Jen Shyu poses with a stringed instrument.
CPA Series

Jen Shyu: Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses

January 27, 2023
8 PM

General admission tickets from $10–$15. See details below.

Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses is dedicated to Jen Shyu’s late mother and father who are now reunited: Ana Lay Shyu 徐轉寄 (May 16, 1944 – December 8, 2021) and Tsu Pin Shyu  徐澤濱 (January 19, 1941 – April 2, 2019).  
Commissioned by John Zorn, the premiere in October 2019 of Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses was dedicated to Jen’s father, who passed away unexpectedly during a nap in his favorite chair while she was on a 5-month research fellowship in Japan. Unable to wake Jen’s father, Jen’s mother called 911, who arrived with their local Texas sheriff, who then sent Jen an email—which she first thought was spam—that her father had passed.  
Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses is a raw, coming-of-age exploration of grief, legacy, family, race, sexuality, fertility, technology’s effect on our connection with nature and to each other, and our own conflicting ambitions. It’s an investigation of life, stemming from the moment Jen’s mother handed her Jen’s childhood diaries from a shelf in her father’s closet. Embodying Zero Grasses’ closing song, “Life As You Envision,” it was Jen’s parents who inspired her to live life as she envisions it.

“A singer like no other, Shyu is both lyrical and wildly adventurous . . .”

The Nation


Tickets available for $15. $10 UNC-Chapel Hill student tickets available with valid UNC One Card. Additional discounts available. Visit our FAQ page for details.

event details

  • Program: We’re excited to offer a robust digital program book for this event. To access this resource, click here. This program can also be accessed via QR codes on event signage.
  • Runtime: 85 minutes
  • Intermission: None
  • Special effects: Strobe effects in use. The lights will flicker at some points in the show. 
  • Additional information: Visit our FAQ page


After the performance, Jen Shyu will take part in a moderated discussion. This exclusive event, moderated by Asian American Center Fellow Ina Liu, will offer the audience a chance to learn more about the unique process behind the making of Zero Grasses. Be sure to stick around after the show!


Composition, vocals, piano, Japanese biwa, Taiwanese moon lute, dance: Jen Shyu

Director : Alexandru Mihail

Lighting Design : Solomon Weisbard

Set and Projection Design: Kristen Robinson

Set and Projection Design : Kate Campbell

Costume Design: Elizabeth Caitlin Ward

Special thanks to John Zorn for this commission and to Carolina Performing Arts for supporting this performance. Deepest gratitude to the original creative team, Alex, Kristen, Solomon, Caitlin, Kate, Neil and Corinne, for their friendship and dedication to this project. Very special thanks to my dearest late mother Ana Shyu who passed away December 8, 2021, and who got to see this show virtually at the height of Covid; and to Arnav Shah, Gregory Wylie, Carla Grande, David Pfendler, Desri Yulita Taek, Nelia Belo, Naldo Rei, Fuensanta Mendez, Rodrigo Parejo, and Garin Nugroho. Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses was made possible by the support of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, United States Artists Fellowship, NYSCA/NYFA Fellowship, Japan-US Friendship Commission’s US- Japan Creative Artists Fellowship, Hermitage Artist Retreat, Civitella Ranieri Foundation.


Jen Shyu poses with an instrument.
Photo by Wolf Daniel / Courtesy Of Roulette Intermedium

Guggenheim Fellow, USA Fellow, Doris Duke Artist, multilingual vocalist-composer-multi-instrumentalist-dancer Jen Shyu is “one of the most creative vocalists in contemporary improvised music” (The Nation). Born in Peoria, Illinois to Taiwanese and East Timorese immigrants, she’s produced eight albums available on her record label Autumn Geese Records on Bandcamp. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Theater of Korea, Rubin Museum, was named Downbeat’s 2017 Rising Star Female Vocalist, and is a Fulbright scholar speaking 10 languages. She has been in residency at the Kennedy Center for REACH’s “Office Hours,” curated by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. She’s worked with such musical innovators as Sumi Tonooka, Terri Lyne Carrington, Nicole Mitchell, Val Jeanty, Ikue Mori, Linda May Han Oh, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Mark Dresser, Francis Wong, Jon Jang, and Vijay Iyer. Her  “Song of Silver Geese” was among The New York Times‘ “Best Albums of 2017.” She’s currently touring her third solo production Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (commissioned by John Zorn) across all 50 states and has received wide critical acclaim for her latest album  Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses, with “When I Have Power” on Nate Chinen’s “Best Songs of 2021” list for NPR. She is a Paul Simon Music Fellows Guest Artist, a Steinway Artist and co-founder with Sara Serpa of M³ (Mutual Mentorship for Musicians), a radical model of mentorship for underrepresented women and non-binary composer-performers around the world.


About Alexandru Mihail

Alexandru Mihail is a NY-based director, originally from Bucharest, Romania. His work, both in Romania and the US, varied in style and genre, is always fueled by the dialogue with the community, unabashedly challenging its fears and striving to redefine with each show the experience of live performance for a contemporary audience. He has directed both new plays and classics, off-Broadway, regionally and throughout Romania. He has also been teaching acting and directing at Princeton, New York University, University of the Arts – Philadelphia etc. He has won the prestigious UNITER Romanian award for directing and is Drama League Directing Fellow, a New York Theatre Workshop Directing Fellow and a Fulbright Fellow. He graduated UNATC, Bucharest and Yale School of Drama.

