Transcending Cultural Barriers…Through Balloons?

Sacrifice For Paradise

By Ian Heckman

The image of balloons conjures up visions of children, birthday parties, revelry, laughter, and joyfulness. It may even make you remember a particularly special birthday party you had as a child. But in Siwen Jiang’s MFA thesis, balloons take on a completely different tenor.  Siwen Jiang, a third year MFA candidate at The College at Brockport, is from China and has spent the last three years studying dance in Brockport. Her thesis, which will be shown in Dance/Hartwell at SUNY Brockport at 7:30 April 9th through the 11th, transforms balloons into much more serious objects. Jiang transforms balloons into objects of emotion. Not emotions of merriment, but emotions of hope and potential loss. She shows us another side of balloons, apart from their usual associations with parties, a side where we look up at the balloon, above us.

The dance begins with two people on stage: one is Chinese, the other, American. The balloons are arranged around the space, at varying heights. They enter a movement dialogue with one another with the Chinese dancer beginning and the American dancer responding. This Chinese dancer and the American dancer are coming from two very different points of view, but they are trying to breach the divide between one another. Proceeding this movement dialogue is a series of people walking across the stage. The two dancers from the beginning are there, with a collection of others, some Chinese and some American. The dancers keep walking across the stage and eventually, I pay less attention to how the dancers are walking across the stage and my attention is drawn to the balloons themselves. I begin to notice how the balloons are swaying and moving as a result of the dancers walking across the stage. This is where it seems that the balloons are the key–the key to linking the cultures to one another.

The dancers then proceed to move with the balloons and then something happens: the dancers elevate the balloons far above their heads. And I am reminded of the space balloons occupy, above us. It is here, above us, where all of our hopes and dreams lie. But at the same time, if the balloons go too high, our hopes and our dreams may be ungraspable. Several times during Jiang’s thesis, as the dancers raise the balloons further above their heads, we are reminded of this unfortunate truth: Even though we are hopeful, we sometimes have to let our dreams and hopes go. The image of balloons becomes a dual symbol of both hope and loss. And this is a truth that transcends cultural differences. No matter where we are from, no matter what language we speak, we all still long for the fulfillment of our dreams, and sometimes those dreams get away from us.

In her thesis, Siwen Jiang evokes these ideas and emotions through the simple image of balloons rising. She shows us this much more serious side of the balloon, but the emotions are not exaggerated or overdone. My hope and fear while watching those balloons rise is subtle and quiet. They match a yearning which is not apparent or obvious, but reflects a more everyday concern with hope and loss. Jiang transcends cultural barriers through balloons, which are symbols for the hope and fear we experience on an everyday basis.

Be sure to catch Siwen Jiang’s thesis work as well as other student choreographed pieces at DANCE/Hartwell on April 9th-April 11th at 7:30pm in Hartwell Theatre!

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