In 2017, the first Home Economics Art Festival initiated by Hongyan primarily focused on film. The hands of 100 domestic helpers were captured on film and publicly displayed in galleries in Beijing. Audiences could see the daily work of domestic helpers through hands kneading dumplings, wringing cloths, and holding babies. The second festival used poetry as a medium, allowing audiences to hear the voices of domestic helpers.
For the third festival, the organizers chose physical theater, hoping that domestic helpers could express themselves through body movements in the theater.
What is physical theater? At first, the domestic helpers didn’t understand and were curious. Over thirty people signed up to try it out. In order to “open up the bodies of domestic helpers,” the director of “Doppelgänger,” Liao Shuyi, used improvisation exercises, allowing participants to roll on the floor, embrace each other, and make eye contact.
Liao Shuyi is a professional dancer who advocates for contact improvisation. Her previous performances were mostly held in art galleries. This postmodern dance form involves swaying, rolling, and dancing with two bodies sharing a center of gravity through physical contact. The domestic helpers found it somewhat strange, feeling that it was distant from their daily lives.
“Why are we rolling on the floor?” “It’s boring, not as exciting as square dancing.” “I don’t know how to dance, I don’t understand art…” The participating domestic helpers expressed various opinions.
Hongyan had previously formed a domestic helper art and literature team, and most of the previous Home Economics Art Festival programs were organized and participated in by them. Wang Shuhua was one of the team members. She said she wasn’t particularly attracted to this new form, but since she was a member of the art and literature team, she still insisted on practicing.
Other domestic helpers acted according to their moods. Some said, “I have something to do,” and left with their bags. By the afternoon of October 2021, when rehearsals began, only about ten people were left out of the original thirty-plus.