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The Silken Phoenix
The Core Ensemble featuring Fiona Choi

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February/ March 2004 > The Silken Phoenix
The Silken Phoenix
The Core Ensemble featuring Fiona Choi


Asian Arts & Culture Program proudly brings a unique collaboration of chamber music and poetry to Bowker Auditorium, Friday, February 27 at 8PM. A celebration of the life, times and works of three of Asia’s greatest women poets, The Silken Phoenix is a chamber music theatre work for a trio (cello, piano and percussion) performed by The Core Ensemble and an actress, featuring Fiona Choi. Poets Ho Xuan Huong of Vietnam, Izumi Shikibu of Japan and Li Qingzhao of China emerge as strong, independent personalities and vibrant writers, with a direct and immediate appeal to audiences.

The text, written by Shanghai native Wang Ping, contradicts the stereotype of passive and demure Asian womanhood, using comedy, narrative drama and evocative poetry – wed to a wide ranging collection of chamber and solo music of composers Kui Dong, Melissa Hui, P.Q. Phan, Chinary Ung, Somei Satoh, Keiko Abe, Bun-Ching Lam, Lei Liang, Tan Dun and Chou Wen-Chung.

Some say that Izumi Shikibu’s (c.974-aft.1033) life at the center of Imperial Court in Heian, Japan was one long scandal. A poet of passionate intensity and emotional directness, she was famous and notorious, even in her own day, for her many romantic liaisons. Her freedom of expression and wealth of imagination has led her to be known as the leading female poet of Japan.

Out of the dark
Into the dark
I know must enter,
Shine on me from afar,
Moon over the mountain rim!

With bold expression and rich color, Ho Xuan Huong’s poetry sharply criticizes the feudal society of 18th century Vietnam. Utilizing blunt and forceful language, she lashes out against social conventions such as polygamy and castigates without mercy the self righteous and powerful – regardless of consequences. Timelessly relevant, her work fearlessly alludes to the most intimate of sexual acts with a refreshing candor that transcends time and place and gives the lie to the misconception of Asian women as quiet and submissive.


Eighteen or only seventeen…
Ribs? Let me have it in my hands.
Thick or thin, opening its lovely angles,
Wide or Narrow, inserted with a stick.
The hotter you get, the more refreshing.
Wonderful both night and day.
Cheeks juicy soft, persimmon pink.
Kings and lords just love this thing.

Li Qingzhao’s (c.1083-aft.1149) poetry is widely read today and she is considered the greatest woman writer of Imperial China. She was the leading practitioner of Ci poetry – written to a metrical pattern derived from folk songs. Her marriage was celebrated through the centuries as ideal and happy. She created much of her poetry while coping with the political intrigue of the 12th century Song Imperial Court. The 1127 Tartar invasion and overthrow of the Northern Song court, coupled with the subsequent death of her beloved husband, resulted in a wandering exile. Moving from city to city without establishing a permanent home, she wrote of happier days in a reflective style of great beauty. Her poetry is lyric, emotional, often dramatic, and often erotic.


Already, out of the snow,
You bring news that Spring is here,
Cold plum blossoms, adorning
The glossy jasper branches,
Perfumed faces half showing,
Gracefully fluttering in the middle of the courtyard.
I come, my jade body fresh from the bath,
Newly powdered and rouged.
Even Heaven shares our joy,
Making the bright moonshine splendid on your curving flesh.
Let us celebrate with thick green wine and gold cups.
I will not refuse to get drunk
For this flower cannot be compared to other flowers.

Don’t miss this wonderful celebration that combines three of Asia’s legendary women poets with the music of Asia’s exceptional contemporary composers. The Silken Phoenix will be performed Friday, February 27 at 8pm in Bowker Auditorium. For tickets call 413-545-2511 or 1-800-999-UMAS or go online to

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