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Review: Yin Mei at Jacob’s Pillow

Choreographer Yin Mei demands a lot from her audience. Namely patience, and the same kind of concentration she and her dancers bring to their performance at Jacob’s Pillow of City of Paper, her multimedia work addressing her personal and cultural history.

Yin is a native of Luoyang, China, a 4,000-year-old city that is the also the birthplace of paper, and was a nexus for Chinese artists and intellectuals – the same kind of people who were persecuted and re-educated during the Cultural Revolution.  It was at the dawn of this period, when she was 13 years old, that Yin began her dance career, receiving traditional training in classical Chinese court and folk dance, Peking Opera, and martial arts.  As she states:

I am part of a generation of artists who lost their childhood to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, who experienced a world gone mad:  Our elementary school teachers ejected from the classroom; factory workers hauled in to conduct class.  Our parents – if on the “wrong road” politically – publicly humiliated forced to admit to trumped-up “crimes” against the People.  Red Guard factions fighting in the streets, each proclaiming righteousness in the name of Chairman Mao.  Beatings.  Executions.  Suicides.  Five thousand years of Chinese art and culture tossed in the garbage heap.  From this, a generation of survivors – and of fighters – my generation – was born.  But from this, how does one make art?  How does one deal with memories that burn in the brain, that haunt one’s waking hours, that tattoo images of rage beneath one’s skin?

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In her case, the answer is to create a profound, somber work for four dancers filled with images and dreamlike passages, in which paper, in many forms, plays many roles: prop, surface, sound source, backdrop for projections, canvas, horizontal path across the stage, stage within a stage, ephemeral object to be balanced upright in one hand, and, in the

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