FRINGE SHORTS: “Longing for Qeej” by Iny Asian Dance Theatre

Lightsey says you should go see "Longing for Qeej" - not for the usual "cultural blahblah" reasons - but for the glitter and incandescent smiles, and to encourage more working in these dance forms to make forays outside specifically Asian audiences.

"Longing for Qeej" by Iny Asian Dance Theatre

YOU SHOULD GO SEE LONGING FOR QEEJ, Iny Asian Dance Theater‘s Hmong and Asian dance odyssey about the origin of the qeej, the mouth organ that is regarded in Hmong culture as connecting the sacred with the everyday. It’s not that this is a great show. Apparently it’s assembled from dances made over several years, and it feels that way; the connecting thread is thin. The dancing varies widely too. These are mostly adolescents and children, and as children on stage will, they run the gamut from vibrant to vacant, inspired to clueless, with every shade and combination in between (there are a lot of them). Of course, I could make the culture blahblah argument, as in “it’s time you had a deeper experience with Hmong culture than wondering how to cook those tiny eggplants for sale at the farmer’s market.” But that bores me, and anyway how do I know who you are, what you know?

No, I’ll just be honest and tell you the real reason I want you to go: because I want to see more of these dance forms. Iny Dance Theater is in its eleventh year, but I’ve never heard of it, which makes me conclude that this is one of its first forays outside a specifically Asian audience. It’ll take encouragement for Iny to try this again, and at the opening show I saw, they weren’t getting it; there were easily twice as many people on stage as in the audience.

If you go, what will you see? Lots and lots of handsprings, summersaults, walkovers, and other flips, all so adorned with sequins they leave sparkling afterimages in the air. Sequins, thousands of them, on brilliant costumes of a complexity that defies description, with butterfly-wing skirts and petaled hems, with pearl crowns and gold-wrapped braids, and did I mention sequins? These dancers hardly need to be lit. The best of them, the drill-team precise MN SunShine group (the dancers are divided into levels), flash smiles so glittering that you might want to back a little away from the stage — except that you’ll want to get close to see their articulate hands. Hands, radiant eyes, and calligraphic spines seem to be the main points in this dance. These dancers can smile (and keep smiling) from any angle, they do the snake like you wouldn’t believe, and they’re never unprepared to just flop right over backwards and put their hands on the floor. Or to put a foot to the back of the head, which they do not gently or gradually, but in a single spring-loaded pop. These acrobatic contortions blossom in Busby Berkeley-like patterns, with a rhythmic intensity I associate with hiphop. From the clatter of their jewelry to their out-of-joint high kicks, this dance moves.

And it moved me. I’ve noticed that when I see a new dance I laugh a lot, not out of ridicule but from sheer delight: Longing for Qeej had me laughing throughout.


Related performance details:

Longing for Qeej by Iny Asian Dance Theatre is on stage at U of MN Rarig Center Proscenium. Remaining shows are Saturday, 8/13 (5:30 pm); Sunday, 8/14 (1:30 pm).

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About the author: Originally from Tallahassee, Lightsey Darst is a poet, dance writer, and adjunct instructor at various Twin Cities colleges. Her manuscript Find the Girl was recently published by Coffee House; she has also been awarded a 2007 NEA Fellowship. She hosts the writing salon, “The Works.”