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TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa choreographs her way to festivals in Toronto and now Edinburgh (2/2)

Habitat CollageNew columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang continues her conversation with fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa. (Be sure to check out Part 1 if you haven’t already.)

—ML Awanohara

Hi, everyone! Yesterday, I talked to Alaine Handa about her Third Culture Kid background and what led her to produce her first international touring show, Chameleon. Today we’ll finish up our Chameleon conversation and move on to talking about Alaine’s brand new show, Habitat, which is having its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (If you happen to be in Edinburgh, scroll down to the bottom of this post for details.)

* * *

Act 2: Chameleon, continued…

Welcome back, Alaine. I can relate to so much of what you said about Chameleon. The creative/rehearsal process can be so fulfilling that the performance itself is often the icing on the cake for the performer-creator. Whom did you have in mind for the wider audience?
As a proud TCK and Global Citizen, I felt the stories of TCKs needed to have a voice that supports all the research, books, blogs, and memoirs that have been written on our lives—yet can transcend boundaries of spoken language through dance and movement, something all cultures can understand. Perhaps my ideas were grandiose, but I really hoped that productions of Chameleon would touch the lives of all those who identify with living cross-culturally and existing as cultural mixes.

It sounds as though Chameleon provided a voice for a cross-section of nomadic, mixed-heritage, intercultural people, not to mention everyone who has ever felt unheard or unseen—which is everyone at some point in their lives. I did the same with Alien Citizen and am wondering if we should create a TCK festival for performing artists like us… But, back to you! How was the performance received?
Every single performance of Chameleon had at least one person in tears because they identified so much with it. After each performance, we spent quite a lot of time talking to audience members. I made a lot of new friends around the world!

Were there any surprises?
The biggest surprise for me came from the TCK student performance at Utahloy International School, in Guangzhou. The students were very receptive and open to sharing their TCK stories with me, as well as on stage. It brought tears to my eyes.

Did you learn anything about yourself in the process?
By telling my story and other TCK/CCK stories, not only did I come to understand myself better, but I also felt a strong sense of community among the globally mobile citizens of the world.

Act 3: Preparing a new show, Habitat, for the Edinburgh Fringe

And now you have a new show, Habitat. Is this your first time at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Yes! We are very excited. One of my dancers has performed in the Fringe before so he will be super helpful during the festival.

In your promotional materials for Habitat, you have the following statement:

Our personal space is the environment in which we confine ourselves to become our truest selves.

Can you explain?
As a TCK, I am constantly meeting people of different backgrounds, and I change my behavior and mannerisms accordingly. Thinking about this, I wanted to explore the transition to one’s personal habitat, where you can finally relax and just “be” who you are.

Who is the intended audience, and is it different than the audience from the one you had in mind for Chameleon?
This piece is more universal. It shows how different people from different backgrounds change the way they behave around others and when they are alone.

I see the cast is multicultural, with dancers from Singapore, USA, Portugal, and Indonesia. Was it a challenge to bring together a cast from so many different places?
To be honest, although it’s “easier” to label the cast by our passport countries, we are, in fact, a collection of multicultural individuals who have lived in different parts of the world at various times. Right now, two of us live in Singapore and the other two in New York. The biggest challenge we faced was rehearsing on separate continents, given the time difference. We relied heavily on email and YouTube, and later on Skype. As the choreographer, I faced the challenge of conveying what I wanted to see from the 2-D perspective of video. Slowly but surely, the show has come together piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle.

How did you find the other dancers?
I’ve worked with Laura on Chameleon and was working with her on the creation of draft material prior to my move back to Singapore last year. I met Ezekiel in Singapore; we both teach dance for the same company. Belinda and I are friends from New York; she and I met at an audition for a choreographer I danced for while living there. We found out that we trained with the same jazz dance instructor while I was growing up here in Singapore and took the same classes.

Are the other dancers also TCKs or “displaced” in some way?
I think I’m the only TCK, but of the other three cast members, two are expats and the other is bi-cultural, with both parents originating from different countries and cultures. I guess you could say we are a “displaced” group. I knew I wanted to work with a multicultural cast again because it made for such an interesting group dynamic with Chameleon—although in this case, the cast has not worked together before.

You’re now in Edinburgh. What’s it been like so far?
When we first arrived, we had about 20 hours of rehearsal (including tech and dress rehearsals). The pieces are gradually falling into place.

Act 4: Life after Edinburgh?

Do you have plans to take Habitat anywhere else?
Yes, we are encouraging theatre venue producers, programmers, agents, etc. to come see Habitat during the Fringe in hopes it can be produced in other venues around the world.

