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Pam Tzeng and FOONYAP Celebrate the Inherent Wisdom of the Body in SHED

The duo’s multi-sensory dance production folds and unfolds with the complexities of past, present, and future ancestries.

by Danielle Wensley

Photo by Mike Tan

Pam Tzeng and FOONYAP are two women of the Chinese diaspora living and creating in Mohkinstis (colonially known as Calgary, Alberta). Their particularly resonant lived experiences and shared artistic endeavours in music, dance, and experimental performance, have drawn them together to produce SHED | knowing each other as different and the same. 

The multi-sensory and interdisciplinary dance phenomenon emerged from a week-long creative “first date” where the duo tested the waters of creative collaboration while Tzeng was in artistic residence at Dancer’s Studio West (YYC). Together, they developed a fluid methodology of inter-artistic weaving—a living and responsive ecology which allowed them to dive into each others’ worlds and build a danced duet that articulates the multidimensions of their respective living-experiences. The duet holds space for shapeshifting, allowing each to bathe in the depths of artistic possibility, both exploring unfamiliar creative expressions as a way to resonate with one another.

The methodology synthesized by Tzeng and FOONYAP fostered the development of 5 additional solos, danced by Cindy Ansah, Cory Beaver, Kara Bullock, Alen Martel and Mpoe Mogal. The collection of choreographies, also identified by Tzeng as time-based moving portraits, will be performed at various times, in “pods”, over the course of a premiere two-week run at The New Gallery in YYC. FOONYAP describes the entirety of SHED as similar to a festival, where her duet with Tzeng is the headlining act. Audiences are invited to register to attend free, hour-length performances, each showcasing either POD 1, 2 or 3. Beyond the scheduled performances, the gallery will be open to the public to visit and encounter ephemeral remnants of the moving portraits; gorgeous, other-worldly garments designed by Tzeng and collaborator Alison Yanota hang in the gallery, standing in for the performers.

FOONYAP shared with RANGE that this project resonates for her as a spiritual manifestation of ancestral patterning. “How can I appreciate the gifts from my cultural heritage and my ancestors while also acknowledging the pain and trauma there,” she asks. Both Tzeng and FOONYAP held this question at the fulcrum of the project’s development, seeking ways to fold and unfold with the complexities of past, present and future ancestries while teasing out the benefits of confrontation and internal struggle. 

The project also applies an anti-oppressive, anti-racist framework and calls upon the Somatic Abolitionist work of Resmaa Menakem. Borrowing from Menakem, Tzeng describes the collaborators of SHED as Bodies of Culture, a title that reclaims “the inherent wisdom of the body and the pieces of our experiences that have been stolen, stripped away, and invisibilized by white body supremacy”. Every aspect of the project aims to embrace the multiplicities of a person through systems of shared vulnerability by slowing down, deeply listening, responding with care and encouraging agency. Under the yellow glow of monochromatic sodium light, performers and audience members alike will be rinsed of colour, enveloped by a moment to contemplate difference and sameness. Akin to a Daoist myth that FOONYAP relayed to RANGE, individuals in this light move like single droplets in a waterfall while sustaining an integral relationship to a bigger picture—the whole waterfall.  

SHED unfolds April 27 to May 14 at The New Gallery in YYC’s Chinatown, June 1 and 2 at Mile Zero Dance in “Edmonton” and July 15 and 16 at the Plastic Orchid Factory in “Vancouver.”