REVIEW: Jay Peng Zhang and Terry Tsang

As part of the U-M Fall 2023 Festival of Asian Music, Terry Tsang and Jay Peng Zhang came to the Keene Theater in East Quad on Tuesday, October 24.

Terry Tsang is a choreographer primarily working in Hong Kong. I was expecting him to perform, but instead, he gave a presentation because his work centers around exploring the human body through nudity and human desires, a concept that was inspired by simply walking down the street. Tsang wanted to know if we could truly understand someone through their body alone and if the body speaks the truth, as verbal communication leaves room for dishonesty. He showed us a couple of videos of his choreographies that expressed his interpretation of what love means, incorporating the gestures of making love that gradually transformed into an animalistic representation of sex since animals are designed to survive through reproduction. The dancers were completely nude but wore strange and purposefully unsettling masks that completely hid their faces; in fact, during the Q&A session at the end, an audience member described the dancing as creepy.

Jay Peng Zhang on the other hand did give a live performance and sang the folk songs of various ethnic groups in China, such as the Tujia ethnic group from the Western Hunan Province. His singing was accompanied by only one person, who played a drum set muted by cloth and other percussive items, like large pots; but rather than an accompaniment, the percussion sounded like a response to his singing and movements because of its continuous resonance instead of emphasized beats. Zhang sang with a powerful voice, and his breath control and crescendoes were incredible; however, he moved his fingers very daintily, creating a beautiful and interesting contrast.

Zhang explained how he didn’t want to give the audience a flashy performance but rather a meaningful and interactive experience to renew and rebuild old rituals, as over time they’ve lost their meaning “like artifacts in a museum,” performed only as a tourist attraction. To him, folk songs and their intended rituals don’t signify religion, but instead are a way to release stress and help keep our hearts peaceful and balanced.

The most memorable song Zhang sang was one traditionally sung by women left behind at home by their lovers who left to earn money. The girls would sing the song to a river because they believed the water would carry their emotions to another place, and when their lover saw the water, he could feel her love. Zhang asked the audience to accompany his singing by collectively becoming “a group of water” by enunciating syllables that represented flowing waves. The amazing part is how the audience naturally added dynamics to the space created through Zhang’s gentle dance.



Just before Fall Break, The Center for World Performance Studies hosted an incredible guest artist by the name of  Taous Claire Khazem. The actress/activist performed a one-woman, self-starring theatrical performance called “Tizi Ouzou.” Named for the real life town in Algeria from which her father’s lineage descends, the play recounted the tales of ten imaginary emigrants or citizens of the mountainous village, exploring their struggles, values, dreams, disappointments, and distinctions. Taous created each character using simple props: a pair of shoes, a scarf, a coffee cup, a cane, or a pair of glasses, a cigarette. The set was bare, so the only way to enter the story  was through the performer’s movements, utterances, and expressive behaviors. It was astounding how developed each character became as Taous donned the accessories that defined the separate story lines. The cast included an old man who believed the cultural revolution of thirty years previous was current news; a young woman who wanted to move to America and find a basketball player for a husband; a sweet French girl who had fallen in love with an Algerian man; a grandmother who bakes bread and doles out unsolicited life advice; a religious teenager; a travel agent with strong opinions about Algerian men, and many more. In a question and answer session following the performance, Taous declared that each character had been adapted from real-life counter parts. Her personal history of immigration, multi-cultural values, language barriers, and even discrimination came alive in this animated narrative. Though the plot is specific to French-Algerian culture, it somehow felt relatable to the entire audience. The characters she developed are archetypal and familiar. Their challenges and triumphs are pertinent to nearly any group of people in the world, particularly those who have crossed country lines in their lifetime. The characters felt close to heart, though they are from a far off land called Tiz Ouzou.

For more about events hosted by The Center for World Performances, click here. For info on Taous, click here. See you next time!