Where do you think the show will go next?
I’m not sure—I’d like to bring it down to Australia. I also really enjoyed Toronto Fringe a couple years ago and might bring Habitat there. We are also looking to get this show booked for different venues across Europe, Asia, and North America.

* * *

If you happen to be in Edinburgh, here are the details for Alaine’s show:

  • Number of performers: four, including Alaine
  • Show length: 45 minutes
  • When and where: July 31 – August 13, 2013 @ C Venues (Venue 34), Adam House, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
  • Time: 1:50 pm every day.
  • Purchase tickets here.
  • Trailer:

Habitat in Edinburgh Fringe Festival from Alaine Handa on Vimeo.

Questions for Alaine? Be sure to leave them in the comments section!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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img: Video Stills by Kevin Tadge, taken from preview performances of Habitat at the Edinburgh Fringe (2013).

TCK TALENT: Alaine Handa choreographs her way to festivals in Toronto and now Edinburgh (1/2)

AlaineHanda_pmToday we introduce a new monthly column by Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang. Remember that Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent who was putting on a one woman show in LA about being a Third Culture Kid? You know, she “came out” as a TCK on stage, and lived to write a post about it? Lisa will be searching for other TCK talents to interview for the series. She debuts with a two-part conversation with fellow TCK performing artist Alaine Handa (pictured). Part 2 is here.

—ML Awanohara

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are making headlines these days for their creative output. We see them being featured in established news outlets and online magazines, as well as on popular blogs. I suspect that the emergence of Barack Obama as national and global leader—he is an Adult TCK (ATCK)—has contributed to the phenomenon.

Still, ATCKs in the performing arts remain relatively rare, so as an ATCK actress-writer I’m always happy to learn of fellow ATCK performing artists like Alaine Handa, a second-generation TCK who works as a choreographer/dancer.

Alaine was born in Singapore. She spent her childhood in Jakarta and adolescence in Singapore. She went to college in Los Angeles, California, and then moved to New York, where she formed her own troupe in December 2007: A.H. Dance Company.

She has since moved back to Singapore, where she has lived for the last year.

In this, the first of a two-part interview, I ask Alaine to tell us about her company, her TCK background, and her first internationally touring show, Chameleon: The Experiences of Global Citizens. In Part Two of the interview, to be posted tomorrow, we’ll move on to talking about her production that is about to premiere (!) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

* * *

Hi, Alaine. I’m curious: what led you to form your own dance company?
Ever since I was a young teenaged dancer, I aspired to have a professional dance company that toured the world performing in different venues, festivals and theaters. I think it was because I longed to have my own choreographic voice to create dance pieces that meant something to me. Still, the decision wasn’t easy to go from dancer/choreographer to choreographer first and dancer second. After moving to New York, I continued performing for other choreographers and project-based dance companies. I only decided at the end of 2009 to focus solely on choreography while performing occasionally. I guess you could say I never lost my determination to make that happen.

Can you tell us more about your background as a second-generation Third Culture Kid?
Both my parents are TCKs. My heritage is mostly Hakka Chinese (with a bit of mix in there somewhere along the lineage). My grandparents and great-grandparents were Chinese immigrants from somewhere in China who settled in Jakarta. My mom attended an English school until it was shut down due to political pressure. She then was sent to boarding schools in Hong Kong and Sydney, and she graduated from an Australian university outside of Sydney. Meanwhile, my Dad attended a Chinese school in Jakarta before it was shut down. He helped his parents for a couple of years and then was sent to Singapore to learn English. After a year, he went to London to attend university and then to Boston to obtain a doctoral degree in optometry.

Which culture do you most identify with?
I attended American international schools in Jakarta and Singapore so I’d say I’m culturally very American. I majored in dance through UCLA’s Department of World Arts & Cultures, which looked at dance and the arts in a sociological-anthropological way and as a community-building catalyst. And then I spent seven years performing, teaching, choreographing, living, creating, loving, and building a community of TCKs in New York.

ACT 1: Chameleon goes to the Toronto Fringe Festival

A couple of years ago, your company put on a show at the Toronto Fringe Festival entitled Chameleon: The Experiences of Global Citizens. I enjoyed watching the video clip of your performance. Please tell us more about it.
Chameleon, the Experiences of Global Citizens is a full dance production with a rotating cast of three to six dancers using film, spoken word, jewelry design, music, and photography, to support the personal stories of TCKs, Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs), and Global Citizens. Each dancer performs a solo in the production in addition to dancing in the group sections.

