Interview with Rainbow Chan

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Towards the end of last year, musician & artist Rainbow Chan worked through the second phase of the West Kowloon x Performance Space Exchange Residency at IO Myer Studio, UNSW. We had a chat with one of Australia's most innovative musicians to learn more about her project The Bridal Lament. 

Can you give us a bit of background about the project you are working on during your West Kowloon x Performance Space residency? 

In this project, I reimagine a collection of bridal laments through a contemporary diasporic lens. These laments or “哭嫁” refer to a female custom that was performed by the 圍頭 (Weitou) people, the first settlers of Hong Kong. As marriages were arranged, becoming a bride signified a kind of death for a woman. Not only would her ties to her natal home be severed, but she would remain an outsider to the groom’s family. 

To mourn this profound sense of loss, Weitou women would perform a bridal lament cycle before their wedding day, a ritual which involved singing and weeping in front of family and friends over the course of three days. Since this tradition ended in the 1960s, the last group of women to embody this knowledge are in their 80s or 90s today.

You have Weitou ancestry through your mother, who never learnt the Bridal Laments. What in particular drew you to this cultural practice? 

I have been thinking about endangered languages. My mum speaks the Weitou dialect but didn’t pass it onto us. When I asked her if she could teach me, she suggested that I should learn through song. Over the last few years, I’ve been working with elderly Weitou women in the Caritas Lung Yeuk Tau Community Development Project who still know the songs. What I didn’t expect was the rich history and knowledge in these bridal laments which are tied to land, sisterhood and grief.

You have spent 2 weeks in the IO Myer studio at UNSW. I imagine this studio is different to the typical studios you work in, what have you learnt from being in a different space?

Making new work inside a theatre is something I haven’t done before. It’s allowed me to think about music and movement in an expanded form. I’ve enjoyed building a world inside the theatre and letting the ambience of this place tell the story. 

During your residency, you’ve worked with artist, dancer and choreographer Amrita Hepi to develop a movement language to respond to the research, community engagement and music composition of your ambitious new performance work The Bridal Lament. Have you worked with this medium before? What was the process of shifting gears and working with movement over music? 

Amrita is an incredible practitioner and thinker. I’ve learnt so much from her extensive experience in performance making. What I’ve particularly loved is learning both how to watch movement and how to move while being watched. We’ve built up a vocabulary of gestures inspired by the imagery of the laments. These movements emerged out of improvisation exercises. Through this playful yet rigorous process, the movement feels quite organic and natural to my body. The choreography and music are really an extension of each other. 

Can you give us a little more information on what The Bridal Lament will look like? 

It’s going to be a solo show which combines the bridal laments with electronic pop music, archival material and personal reflections on womanhood, family, love and grief. At its core, the work explores the sense of loss that comes with transitional stages in one’s life. It will contain different textures through various modes of translation - language, sonic, visual, movement. The show will see me working with a multi-artform environment.  

Any other info we need to know?

Some words that we’ve been playing with this week include: line, shuffle, spiral, mouth, scale, crybaby, freckle, veil, red.


Follow Rainbow on insta: @chunyinrainbowchan

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