Emerald Bay ballet tells story of Chinese expulsion from Puget Sound

Submitted by admin on Thu, 06/02/2011 - 11:00pm

“Emerald Bay,” an original ballet about the forced removal of the Chinese community from the Puget Sound region based on a story by WWU Professor of English Christopher Wise, debuted May 15 at the University of Washington and will continue its local run at McIntrye Hall in Mount Vernon on June 4 and 5 and Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre June 11, 12, and 13.

“Emerald Bay” features original choreography by Western’s Associate Professor of Computer Science Jianna Zhang, and WWU Associate Professor of English Ning Yu served as the ballet’s cultural and artistic advisor.

Staged by the Northwest Ballet Theater, “Emerald Bay” is a romantic ballet set in the Puget Sound region in 1885. At this time, not long after the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were driven from the area. A modern variant on Shakespeare’s classic tale “Romeo and Juliet,” “Emerald Bay” recounts the tragic love story of a Chinese sea captain, Li Puo, and his lover, Julie O’Connor, a young woman of Scots-Irish ancestry. Prominent historical figures in the ballet include Dirty Dan Harris, Goon Dip, and Mark Twain.

Shuai Chen of San Jose Ballet performs in the principle role as Li Puo, and Christina Stockdale of Ballet Bellevue performs the role of Julie O’Connor. The ballet also includes representative dancers and character actors from the region’s diverse communities, including Chinese, Irish, and Scottish dance traditions.

“Emerald Bay” features original choreography by artistic director John Bishop, formerly of American Ballet Theater, who recently directed Northwest Ballet’s “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid.” Allison Kahl, an alumna of Western’s Dance program, choreographed the ballet’s Irish and Scottish dancing. She also appears in the ballet as the character Reilly Doyle.

The ballet is sponsored by Western Washington University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Western’s English Department, Women’s Studies, the Office of Student Affairs, and the university’s Classical Ballet Club. It is also sponsored by numerous community organizations, including the Northwest Chinese Cultural Association, the Old Fairhaven Association, Dirty Dan Days, Ski to Sea, the Whatcom Museum, the Lummi Nation, Village Books, and the Chinese Expulsion Remembrance Project.

Wise, who plays the role of Dirty Dan Harris in the ballet, said, “This ballet is a collaborative effort involving multiple individuals and organizations. It offers a good example of what Western is doing in the local community.”

Prior to the ballet’s premiere in Bellingham, The Whatcom Museum of History of Art will host “Emerald Bay and The Chinese Expulsion: 125 Years Later.” The event will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 26 in the museum’s Rotunda Room. A brief clip of the ballet will be shown, and Dan Pike, the mayor of Bellingham, will issue a formal apology to the Chinese community.

The Old Fairhaven Association will also unveil a new historical marker commemorating the “Chinese Deadline” that existed in Fairhaven in the late 19th Century. The deadline is featured prominently in the choreography of the ballet, and the rededication of the marker was inspired by the ballet. At noon on Wednesday, June 8, the new marker will be laid in a formal ceremony in Fairhaven, also with the mayor in attendance, as well as representatives from Western, Northwest Ballet, the Old Fairhaven Association and the Northwest Chinese Cultural Association.

Wise’s book, “Emerald Bay: From the Lost Archives of Mark Twain,” is available for purchase at Village Books. For more information about the ballet, contact Christopher Wise at Christopher.Wise@wwu.edu (or 650-3237) or go to http://www.northwestballet.org/.

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