To be Self-Evident: ‘Here Lies the Truth’ at CounterPulse

Here Lies the Truth by Li Chiao-Ping (photo: Caitriona Quirk)

“[F]or not by the possession of, but by the search after, truth, are his powers enlarged, wherein, alone, consists his ever-increasing perfection.”
– Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Eine Duplik (1778)

Ever have that feeling where it seems like you’re the only one who can see the obvious; as if you’re in the film They Live and everyone around you is refusing to put on the sunglasses to see the truth? That’s often how I feel regarding COVID: the rest of the world seems caught up in the delusion of “the pandemic is over” despite all evidence to the contrary. Saying that it is counts not only as a common falsehood, but a threat to public health and safety.

It’s the reason why I’ve made it a point to mention COVID safety in every single piece I’ve written since 2020. It’s also why I’m relieved to find vaccine checks and masks are mandatory to enter CounterPulse. Incidentally, it’s why I tend to be on-edge when I see dancers at the studio walking around unmasked before a performance. Logically, I know that they’ve likely already been vaxxed and tested, but it still creates a blip on my internal cortisol level.

Li Chiao-Ping. (photo by Caitriona Quirk)

It doesn’t change the fact that the continued proliferation of the COVID pandemic is an empirical fact.

Empirical truths and personal perceptions are the obvious focus of choreographer and fellow SF native Li Chiao-Ping’s latest project, the aptly-named Here Lies the Truth, currently touring throughout the US. From the beginning – in which Li herself walks on stage as a barrage of familiar phrases (“Boys don’t cry.”) are projected on screen and recited heard overhead – the piece inundates the audience with accepted “truths” combined with literal ones so as to blend them together.

Doing so reveals the damage caused by an inability to separate the provable from conjecture. The spoken pieces, many of them performed by the dancers themselves, repeat the very sorts of “those people are just like that” falsities that remind me why I gave up Facebook years ago. Repetition of lies and stereotypes doesn’t make them true, but it does make their presence an uncontested fact of life, therefore no one questions them.

The performers of Here Lies the Truth attempt to personify those harmed by those stereotypes, from people racially profiled on a daily basis to one man being violently emasculated by an angry mob; from a social media post that concludes “the China virus” was pre-planned to a Latino man being told he’s not really Latino by his white colleagues. The cuts range from micro-aggressive mosquito bites to literal cuts meant to take someone’s life. That none of them are surprising says a lot about who we are as a society – none of it good.

A BIPoC’s message is easily erased. (photo by Caitriona Quirk)

It’s to Li’s credit and critique that her strength lies more in choreography than in the verbal segments. The latter aren’t lacking for sincerity, but the original dialogue (sources are also pulled from media and court transcripts of hate crimes) comes off as pedestrian. Perhaps if this were aimed at a younger audience – with which it may very well work – then the dialogue might have more of an impact. Hearing it as an adult, it comes off more like someone’s first-ever attempt at creative writing; someone who hasn’t yet developed an ear for dialogue, even as their intention is clear.

By contrast, the dances are emotional in a way the spoken segments often lack. Li will often make the audience conscious of where the BIPoC dancers are in relation to their white counterparts on stage. An opening routine, for example, features a Black dancer and Asian dancer on opposite sides of the stage as the white dancer monopolize the center. A sequence in which the female members fall to the floor only to crawl backward – as if from a predator – speak volumes. A latter movement features the troupe performing on a large sheet of cellophane, as if to illustrate how BIPoC must literally and figuratively walk on thin ice so as to not upset their white counterparts.

That’s when the piece is strongest and when the hour is most impactful.

I’m pleased to say that during that hour, my Aranet4’s CO² readings never reached higher than 709ppm amongst the intimate, masked audience. It was an audience already prepared to accept the “truths” Li was presenting, so it’s unlikely any minds were changed amongst those who saw it. Still, as the tour continues beyond San Francisco, one can hope that the damage personified by Li’s choreography illustrates the danger of taking every “truth” at face value.


Here Lies the Truthran through 29 September – 1 October at CounterPulse in San Francisco.
The show ran roughly 1 hour with no intermission.
For further information about the show, visit the production’s official sites here and here.

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