The video excerpt is only one section of the production: my solo. (Thanks for watching!) I layered together three different poems for the sound:

  1. “Uniquely Me,” by Alex Graham James from Ruth Van Reken and David C. Pollock’s book, Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds.
  2. “De Främmande Länderna” by Edith Södergran (translated into English), a Swedish poet I studied while attending UCLA.
  3. Last but not least, “Eulogy to my multi-racial / Multi-cultural ancestors / Also known as the anti-eulogy / To my multi-racial / Multi-cultural ancestors,” by Leilani Chan, an Asian-American theatre director in LA.

It sounds as though you’ve rolled TCK and CCK art into one cohesive piece—much like a TCK or CCK individual is the sum of many seemingly disparate parts, creating a vivid, unique entity. What was the thought process that produced this art?
Hmmm…my thought process in creating Chameleon was a lengthy one as it is very personal to me. A little trip down memory lane is probably the best way to describe it.

I graduated high school in 2001 and then moved to Southern California to attend Pitzer College. 9/11 happened a couple of weeks in. Everyone in the States was in patriotic mode. I didn’t quite fit in. Many journal entries, tears, frustrations, and conversations later, I wrote about my experience as an outsider/insider and drafted a dance piece about my mixed up cultural identity that I wanted to choreograph for my senior project. I transferred to UCLA for my third and fourth year. I experienced bouts of severe depression and several anxiety attacks throughout my college years and began to see the “light” at the end of the dark tunnel my final year.

A friend told me about the Third Culture Kids book in 2003, and a life-changing epiphany happened. I returned to my journal entries and found my ideas to create a dance piece about my experience as a TCK for my senior project. I cast a multicultural group of dancers, interviewed TCKs I knew for my very first documentary film “I am a TCK,” and rented a theatre in L.A. for my senior project and titled the piece “Third Culture Kids.” The first part of the production was the half-hour documentary film followed by a 20-minute dance piece that was autobiographical in nature. This would become the very first draft of Chameleon.

After graduation from UCLA, I was burnt out and moved to New York to pursue a career in dance. I knew that my TCK dance piece needed to be re-created again at some point. I performed for a bunch of independent choreographers, dance companies, and was teaching dance in the public schools in Brooklyn. I formed A.H. Dance Company at the end of 2007 and we had two performing seasons before I decided the time was right to tackle the stories and experiences of TCKs again. I cast dancers that were cross-cultural or TCKs, a TCK actress, a TCK jewelry designer (who created our prop pieces that were an amalgamation of HER TCK experiences), and TCK/CCK/TCA photographers submitted their work to be used as backdrops for the dance sections. I also extended and re-edited the film “I am a TCK” by interviewing even more TCKs. We premiered the piece at University Settlement in New York as part of their Spring Season in 2010, after receiving some funding from Singapore International Foundation, which also funded the performance at the Toronto Fringe Festival.

ACT II: Chameleon travels widely and goes global

We toured the production to festivals and organizations with community programming. I even presented portions of the piece, including the rehearsal process, twice at the annual Families in Global Transitions (FIGT) conference, where I met Ruth Van Reken, Tina Quick, Apple Gidley, Jo Parfitt, Julia Simens, Judy Rickatson, and many more of the TCK researchers, expat writers/bloggers, international educators, and more.

I am very proud of this work and how it has traveled around the world. Currently, Chameleon has taken on a more educational approach. I’ve re-set portions of the piece for student TCK dancers from Singapore American School and they performed it in Kuala Lumpur as well as in Singapore. In January this year, I traveled to Guangzhou to re-set a simpler version on TCK students (a lot of them were non-dancers) at the Utahloy International School for a week-long residency that culminated in a performance. The rehearsal process of telling the personal stories of TCKs through movement and dance with spoken word was equally as rewarding as the student performance itself.

* * *

This just in from Alaine at the Edinburgh Festival: The preview performances of her latest production, Habitat, have been going well, and they’ve even received a recommendation from a local newspaper, behind famous greats like Carlos Acosta and the Bolshoi Ballet (which are actually playing in London). Kudos, Alaine!

Tomorrow we’ll talk to Alaine about how this production came about. Any questions for her, meantime?

STAY TUNED for Part 2 of Lisa Liang’s conversation with Alaine Handa.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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img: Alaine Handa, by Anthony Schiavo, courtesy A.H. Dance Company.

7 worldwide ways to avoid, forget, or celebrate Friday 13th!

Not being superstitious myself, I tend to scoff at today’s date and treat it like any other. Then again, I once knew someone who had been involved in only two car accidents in her life, both of which occurred on Friday 13th. On a larger transportation scale, the ill-fated Apollo 13  launched at 13:13 (admittedly on April 11th) and exploded on April 13th. And a 1993 study found that the number of hospital admissions from traffic accidents were likely to be 52% higher on Friday 13th than on any other day.

