By Celine Chen
"I started studying Chinese by accident. I was actually supposed to study Arabic in Egypt. But after some bombing incidents the school canceled the program. Then a friend saw me using chopsticks to eat instant noodles and said, hey, since you can use chopsticks why not go to China."
Elyse Ribbons, a vivacious American, describes her life-changing decision in this off-hand way. She has been studying Chinese for 8 years and came to China in 2001 as a student. In 2003 she moved to Beijing and settled down here.
Now she speaks Chinese like a local – well enough to perform in a play.
Cheeky Monkey Theater presented its latest production, Green Eyes on Chinese, at Yigong Yushan on Thursday, November 20. The show, performed in Chinese by Elyse Ribbons and dancer Hua Lingyun, is a unique mix of traditional theater, modern dance, multimedia and stand-up comedy.
Ribbons, who has written other critically acclaimed plays such as "I heart Beijing", wrote and produced Green Eyes.
In this production Ribbons explores the reasons she fell in love with the Chinese language. Her inspiration came when as a student she observed how written characters resemble a dancer on a page. The accomplished dancer Hua Lingyun brings this image to life on stage.
"My first impression of Chinese characters was that they are like black dancers on white paper. After watching the Olympics opening ceremony I think Zhang Yimou shares my point of view," Ribbons expressed her affection for the Chinese language, at a little party before the drama.
Ribbons' character is a college student frantically studying for a Chinese language test. Her observations and studying antics provide countless comedic and thought-provoking moments for the audience. Hua Lingyun, the Chinese dancer, plays the part of her sub-consciousness. Music plays as various images appear behind her and the graceful movements of Hua translate Chinese characters into dance on stage. Eventually Hua and Ribbons both interact as the struggle to master Chinese plays out to an entertaining and interesting conclusion.
Elyse Ribbons, born in the year of the Monkey in Detroit, Michigan, and created Cheeky Monkey Theater Productions in 2007. She moved back to Beijing in 2003 after catching the Beijing bug during two semesters of Chinese language and cultural study while at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Over the years, Ribbons has continued making strides in Chinese as well as immersing herself into the Beijing cultural scene. She wrote and produced her first play while in high school. These days she is still writing plays, but wears many other hats, as an actress, model and socialite extraordinaire.
Cheeky Monkey has produced critically acclaimed shows such as I Heart Beijing and Lethal English, while also producing arts events such as the Shifen Festival and the Beijing artWALK.
The Shifen Festival is Beijing's first international 10-minute theater festival. Everything from traditional plays to performance art to modern dance will be performed during the show/festival. A Board of Directors headed by Cheeky Monkey selects the performers and produces the show/festival.