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Catfish Effect
Contemporary dance production
China  |  2021  |  60'

ZHU Xinyun: director, concept & choreography
HONG Tianyi: dramaturgy

José Pino: theme music
Batu Mengke: morin khuur (
HUA Ting, HUANG Sijun, LIANG Jie, WANG Meizhi, YE Ziyang: dancers

World premiere: 23 July 2021
Venue: Experimental Theatre @ Shanghai International Dance Center Theater
Shanghai, China

read article  |  listen to the main theme


A Truman-Show-style play-within-a-play. An illusory world that is unpredictable. A school of fish that will never swim their way out of their tank.

Original composition by José Pino joined by Mongolian morin khuur live performance.

The mysterious “Catfish Effect” reconstructed by dance theatre.

How will it end, this fateful encounter between catfish and sardines?

Catfish Effect  |  world premiere  |  Shanghai 2021  |  photos courtesy of the Shanghai International Dance Center Theatre

About Catfish Effect
Norwegians fish for sardines. When it arrives in port, if the fish is still alive, its price will be several times higher than if it is dead. Hence, the fishermen tried to keep the fish alive by hook or by crook. Eventually, they found a way: they put a catfish in the sardines’ tank. Once in the tank, the catfish, unsettled by the unfamiliar environment, would swim around, riling the water. Meanwhile, the sardines, nervous of the “dissident” invader, would move faster, actively avoiding the predator. The catfish kept stirring; the sardines grew restless. In the end, they were delivered ashore, alive, and vibrant.


The sardines became delicacies.
The catfish became the interest of no one.

Choreographer ZHU Xinyun an her reimagined reality show
«This is an experiment where I tried to make a play-within-a-play following the style of The Truman Show. The rehearsals were parts of my experiment and fully documented as materials. These materials were deconstructed, reorganised, and finally presented on stage.»

Traveling around dancing, the choreographer-director ZHU Xinyun constantly remodels herself under shifting circumstances. Anyone who changes their habitat shares the attributes of a catfish, sometimes disrupting others’ natural states, sometimes arousing others’ fighting spirits. Meanwhile, we, as members of our collective society, ofttimes play the role of sardines as well, unwarily putting ourselves in fish tanks marked by various social symbols, such as ethnicity, identity, class, vocation etc.

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The catfish and the sardines are destined to mere be the bargaining chips in the palm of the manipulator’s hands, and their encounter in the migration is nothing but an arranged stir-up, designed to stimulate maximum profit out of the competition. Under these dreadful conditions, will they be friends or foes?

A whodunnit acted out by real-life friends—are you the catfish among the sardines?

ZHU Xinyun chooses a group of dancers who know or are related to each other in real life and put them in a dance experiment. In the creative process, the dancers constantly reshape their thinking about self-identities and relationship with companions. The stage is a humongous fish tank where everyone is trapped and waiting for the inevitable conflicts.

Cast of Characters

  • The king of fish, the unidentified king of the sea, the leader of the fish school. It is a thorny thorn in the boss's eyes, and the fisherman is eager to compete with it. He is a threat and a charm.

  • Owner, the owner of this seaside restaurant. A childish, naughty, playful, and changeable boy, he is not good at getting along with everyone, but he is good at causing all kinds of disputes.

  • Fisherman, a hermit living by the sea. For him, fishing is an art, a dialogue. He is fascinated by various ways of communicating and mediating... a big fish is his long-awaited prey.

  • The chef is kind and gentle, a culinary expert who is keen to make fish, and the most thoughtful person in the entire restaurant. He always looks lonely, but he is also the most feminine.

  • The female customer, the mysterious customer who suddenly patronizes the restaurant by the sea, is charming and charming. Her appearance stirred an undercurrent among the characters in the restaurant.

  • The tramp, who was brought to this small island by the waves due to a storm, became an idler in the restaurant. The traumatic reaction brought about by the shipwreck always made her move slowly.

Model-building aficionados, put your hands up!

One hundred and eight creative ways of using Changhong PET-sheets

As for the stage design, the scenographer, by using PET sheets, crafts a changeable, foldable, combinable space shifting between illusion and reality, in which the story gradually unfolds with the variation of the space. The sheet can be a cold wall that cuts off all emotions, a mirror that reflects reality, a partition that obscure visions, or a tank that closes off everyone. The sheets can join and become a myriad of things, such as tanks or simple furniture for different scenes; they become illusory by tricks of distance. They are the foundation of all the actions, the commencement of our imagination, and a belt that connects everyone in the space.

In the intense heat of summer, the sound of the morin khuur, a traditional instrument for Mongolia, intervowen with electroacoustic music, sends you shuttling back and forth between a wilderness and an icy ocean.

The chillness of José Pino's music, combined with the metallic texture of costumes, adds a touch of coolness to the theatre in the height of summer. The ethereal melodies set the tone of the work, following the cadence and rhythm, intertwining with the sometimes bleak, sometimes tense physical movement. Meanwhile, the morin khuur player improvises a frantic melody, embodying the change of inner feelings. The player himself is also an actor, interacting with dancers through the way of music, pouring his all out on stage, becoming the “catfish” of the performance.

Catfish Effect poster
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