Transported back in time and to another culture, we were shown a glimpse of a very different view of marriage. Rather than being the dream of every young woman to find a husband, the young women in Hong Kong mourned and lamented the news that they were about to be married. To them it was a loss of their own family and their liberty. The fact that these brides referred to the bridegroom as the King of Hell says it all.
Rainbow Chan brings this story to the stage. She is a skilled performer: a singer, dancer and raconteur. Coming to Australia in 1996, as a six year old, with her family, she sought to find out more about her family history and culture, as do many. Her quest took her back to Hong Kong, to the Weitou dialect which her mother and grandmother spoke and the experience of young women, who when about to be married did not rejoice, but mourned their loss of freedom, and contact with their own family and friends. Through conversations with her mother Irene Cheung, Rainbow learned of the customs and preparation associated with the three days before a young woman is carried in procession from her family to be married to a man she has never met.The ritual and the songs of lament which are the inspiration for this performance had been handed from mother to daughter. They are sung in the Weitou dialect, a language barely alive today, as the bride is prepared for her journey to a new family and a loss of freedom.
Chan sings these traditional songs and further songs that she has composed with great intensity. The lyrics and the description of each step taken over the three days are shown on a large screen against a backdrop of amazing images. The freedom of fish in the sea, the fading of flowers, the journey to the new home, the white tear-sodden cloth abandoned at the half way mark, because from then on the bride is never to cry – all these bring home the anguish of these young women. Video projections are by Rel Pham. Direction by Tessa Leong
The music sung by Chan, in the tradition of a song cycle, is an amalgamation of pop music with an eastern flavour, as is the dancing, which is disco at times and from Chinese culture at others, always energetic and reflecting the story as it unfolds.
The set is bare except for a raised beaded archway which is brilliantly lit as the bride arrives at her new home. The dramatically flashing lights lead us to question what choices and decisions are possible for these young women. What would their future life be? This may have been a fitting climax, but Rainbow Chan continued to reprise some of the songs, and talk about her own deep sense of belonging to this other community in Hong Kong, without questioning her Australian identity. Her final song was straight from the heart to the audience, who responded enthusiastically. But judicious pruning, in my opinion, would enhance The Bridal Lament, without detracting in any way from the message.
Image Joseph Mayers