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Hmong Bollywood

Out North Contemporary Art House


Katie Ka Vang


photos by Karri Denise

Runs April, 25-28


Review by Robert Pond

Thankfully, there is no end of the changes in the theatre arts. It’s been in flux forever since the ancients before the Greeks. That’s the blessing that reflects the human experiment.  Katie Ka Vang, a visiting national performing artist, has brought to Out North Theatre a performance art presentation, Hmong Bollywood, which was co-commissioned by Out North and the Pangea World Theatre.  Ms. Vang’s work is not conventional theatre but rather theatre in concert. As part of their very diverse program, Out North Contemporary Art House partners with the National Performance Network two to four times a year to bring such unique experiences to Anchorage.

Katie Ka Vang is multi-talented. She is an award winning poet, essayist, and clearly a playwright as made apparent with her offering tonight of Hmong Bollywood, and also a serious actress – adding to an already impressive resume. Katie Ka Vang is originally from the Twin Cities currently residing, between performing tours, in Rhode Island.  Her mission, it would appear, is to speak for her culture, the Hmong, using the stage as her podium performing the stories of her people.  In that regard, tonight’s offering, Hmong Bollywood, is an event that does just that.

Katie Ka Vang brings her bio-play to us with a good deal of innovation and in a not very predictable format.  She has penned and performed a two-generational reflection of an immigrant family that begins in Southeast Asia and travels, so to speak, to California and on to Minnesota. Ms. Vang’s stage piece demonstrates her challenges with her culture and circumstances, using the protection that the romanticized Bollywood films provide – a bit of an entertaining reach. Hmong Bollywood has it all. There is the silly and comical ‘list’ scene that tries to clarify which option or suitor Ms. Vang should marry.  Then, there is the tragedy of her father who goes from being a 13-year-old soldier to a drug addict.  If that isn’t enough, planted in the audience, dancers invade the stage with a well-choreographed dance number.  But, within this non-linear mix, it may be Katie Ka Vang’s telling of her private bout with cancer that is the more powerful segment of Hmong Bollywood.

As said, Hmong Bollywood is not, in itself, conventional theatre.  So many of the scenes don’t easily connect and the nervousness of this presentation is without harmony. The production is nonetheless entertaining and it does make us think of the pain that one culture and generation can have on another; it’s an important wake up for those of us who just don’t know how affecting cross cultures can be. Katie Ka Vang’s show is, for her, very personal, not unlike Jill Bess’ Mommy Dance of a few years ago. Hmong Bollywood is more revue than a play and in its own performance format. Like Vang’s seamstress mother who was allowed only piecework instead of creating a whole garment, Ms. Vang’s scripting is piecework in that there are dabs of poetry, some story telling, skits of humor, heavy drama, and audience interchanges and participation that bordered on aerobics.

Katie Ka Vang is an energetic and gifted performer; she works hard on stage and easily bonds with her audience. The pace of the show, however, sputters a bit in that the transitions between segments are sometimes awkward. The well-designed settings are well suited to this format; there are just enough pieces on stage to speak to the play and therefore not be in the way. Further, the setting is helped to a great degree by the excellent use of the multi-media.

Katie Ka Vang’s performance art is an entertaining one women show – and clearly a voice for the Hmong population. It’s less than ideal that Hmong Bollywood has such a short run; maybe Katie and her work will come back to us.



2 Responses leave one →
  1. katie ka vang permalink
    April 30, 2013

    thanks f mag for pluggin this!!!

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