National Medal of the Arts recipient Ping Chong conducts three-day creative residency at UConn

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National Medal of the Arts recipient Ping Chong conducted a three-day creative residency at the University of Connecticut, on Jan. 26-28.

The residency was a culmination of a 30-year series, and Chong’s last event before retirement.

Each day featured a studio workshop focusing on the generative process. Participants included student actors, dancers, directors, and other performance creators studying in UConn’s Dramatic Arts Department, as well as students from the UConn Anthropology Department and the UConn Asian American Cultural Center.

Participants had the opportunity to explore non-traditional interdisciplinary work, and analyze the unique properties and relationships between space, image, movement, sound, media, and performance.

The program was originated by UConn Associate Professor of Lighting Design Michael Chybowski, who met Chong in 1989 while touring with his company in the former Yugoslavia. Chybowski originally planned to hold the program three years ago, but it was delayed due to the pandemic.

It was rescheduled for this year, after Chong officially handed over the ropes to his performance arts theater in New York City, Ping Chong and Company.

“It just so happened that the three days we settled on were the three days following his retirment celebration,” said Chybowski.

Chong was one of the first artists to incorporate technology such as video, soundscapes and film, into performance.

“All of the things we take for granted now,” said Chybowski.

“Ping is a puppeteer, a dancer, a choreographer, a director - he is many, many things,” continued Chybowski.

As an artist who began working with artist Meredith Monk in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chong was a bit of an outsider.

“Nobody was taking Asian American artists seriously,” said Chybowski.

Out of Chong’s outsider status eventually arose one of his most well-known projects, Undesirable Elements, originating in New York City in 1992. Much of the material used in the workshop at UConn came from Chong’s Undesirable Elements series of performances and workshops.

As described on Chong’s website, the original piece invited a group of diverse participants “to share their life experiences, challenging who may be perceived as ‘undesirable elements’ in an age of Reaganomics and neoliberalism.”

Chong went on to recreate the work in different locations using local participants, resulting in Undesirable Elements becoming “a now longstanding form of interview-based theater that has become an essential platform of Ping Chong and Company’s work,” according to the website.

“Ping would go into a community and meet people from margianalized parts of society, and ask them what it’s like,” explains Chybowski, offering Chong’s work in Minneapolis, focused on Vietnamese residents following the Vietnam War, as an example.

“His whole thing is telling the story of what it’s like to be an outsider,” said Chybowski.

In an era where there is so much focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion, Chybowski felt that bringing Chong to UConn would provide invaluable input, with his life’s work focused on exploring and dismantling history, geography, race, and culture.

“Ping’s been focused on that his whole life,” said Chybowski.

And Chong’s work supports the inclusion of perspectives of theater beyond the traditional Western standards.

“Reaching out to a more diverse community is very, very important to the art department as a whole,” said Chybowski. “It’s important to communicate that people are free to perform here in their own way.”

Sponsors of Chong’s residency include UConn School of Fine Arts, UConn Dramatic Arts, UConn Puppet Arts program, UConn Anthropology, and the UConn Asian American Cultural Center.

For more information about Chong’s work, go to