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The Floating Box.  Photograph by Rachel Cooper. 

The Floating Box.

Photograph by Rachel Cooper.

Jason Hwang, an Asian American composer, proposed the idea of "The Floating Box" during a three-year residency at the Asia Society. Inspired by a family portrait he saw at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, Hwang made over fifty hours of interviews to create a composite story that charts the journey of one immigrant family over continents, languages and generations.

"The collaboration really allowed us to engage a wider community in the creation of this new work," explained Rachel Cooper, director for performing arts and public programs. "He developed the opera from stories that came right out of the community."

In collaboration with the Asia Society, the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, and Music from China, and with a libretto written by Catherine Filloux, Hwang's chamber opera for seven Chinese and Western instrumentalists and three singers straddles traditions of jazz, classical and avant garde music, with strains of Chinese. Four related events expanded the reach and impact of the opera, which was performed at the Asia Society in October and November of 2001. One forum, at New York City's Public Theater, featured creators of "The Floating Box" in dialogue with other Asian American artists. At the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, two authors hosted a discussion that explored family histories through the creative process, and two additional panel discussions raised issues of Asian immigrant families coping with change and workers rights and immigrant communities. In addition, the libretto was translated into Chinese for non-English speakers and workshop presentations of "The Floating Box" were held in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Because the opera was created over three years from the stories of people in Chinatown, audiences who had never before participated in Asia Society programs packed the theater for all five programs.

"These programs extracted issues from the "The Floating Box," which made its impact that much more profound," said Cooper. "And because the show was developed from stories of people in the community, we reached a broader and younger audience than ever before, right in Chinatown."