Puppet Master: Avant-Garde Artist Ping Chong Has Worked with Ink, Paint, Video, Dance, and Music. Now He's Channeling His Vision through Haunting Puppet Shows. (Theater)

Article excerpt

Like his work, Ping Chong defies easy classification. And that suits him fine. "I don't belong to any group," he says. "I'm just not a joiner." Yet for those who've followed his 30-year career, Chong is an original theater director, choreographer, video artist, and, with his acclaimed last project, Kwaidan, a captivating puppeteer. "In the end, I'm a maverick artist," he says. "I'm not part of any niche. I'm on my own path."

His latest stop along that creative road is titled Obon: Tales of Rain and Moonlight, which, like Kwaidan, is an adaptation of three Japanese ghost stories and features puppets, props, and captivating sound and visual effects. A haunting meditation on love and death, the work premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre, where it's now finishing up a six-week run before heading in late May to Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., for 11 performances.

Raised in New York City's Chinatown, the 55-year-old Chong is the child of Chinese immigrant performers. He says his earliest passion was not for theater but for painting and drawing. He attended Pratt Institute for art and design during the 1960s and, struggling with his bisexual and creative impulses, floundered in the drug counterculture before becoming interested in dance. He took a class with dance and movement impresario Meredith Monk, who immediately recognized his talent and brought him into her troupe. By the early 1970s, Chong was creating innovative stage works of his own, and in the last three decades he has won two Obies, two Bessies (New York Dance and Performance Awards), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and six National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. …