Firehorse and Shadow An interactive virtual performance

A personal journey of four generations of Chinese Canadian women seeking their own identity takes on a creative format to engage audiences as the Dreamwalker Dance Company presents a virtual performance of Firehorse and Shadow.

“The experience is very sensory based, and we like to shift perspective through using perception and imagery that lead you to the sensation of your own internal organs and your body, your physical self as a way to tap into some of the places of memory and identity,” explains Andrea Nann, a contemporary dancer and founding artistic director of Dreamwalker Dance Company.

Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society (VAHMS) is partnering with the Dreamwalker Dance Company for explorASIAN 2021 (May 1–31), addressing historical and current social issues related to gender inequality and anti-Chinese racism.

So much can be expressed in the shadow that cannot be said, says Andrea Nann. | Photo courtesy of Dreamwalker Dance Company

An immersive web presentation
The Firehorse and Shadow performance invites the audience to interact with a variety of elements and to uncover stories, ideas and sentiments at their own pace. Beyond verbal expression, the audience can expect to see contemporary dance, shadow puppetry, interactive web design, animation, documentary film and photography.

According to Nann, the content consists of multi-layer storylines that can be accessed in any order. The journey is a customized experience depending on the interests of the audience and their input at the very beginning.

The sections are framed in a way that sheds light on traditional Chinese concepts, such as the twelve zodiacs, five elements, yin/yang and the body organ clock rooted in Chinese medicine. All of these elements are believed to determine one’s destiny.

Lived experience of a family
The web performance tells a family story of four generations of Chinese women growing up in Vancouver. Under the influence of their predestined existence and cultural identity, they experience personal growth and rebirth in their own unique way.

“I was really curious about how each of those women in my line found different ways to push against the barriers that they were faced with, and found ways to stretch and straddle two cultures,” says Nann.

As stereotypes of being agreeable, hardworking, and silent perpetuated for Chinese women, the historical context exacerbated the hardships felt by those women: they struggled with discrimination and assimilation in Canada in the last century, including the difficult period they had to endure when the Chinese Immigration Act banned immigration from China for 24 years.

“My mother and my grandmother, and my great grandmother, all have very significant roles in the community, shaping and changing the definition of what they were born into,” recalls Nann.

Storytelling as empowerment
Nann points out the mediums within the presentation, notably dance and shadow performance, are carefully chosen to reflect and highlight the emotions or messages in the story.

“As a dance artist, I transform all of these experiences and the grief, the anger or the sorrow and even joy into action. And for that action to be expressed in art is really extraordinary,” says Nann.

The shadow performance, brought to life by the shadow artist Annie Katsura Rollins, is a key component describing the culture of silence lived by many Chinese Canadian women.

“So much could be expressed in the shadow that couldn’t be said. And especially as it came from that felt experience; more internal experience could be expressed in this medium,” explains Nann. “The screen the shadow was projected on becomes a way for us to cross time as well, with these multiple images and aspects of a single person or story.”

Issues of discrimination, racism, and identity has been historical and ongoing, not just in Asian communities says Nann. By sharing this presentation at this time, she would like to recognize what is happening to people facing discrimination, and empower them to tell their personal stories and fight against social injustices.

For more information on the event, please visit firehorseandshadow