Ting Yeh, Tsubasa Nishioka, Cameron Surh and Fiona Tsang. Featuring actor Joy Chen and SuperKnova.
The production team includes Jennifer Fok (Lighting Design), PaprTape (Composer & Sound Design), Lui Konno, Erica Johnston, and Keiko Voltaire (Costume Design).

MOCA is in parallel with Ms. Chen’s work in that they are both seeking to, “redefine the American narrative one story at a time.”

As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.