That’s enough to make anyone superstitious about the date, so I won’t think too hard about the fact that, even as I type, my nearest and dearest is somewhere over the Atlantic ocean at 37,000 feet. Nevertheless, I’d like to hazard a guess that the increase in road accidents might be related to the increase in rosary beads and good luck charms hanging from rear view mirrors, thereby obscuring drivers’ visions.

Facts, figures, logic.

The fear of Friday 13th is known variously as friggatriskaidekaphobia, triskaidekaphobia, and paraskevidekatriaphobia. (Too bad if you also suffer from sesquipedaliophobia.) While the combo of Friday and 13 as a double whammy of misfortune is a relatively new invention — the first English reference wasn’t until 1869 — Friday and 13 have always had a bad rap separately.

Think positively about that, all you triskaidekaphobics: instead of being fearful every seven or thirty days, at least the prophets of doom have streamlined the calendar so that now you need only live in terror for two or occasionally three days a year.

Sadly, 2012 is a year with three Friday 13ths. Bad luck.

But take heart!  TDN, with its usual brand of helpfulness, is coming to the rescue of readers still cowering under their duvets and waiting for Saturday to arrive.

You could:

1. Travel to Spain or Greece.

But do it on a Wednesday. While Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday 13th to be unlucky, Greece considers Tuesdays in general to be unlucky. Travel on Wednesday, and you should have your bases covered.

2. Travel to Italy.

Friday 17th is unlucky there. Unfortunately, due to the external influence of a dozen Jason movies, Friday 13th is now also seen as unlucky.

So if you’re the type to chuck salt over your shoulder while you’re having a bad day in the kitchen,  maybe you should stay away from Italy — mid-month, at least.

3. Take your mind off it — kiss someone.

Or maybe that’s why you’re still under the duvet? Yesterday, Twitter users decreed that Friday April 13th should be (Inter)National Kissing Day…even though the official date is nearly three months away on July 6th.

4. Celebrate New Year.

Today also happens to be the Tamil New Year,  Puthandu, which falls on either April 13th or 14th of the Gregorian calendar, and is celebrated by Tamils in Tamil Nadu, in Pondicherry in India, and by the Tamil population in Malaysia, Singapore, Reunion Island, and Mauritius.

Tamils mark the day with a feast, decorate their house entrances with kolams, while neem flowers and raw mangoes symbolize growth and prosperity.

If you’re not in any of those countries and you don’t normally celebrate this festival, maybe you should be less ambitious with your own preparations. Buy some mango sorbet.

5. Don your helmet and leathers and go biking.

PD13 is a big celebration for motorcyclists at Port Dover in Ontario, and has been held every Friday 13th since 1981.

If you’re not a biker, ride pillion with one who is. If nothing else, the insects smashing at high speed against your teeth will take your mind off the fact that it’s Friday 13th.

6. Buy a lottery ticket.

On Friday March 13, 2009, Isabel Zaleya of Suffolk County, New York, won a jackpot of $26 million after his friends urged him not to play the lottery that day…because of the date.

7. It’s World Party Month! Throw a party!

Release the Halloween decorations from the basement, and have a Halloween party in April. Come on — did you really need an excuse?

STAY TUNED for some reminiscing on Monday, when we look back at our top posts and themes from our first year.

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Image: Victor Habbick /

Talking with author Dave Prager about his — deliriously unspiritual — expat experience in India

Reading like the work of a hipster Bill Bryson, Delirious Delhi is an account of Dave Prager and his wife Jenny’s move from New York to Delhi — the largest city in India by area and second largest by population — as they become what they term “New Delhi Yankees.” On arrival in their new home they, like so many expats, started a blog: Our Delhi Struggle. Detailing ther occasional bewilderment and occasional delight as two thirtysomethings acclimatizing to life in Delhi, their online musings quickly became popular.

Dave set about expanding Our Delhi Struggle into a book, and Delirious Delhi was the result. Those eagle-eyed among our readers may recall the book being featured under “expat memoirs” in one of the lists ML Awanohara compiled of 2011 books for, by, and about expats.

Earlier this month I spoke with author Dave Prager to discuss his book and his thoughts on Delhi — including the extent to which the expat life he and his wife led in India fits the Displaced Nation’s January theme of spiritual reawakenings.

How did you end up in Delhi and then later on Singapore?
I volunteered. My company needed a copywriter in Delhi. A week later I found myself in the city for the first time. We left Delhi for Singapore because we weren’t ready to return home to the US just yet, but we knew that if we didn’t force ourselves to leave India, then we’d never experience living anywhere else in Asia. So we quit our jobs in the middle of the recession, left Delhi, and flew to Singapore where we were both lucky enough to find work.

