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'Rice Women' Dance and Music Piece Faces East

By Travis Hodgkins, Public Affairs
Posted November 3, 1999

Lineage makes a deeper imprint on cultural identity than does geography, says dance lecturer Sue Li-Jue, who created the upcoming performance "Rice Women."

Cultural identity, she says, "is passed down to you through the blood, through the bone, through history, through stories, and just by lineage alone. And that is the basis behind 'Rice Women.'"

Facing East, Li-Jue's dance and music production company, presents the program Nov. 12 to 14, at the Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco. The piece consists of five large dance works woven together, with text and music, "into a sort of seamless evening," said Li-Jue. "It's a little bit of a traveling show; the audience has to do a little bit of work."

The 70-minute show starts in a main theater and then everyone, players and audience alike, move from one space to another, ending up in the original theater. All this moving around, Li-Jue said, gives the audience a pseudo-intermission.

"Rice Women" is both a traveling show, said Li-Jue, and a very visual show -- featuring hundreds of pounds of falling rice, objects that swing in and out of the set, plus electric fans, lights, an artificial meadow, and caricatures of elderly Chinese relatives.

"The whole show involves live music, which is rare to find these days, especially in a small modern dance group like ours," Li-Jue said.

Facing East has many Berkeley connections. Lecturer Li-Jue has taught dance courses on campus for the last 13 years -- from ballet to cultural sources of dance -- and describes herself as a "budding choreographer." Core dancer Aileen Kim works as administrative assistant to Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell. Dancers Vivien Dai, Lily Wang and Diana Woon are Berkeley alumni and former students of Li-Jue.

Staffer Joel Adlen, who works in the agriculture and resource economics department, wrote the text for "Rice Women." (His musical "Tea and Crumpets" won the Bay Area Theater Critics' Circle Award for best musical score in 1998.) The text of "Rice Women" is spare, humorous, poetic and "very pointed," said Li-Jue

The catalyst for "Rice Women," she said, was the death of her grandmother, "the matriarch of our family," six years ago, and the simultaneous birth of her daughter.

"Saying good-bye to one generation that had been so important to our family and also welcoming in a whole new generation" made a strong impression on Li-Jue.

As her newborn grew, Li-Jue began to notice similarities between her child and the great grandmother whom her daughter never met. "I started thinking how far we have come as women, as Chinese women."

"Rice Women" explores the idea of "generations and the passing of information -- and how important it is to be a woman of strength," said Li-Jue. She choreographed the first piece for "Rice Women" four years ago, and has developed the rest of the performance since.

Facing East is supported by grants from the Oakland Cultural Arts Fund and the Zellerbach Family Fund. To reserve tickets to "Rice Women," contact Sue Li-Jue at or 891-9496.



November 3 - 9, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 13)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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