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By Andrew Zender, Between the Columns

Published January 11, 2010

 David Harrington, John Sherba; “A Chinese Home” guest artist Wu Man, Hank Dutt and Jeffrey Zeigler. Photo courtesy of Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
Inspiration for great art can come from anywhere, and it often comes from unlikely sources. Violinist David Harrington, leader of the world-renowned Kronos Quartet, found musical inspiration several years ago while exploring a 300-year-old house from southeastern China.

Yin Yu Tang, as it is known, housed eight generations of the prosperous Huang family. It was dismantled piece by piece in 1997 and rebuilt in the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts over the course of three years. It inspired the group to create the multimedia piece “A Chinese Home” opening on Feb. 12.

“Visiting Yin Yu Tang was an overwhelming experience; it caused us to think about what kinds of sounds and spirits live in the space, and how we might attempt to capture it,” says Harrington. “In a culture as ancient, rich and deep as China’s, nothing is lost, it’s hidden. Researching and creating ‘A Chinese Home’ together was the musical equivalent of walking in the Grand Canyon—and it’s unlike anything we’ve ever done.”

The work, co-commissioned by and featured at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center next month, is a visually stunning, multimedia exploration of China’s passage through the 20th century and into the 21st. The production incorporates an array of traditional and contemporary Chinese music along with archival and modern projected images in a four-part performance created by visionary stage director Chen Shi-Zheng. It opens in the center’s Ina and Jack Kay Theatre at 8 p.m.

The program’s co-creator Wu Man will perform on the pipa, a pear-shaped, four-stringed Chinese instrument belonging to the family of plucked instruments. In one segment of the program, she will also play the first-ever created electric pipa. The electric pipa filters the sounds and textures of an acoustic instrument that first appeared during the Han Dynasty in 220 B.C. through modern-day manipulations of distortion, feedback and wah-wah pedals, which are known for creating such sounds on electric guitars.

A collaboration led by several Maryland faculty cements the center’s reputation for partnering with academic units to push the performing arts into innovative and unfamiliar territories.

During a three-week winter term course led by Harold Burgess II, director of the College Park Scholars Arts Program and assistant professor of theatre; Ronit Eisenbach, associate professor of architecture; and Sharon Mansur, assistant professor of dance, students had the opportunity to design, construct and participate in inter-related aspects of exhibition design, architectural structure, ritual and performance that explore the themes of home, place and being. Using bamboo donated by the local community and blended with works created by College Park Art Scholars, students developed an exhibit based on Chinese “desire houses.” These ancient structures were constructed to contain items that would accompany the spirits of the deceased into the afterlife in a ritual burning. They will be presented in the center’s Grand Pavilion in conjunction with “A Chinese Home.”

A Chinese “desire house” in the lobby of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

In a choreographed processional preceding the performance on Feb. 12, students will carry one desire house through the Grand Pavilion and burn it in the outdoor courtyard at the rear of the building as a symbolic gesture.

“As faculty, we are truly inspired by the premise of the project, but draw even greater reward from working with the students as partners in the overall development of each phase of the exhibit,” says Burgess.

“The intersection of these different elements is what we hope will serve to build tangible connections between disciplines and provoke creative exploration and expression among the students.”

Tickets for the Feb. 12 performance are $42 for the general public and $9 for full-time students with ID. State employees may receive an additional discount through the Maryland Citizens for the Arts StepUp program. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 301-405-2787.

Read the original article here.

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