What made you decide to write a book telling the story of your transition to living in Delhi?
We had so many growing pains when we first moved to Delhi that we started our blog to share our lessons with everyone who would come after us. It became very popular — not just with expats, as we expected, but with Indians. As we were getting ready to leave, someone suggested we write a book. So I did. Ninety percent of the book is fresh content, never before seen until now. It’s very different from the blog. The blog posts are 500-word essays, where this is a single, 100,000-word narrative.

Delirious Delhi is your second book. Any plans for another one?
I’ve had some ideas I’ve been noodling away at. I have an idea about an American who finds himself living in rural India and doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Which is how I felt every time we went out to the villages.

No plans to write about your time in Singapore?
There’s no plans for anything about Singapore. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time there, but it didn’t get my creative juices flowing in the way Delhi did. It didn’t inspire me like India inspired me.

What audience did you have in mind for the book?
When I was writing, I knew exactly who my intended audience was and I pictured them in my head as I wrote. It was two people that I know. The first was an American friend who was back in the US and was curious about India and my experiences; the other was an Indian co-worker who was always fascinated with how I — as an American — found life in his country.

I noticed you did a brief book tour in Delhi. Did you experience any negativity to your views?
Generally the response has been really good. There’s a minority who takes exception to a Westerner writing critically about India. But the book is not a criticism of India, it’s a recollection of the experiences — the good ones and the bad ones. Every country has good and bad, including the US. It’s disingenuous to focus on one and not the other — in both extremes.

This month’s theme for the Displaced Nation is the quest for spiritual enlightenment. At the beginning of the book, you say you would never describe India as “spiritual” as many do. What do you think of writers like Elizabeth Gilbert who present India as the ideal place for spiritual tourism?
It’s not that I wouldn’t describe India as spiritual — it’s that I never found it to be spiritual. Maybe because that wasn’t what I was looking for. In many ways, India is a blank slate, and travelers paint it with the colors they want to see. If you go looking for poverty, you’ll find it. If you go looking for wealth and globalization, you’ll find it. If you want spirituality, you’ll find it. India is the perfect place to find whatever it is you seek. The question is, what else do you have to ignore in order to see only one aspect of the country?

One of the most powerful parts of the book for me was the part where you detailed your wife Jenny’s work for a school that lifts girls out of poverty, and how shocked you were by the poverty. Did you find that after your time in Delhi you more politicized than when you first arrived?
Good question. I certainly arrived in India with a very liberal Western outlook of the world. My approach to the world was one of moral relativism — that everyone can to a certain extent be justified in their views. But the longer I stayed in South Asia, the more I began to believe that they are moral absolutes and that there can be certain aspects of a culture that are simply morally wrong — the treatment of rural girls in India being a case in point. So that really is how I changed politically over those 18 months. I moved from moral relativism to moral absolutism, in certain circumstances.

In the book Delhi reads like the main character in a novel  — with an ever-changing personality that is hard to truly get to know. Is that how you saw it?
One of main points with Delhi is how little you can understand it. It really is what you make it to be. New York, by comparison, is easier to understand. With New York you can find a narrative. Every New Yorker thinks that they are the star of the city, and the city aligns itself around them. Delhi has no overarching narrative; you’re more rooted to your neighborhood rather than the city as a whole and so everyone in Delhi is having different experiences and coming to different conclusions. I don’t think there’s a shared Delhi experience like there is a shared New York experience.

Now that you are back in the US, how do you see Delhi?
I have a sense of wasted opportunity. I think about all the things that we didn’t do when we were there, all those Saturdays when we went to the mall rather than explored different parts of the city. That I didn’t attend a cricket match or that I didn’t travel to a village outside of Delhi that’s famous for its Indian wrestling. And now thinking back on it all, I sometimes have an overwhelming sense of missing Delhi.

And how have you found it as a “repat” in the US? Any reverse culture shock?
What’s struck me is that the US just seems so empty. It’s not that India is always intensely crowded; rather, it’s that India you’re never completely alone. There’s always someone to be seen walking or selling something or cooking chai. Outside of a few select cities in the US, it’s not like that here. We now live in Denver and some mornings I find myself wandering around the middle of the city and I have moments when I stop and notice that I’m alone. I look around me and I just wonder where everyone is. All these tall buildings and nobody around.

Delirious Delhi can be purchased here.

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, an interview with Chicago acupuncturist Jennifer Dubowsky, who believes the West can benefit from importing Eastern concepts of natural healing as an alternative to more invasive medical treatments.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: Used with kind permission of Dave Prager

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