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Meet Yao Zhang and Liang Guo of NoodleRice & Friends in Silverlake

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yao Zhang and Liang Guo.

Yao and Liang, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Sure! Liang and I met during undergrad in Beijing Film Academy, and we started working together mainly on short films, and developed a close creative collaboration. We got accepted to CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) together for our master’s degree, me in theater, Liang in film. At that time, we had no experience in performance art and theater.

During my first summer holiday in 2013, I got accepted into The Watermill Center summer program in Long Island, New York, hosted by Robert Wilson, where I proposed our first performance piece, My Favorite Food. The piece was selected to be shown in Watermill’s annual summer benefit. It was very successful — Lady Gaga, Marina Abramovic, Alan Cumming and a number of other celebrities and artists saw the piece, Bill Cunningham took a photo of it, and I received a lot of positive comments including Robert Wilson saying it was one of the strongest pieces in the event. With such a great pat on the shoulder, Liang and I decided to name our little collective NoodleRice and continued developing our own theater work. We did a public immersive performance event in multiple locations in CalArts in 2015, then we presented a work-in-progress production in the 2016 Redcat NOW (New Original Work) Festival, another show in Highways Performance Space in 2017, following up with numerous shows throughout Los Angeles, the US, and even Ullens Center for the Contemporary Arts in Beijing.

Last year, Holland Festival invited us to Amsterdam to participate in their new artist program, then we went back to The Watermill Center last fall as artists in residence. We were invited to The Watermill Center again this year and created another piece for their 2018 summer benefit.

Now we are in the long process of creating a new piece. We do original devised theater, so all the materials are developed through rehearsing with performers. It is going slowly, but we hope to present a new piece in 2019, with a working title 20X0 Sex On Mars.

Has it been a smooth road?
No not really! It is not easy creating experimental theater. We were lucky because we had good opportunities at the start and people seem to really appreciate our work. But like any experimental theater, funding is very, very difficult. The creative process is equally hard, or even harder in a way because we are perfectionists, and we want our work to be unique and urgent.

The creation process is slow, all the key materials to come from somewhere inside of us deeply, and we don’t want to rush to make decisions to put up a show. Because when it feels right, we instinctively just know, then we have no hesitation in moving forward with it.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
We are a theater artist collective called Noodle Rice & Friends. It was founded by Yao Zhang and Liang Guo, both born and raised in mainland China. Yao and Liang work together to direct and write, Yao also works as the producer and manager, Liang is in charge of the technical aspects. As you can tell from the name, we work with fellow artists and performers creating mainly collaborative devised performance and theater productions, as well as installation, visual arts, and videos.

We are known for surreal performative installations that transform the human body. One of our most known, sort of signature creations is an aluminum duct that can be placed on a performer’s head. It blows bubbles, which you can see in the picture of our first piece, My Favorite Food.

The bubble head came to signify a lot of different things in different contexts, but mainly it is an imaginary sex wormhole that can connect genitals across space without actual physical contact — if you connect the duct to ceilings, floors or walls, you can have access to someone who is doing the same in anywhere on this planet or in outer space. 🙂

Another installation we are known for is a multi-screened body installation. We showed the prototype at HomeLA, as an early work-in-progress at The Mortuary, and it was also featured in last year’s Nylon China magazine. It is still in development to be turned into a time-based piece.

We are proud of our work. Our work is known for being visually striking. People tell us a lot that they have never seen something like this before. Liang has a unique way of thinking, and he comes up with weird, surrealistic ideas, and both of us try to work very instinctively.

We face a lot the question: What is it, what does that mean, and we never bother trying to explain it to other people nor ourselves. We make decisions based on whether it feels right instead of digging into art theories, theater history or a lot of references.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Yes, and yes. LA is actually more friendly and less competitive for people who are starting out in theater, especially creating contemporary experimental interdisciplinary work. The audiences are very open to seeing theater artists creating work together with dancers, visual artists, opera singers, different elements. Everything is mixed together, everyone is working with everyone and audiences are used to it.

Artists love that because it allows the work to be more vibrant and open and speak to more people. I would say in general that the experimental, or avant-garde theater community is still a very small community, artists are struggling financially to put their work up. Living in LA is still a lot cheaper than New York which makes our life easier, but many still need a day job to keep our work going.

We would love to see more institutional and government support for this kind of art, since it contributes so much to the cultural life of the city. We would love more audiences to have access to experimental theater artists’ work. Some people think experimental performances are “weird,” well, yes, but I would say “wonderfully weird”!  If you come with an open mind, you don’t know what you might discover. I hope you will find it quite enjoyable and stimulating and fun.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Chutong Huang, Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh, Andrew Mandinach, Artzealous, Lovis Ostenrik

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