It was much more “Little Mermaid,” right? Wanting to be human and let go of who she was, and then having that struggle. When I wrote it, I was also very frustrated with the idea of heaven — the idea of it, the betterment, the pursuit of happiness. I’ve written this before: At the time, I was living in government-subsidized housing that had a lot of cockroaches, so I became fascinated by them and learned that, you know, they can just release eggs for their entire life. It’s kind of mind-boggling.
So like “Zolle” had people thinking about immigration and belonging, “Cockroach” had funny moments but hit audiences differently. You can see it as being about this female body thing, but I also have a Chinese version of it, and women in their 30s and 40s were really crying when they saw it because of lines like “I want to be pregnant out of love.”
Right. For all its levity, it’s actually profound.
It’s very profound.
And I feel like, standing alone, each piece can be open to X and Y reading. But pairing them changes that. The “Tarantella” has so much hope and defiance, but when you follow it with the lonely afterlife of “Zolle,” it becomes devastating.
Audiences connect with these however they do. But I want to mention that when we recorded the digital short of “Zolle” for LA Opera and I was narrating some of the portions, I got really, really emotional. I was thinking about Asian hate, and it really got to me because this piece was almost 20 years ago and it still rings so true. There is a line of saying something like “I am an immigrant, even in this ghost world.” Then I realized it’s something that me, you know, as an immigrant I will always carry with me. [Du Yun was born in Shanghai and moved to the United States to study at Oberlin.]
What else are you feeling as you revisit these works?
You know, this is the International Contemporary Ensemble’s 20th anniversary season. We feel like 100 years old, but we’re also transitioning into another era with George Lewis as the new leader.
But this was the first stage production the International Contemporary Ensemble ever did. So even though they’re moving into different models and we’re bringing in Satomi — I’m a big fan of Deerhoof — this feels like a kind of homecoming. Which is fitting, because these pieces are really about homecoming. Homecoming, but also sending off as well.