We live in world where political differences are played out on the battlefield and lessons are learned after tragedy passes. However, for centuries, artists have stepped in when dialogue has turned to violence and created an alternative outlet. Fred Ho has done just this throughout his career as a musician, composer, writer and activist. His latest production is a martial arts ballet that will be performed Tuesday night at the Power Center. “Voice of the Dragon: Once Upon a Time In Chinese America” is a full-scale epic fantasy and martial arts ballet that evokes social consciousness and cultural awareness.
Based on a 17th century Chinese fable from the Ching Dynasty, “Voice of the Dragon” revolves around the fate of the Shaolin Temple and the ancient scripts hidden within its walls. The deceitful nun, Gar Man Jang, allies herself with the Manchu imperial forces in an attempt to destroy the temple. As the temple walls catch fire, the stage transforms into a spectacle of flames and chaos. During this time, Gar Man Jang confiscates the treasured scrolls of the temple, whose contents reveal the age-old tradition of martial arts.
Though Ho’s production defies all categories of performance art, “Voice of the Dragon” can best be described as a martial arts ballet. Ho’s vision incorporates dramatic theater, humorous narrative as well as intricate choreography and awe-inspiring martial arts. Within this cross-disciplinary performance lays what Ho calls “political art:” art that evokes a consciousness of the present and inspirations for social change.
“Art that doesn’t have social impact is simply frivolous, decedent and ultimately meaningless,” says Ho. A self-identified cultural activist, Ho declares that most mainstream art is simply backdrop, entertainment and appeals to audiences on a superficial level.
With “Voice of the Dragon,” Ho urges audiences to question our perceptions of the prevalent multi-cultural images of mainstream art. He critiques the use of “fly-by-the-night multi-cultural fakery” and insists on deeper knowledge, sensibility and respect for differences among cultures. Ho strives for a “revolutionary internationalism” where people recognize the innate complexity of cross-cultural images and ideas.
As an Asian American, Ho refuses to give up any aspect of his identity for a clearly defined nationality. He is a “genre-buster” in all areas of his life and “Voice of the Dragon” is no exception. Ho describes his work as “fresh, explosive, and satirical while being martial and music driven, a fantasy but political, very sophisticated, sensitive, soulful and tremendously fun.”