By ANGE HWANG
MINNEAPOLIS — Iny Asian Dance Theater, in collaboration with Asian Media Access, and Pan Asian Arts Alliance, presented Longing for Qeej, a Hmong dance drama, at Minnesota Fringe Festival last week, with huge success, and rave reviews.
Longing for Qeej is the traditional Hmong creation story of the Qeej (pronounced “kang”) instrument. Qeej is a bamboo and wooden mouth organ found throughout Eastern Asia, and is a traditional music instrument played by the Hmong people. The Qeej has six pipes of different lengths attached to a wooden air chamber, and is played in major holidays and ceremonies.
The story starts with Sinsay, a warrior, who married one woman from each of seven kingdoms. During a grand festival in Sinsay’s honor, the god of heaven demanded proof the women were each Sinsay’s wife. The result of Sinsay’s wives’ creation was the Qeej, an instrument made of seven pieces, and coming together in making one single voice.
The instrument is itself a Hmong cultural icon. Hmong believe the Qeej’s rhythm, tone and melody can serve as a bridge between the natural and supernatural worlds.
With much excitement in her voice, Artistic Director, Mai Vang explains the importance of retelling this folktale through dances. “I have learnt the story at very young age, and we have to remember all the name of each the seven parts of Qeej, I always wondering – are the names of the pipes also the names of the wives? Do the pipes have discreet “voices” that are associated with the separate personalities of the wives? Of course, much details have been lost through oral tradition, therefore, I have decided to take this old legend adding on new twists – give all these seven ladies a face, a personality, a special dance belonging to each one of them to enrich the folktale.”
Iny Asian Dance Thetaer’s adaptation of the story combines narration, acrobatics and traditional Hmong dances, won an average of 4.5 kitties reviews at the Fringe Festival.
“Longing for Qeej” is sponsored by the Fringe Festival, with support of Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund from MN State Arts Board and Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, Target Foundation. For information, please call at 612-376-7715. ο