Story of gender identity told through contemporary dance

Story of gender identity told through contemporary dance

A new performance explores the ideas of gender, our bodies, and what society tells us we must be

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Space 9 uses lighting, props, and the dancers' movements to symbolise Jin Xing's struggle for gender identity.
Space 9 uses lighting, props, and the dancers' movements to symbolise Jin Xing's struggle for gender identity.
Photo: Keith Hiro

Chinese contemporary dancer Jin Xing was a former colonel in the People's Liberation Army, and a dancer with the PLA performance troupe.

As a young boy, he felt like he was born in the wrong body, and longed to be a woman. At the age of 29, Jin achieved his dream, when he underwent gender reassignment surgery.

Jin made her Hong Kong debut recently, commemorating the Asia Cultural Council's 50th anniversary with her Hong Kong debut: On Stage with Jin Xing.

One of the performances was Space 9, and junior reporter Annette Kim was there to see it. This is what she thought ...

Dancers take the stage

Space 9 is a group performance starring Jin Xing and eight members of her dance company, Jin Xing Dance Theatre.

The nine women are dressed in identical, simple black dresses but wear different pairs of high heels, which draw extra attention to their shoes.

These shoes are an important part of the show. They are a symbol of the elusive femininity that Jin had craved ever since she was a young boy.

The show begins in silence, with the women posing provocatively: chin high, arms extended to the fingertips, back arched, and legs taut on the pedestals of their high heels.

The music that soon plays is sensual, the type of music that might suit a romantic dinner.

The dancers sway along to the melody and rhythm, forming diagonal lines in the nine squares lit up on the stage.

The lighting has changed from a serene white and blue to an ominous red and dark pink.

The audience watches, slightly shocked and even disturbed, as the women suddenly bend over, hug themselves, clutch their shoulders and pant.

With each pant, still doubled over, they shake up and down.

The disturbing choreography and crimson lighting combine to give the effect of suffocation, restraint and danger.

This scene in particular challenges what the audience members are used to, shaking them awake from their soothing, numbing slumber of existence like a bucket of icy water.

The audience is intrigued and forced to speculate on the meaning of Space 9.

Dancing a mile in her shoes

The enigma slowly unfolds as, one by one, the women take off their high heels, and toss them in a corner at the front of the stage. They then move to adjacent squares, which are lit in pale blue light.

The pale blue squares seem to mark "safe zones", as the women in them are no longer "choking".

Instead, these women are dancing fluidly with a free range of movements, from earthy rolls close the ground to sky-bound leaps.

Only one woman remains in the hostile red square: Jin Xing.

When she leaves the square, it is to rush to the pile of heels at the front of the stage. Jin desperately tries to gather as many of the heels - as much of the femininity - as possible.

The other dancers, who had been born as women, have little regard for their femininity, and take it for granted.

But Jin felt she had been born in the wrong body and assigned the wrong sex and gender, and had to undergo surgery to fix this mistake. For years she had yearned for this missing femininity, so now she cherishes it even more.

It is painful to watch Jin so frantically and hopelessly holding all of the heels in her arms.

With each heel that slipped out of her grasp, she'd lose her balance and everything would come tumbling down.

Meanwhile, the other women close in around her, coldly watching with folded arms Jin's futile endeavours.

For the rest of Space 9, Jin continues her struggle to regain her femininity.

With the heels used as a symbol, the dance explores the meaning of gender and its significance.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A dance of self-discovery

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