December 6, 2023 Coverage and Posts, CSA, Dance, Music

Pittsburgh City Paper: One-Log Bridge captures Chinese immigrant experience with opera, breakdancing, and more

One-Log Bridge captures Chinese immigrant experience with opera, breakdancing, and more

Pittsburgh audiences will soon experience a one-two punch of operatic styles, all while learning about the issues Chinese immigrants face in the United States, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One-Log Bridge, a one-act opera by composer and Point Park University educator Yan Pang, will, as a press release puts it, “explore the notions of resilience, race, immigration, and home.” Pang, a native of Chengdu who earned her Ph.D. in music at the University of Minnesota and relocated to Pittsburgh in 2021, says the production “will be a fusion,” blending Eastern and Western operatic traditions, breakdancing, and theater.

The new show runs from Thu., Dec. 7-Fri., Dec. 8 at the New Hazlett Theater — the venue supported the project through its CSA Performance Series, a program designed to bring works by “emerging and mid-career performing artists to the stage.”

Inspired by Pang’s journey as a first-generation immigrant, One-Log Bridge follows Yan, a musician who travels to the U.S. to study music. Along the way, Yan “experiences hardships ranging from unmet family expectations to immigration difficulties to racism directed at Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The show exemplifies Pang’s mission to shed light on larger issues through her art.

“In the past, before I came to the U.S., I used chamber music or orchestra as my medium because there was less freedom of speech in China,” Pang says. “So I let my instrument tell the story. When I came to the U.S., I felt like there were a lot of opportunities for artists like me to speak up and tell our stories. So I transitioned from art for art’s sake to art for social justice.”

Chinese culture influences much of the show, from the inclusion of traditional Sichuan opera to the title.

One-Log Bridge captures Chinese immigrant experience with opera, breakdancing, and moreRehearsals for One-Log Bridge by Yan Pang

“In Chinese culture, walking on the one-log bridge requires courage and a singular capacity moving forward to find that self-liberation,” Pang says. “The imagery of a one-log bridge is presenting the character having to walk from one side of the bridge to the other side of the bridge to chase her dream.”

Pang says she started working on One-Log Bridge in 2019 after opera director David Walsh, a colleague at the University of Minnesota, listened to her songs and encouraged her to write an opera.

“After [one grant funding rejection after another], he still believed in me and said, ‘America needs to be reminded of what makes this country great. That person can be you,’” she says. “His kind words have kept me going to this day.”

The opera will showcase, to some extent, the differences and similarities between Chinese and Western operatic styles. Pang tells City Paper that Western classical opera “was born at the end of the 16th century,” while the origins of Chinese opera can be traced back to A.D. 220.

“You will hear a lot of pentatonic scale and Chinese folk music elements in this show,” Pang explains. She adds that Western classical operas “typically consist of arias, recitatives, ensembles, choruses, overtures, and interludes, among other components.”

“They both are a vibrant and culturally rich art form that has been cherished for centuries, encompassing a captivating blend of music, dance, and storytelling,” Pang says.

The show also incorporates the erhu and pipa, two instruments familiar to traditional Chinese music.

Rich Keitel, a theater professor at PPU, says Pang came to him about directing One-Log Bridge. “After reading the script and listening to the music, I was very attracted to bringing the story to life,” he tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “I loved the music and thought it would be a great opportunity for actors and musicians to perform this for a Pittsburgh audience.”


One-Log Bridge captures Chinese immigrant experience with opera, breakdancing, and more

Rehearsals for One-Log Bridge by Yan Pang


Keitel believes One-Log Bridge, which includes Mandarin dialogue with subtitles, was a perfect show to stage in Pittsburgh, as the city boasts a large Asian population.

Keitel cites some highlights of the show, including a “wonderful” breakout performance from Amanda Sun, who plays Yan, and the song “Momma Tell Me How.”

While the melding of seemingly disparate performance styles may seem ambitious, Keitel says the cast, choreographer, musicians, and designers “have been a delight to work with,” and sees One-Log Bridge as an opportunity to explore the possibilities of theater.

“I’m not a fan of art that has to fit in one tiny box,” he says.

Overall, Pang says that, while the show draws heavily from her own experiences, she believes it carries a more universal message to which anyone can relate.

“I want the audience to be reminded that we are who we are today, all thanks to the people in our life — our family, mentors, and friends,” she adds. “We build and walk along the bridge of life together.”

One-Log Bridge. Thu., Dec. 7-Fri., Dec. 8. New Hazlett Theater. Six Allegheny Square East, North Side. $20-30.




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