About Solomon Weisbard

Previously with Jen Shyu: Solo Rites: Seven Breaths directed by Garin Nugroho and Nine Doors. Opera and new music collaborations with Robert Wilson (Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy; Festspielhaus Baden Baden, Germany); Experiments in Opera, Invisible Anatomy, Dimenna Center for Classical Music, Maria Chavez, Tri-Cities Opera, Manhattan School of Music, Princeton Opera, Yale Opera. In dance, pieces with Alethea Adsitt, Jennifer Archibald, Joshua Beamish/MOVE, Jonah Bokaer, Christine Bonansea, Ximena Garnica/Leimay, Lane Gifford, LoudHound Movement, Ofelia Loret de Mola, Patricia Noworol, Patrick Lovejoy, Martha Graham Dance Company, Belinda McGuire, Stefanie Nelson, and four major works as associate set designer with Bill T Jones. New York theatre: Macbeth (Classic Stage); Men on Boats (World Premiere – Playwrights Horizons/Clubbed Thumb); Duat (Soho Rep); America Is Hard to See (HERE); The Film Society (Keen); Cherry Smoke (Working Theatre); and four productions with The Barrow Group. Regional theatres: Arden, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Magic, Portland Center Stage, Portland Playhouse, Portland Stage, Quintessence, Westport Country Playhouse, Yale Rep. MFA: Yale School of Drama.

About Kristen Robinson

Kristen Robinson (Scenic Designer) is a New York City-based set designer. Her work ranges from site-specific installations to outdoor Shakespeare. Selected Credits: In the Green at LCT3, [PORTO] at WP Theater, Heart of Darkness at Baryshnikov Arts Center; and Minor Character at Under the Radar Festival; Everybody Black and The Thin Place at Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville; Miller Mississippi at Long Wharf Theatre; Familiar at Steppenwolf Theatre; A Flea in Her Ear at Westport Country Playhouse; Ethel at Alliance Theatre. She is the Assistant Professor of Scenic Design at Purchase College. A Princess Grace Fellow, she holds her M.F.A. from Yale University. You can see her work at Proud member of USA829.

About Kate Campbell

Kate Campbell is a NYC based designer. Set Design credits include: The Revolutionsists, The Skin of Our Teeth, As You Like It, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Stupid Fucking Bird, Romeo and Juliet (Atlantic Stage 2), Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. Henry VI, Part I, The Maids, The Aliens, Dutchman (Purchase Repertory Theatre Company.) Assistant Set Design credits include: Cyrano under Kristen Robinson (Hudson Valley Shakespeare/ Two River Theater) and Fefu and Her Friends under Adam Rigg (Theatre for a New Audience.) She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre Design/ Technology from Purchase College, SUNY.

About Elizabeth Caitlin Ward

Ms. Ward works across multiple performance and media platforms, including devised and traditional opera and ballet, spectacle design, dance, acrobatics and aerial ballet, theater, video, film, animation, and classical music concert installation.

International: Beijing Music Festival; West End, London; English National Opera; Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet; European Capital of Culture Festival, Lithuania; Simmetrico, Milan/Berlin; Ferrari Museum, Abu Dhabi – Opening Ceremonies; Beijing Olympic Games – Opening Ceremonies – Beijing National Stadium; London International Film Festival; Suzhou Kunqu Opera/Polo Arts, Beijing; Royal Shakespeare Company; Gonzalo Munoz – Flying Machine and Cirque de Soleil; The Flying Machine Company – Santiago, Chile. 

US: Adaptive Studios, LA; Artclass – ESPN Creative Projects; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts – Lincoln Center Festival; Carnegie Hall; Public Theater; BAM – Brooklyn Academy of Music; New York City Opera; Geffen Playhouse; Guggenheim Museum; SITI Company; Signature Theater; New York Chocolate Show; Metropolitan Museum of Art – Costume Institute; Spoleto Festival; Handel & Haydn Society; Sundance Film Festival.


Compositions & Translations in Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses

All music and lyrics by Jen Shyu (Chiuyen Music, ASCAP) unless otherwise noted:


“Bells for those that can’t hear them” text by Armen Nalbandian

2. “Dad on the Road to Nature”

3. “A Body of Tears”

End recording recorded at Oktaven Studios January 10, 2019. Jen Shyu (piano, vocals, Ableton Live processing), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Mat Maneri (viola), Thomas Morgan (bass), Dan Weiss (drums)

Translation from Indonesian:

May 22, 8:57am by phone

after months of silver linings 

fading in and out

I’m forced to say

always forced to say, to decide

let’s take it! This break


4. Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1, 3rd movement excerpt

Recording performed by Jen Shyu as piano soloist with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra in 1991 in Peoria, Illinois.

5. “When I Have Power”

Chant sung in Resuk language, as taught by Maria de Jesus from Makili, Ataúro, Dili District, Timor-Leste.

Translation from Resuk by Nelia Belo and Jen Shyu:

What a pity

It has cooked but it is now yellow

Summer has arrived

The time has come to clean the farm from front to end

6. “Backstage Days / “Finally She Emerges”

7. “En Este Gran Mar de Blanco / El Barrio Chino en La Habana”

Translation from Spanish by Fuensanta Mendez and Jen Shyu / Translation from Mandarin Chinese by Jen Shyu:

I became a woman listening to Chinese but speaking English. 

In this great sea of white, there was a drop of yellow. 

I remember taking Spanish classes at my school, but there were no Latinos. 

I remember walking through Chinatown [in Havana].

And what happened?

I turned to my Cuban love and asked him: “Where are the Chinese?”

“Inside – cooking.” Ah! Then, we chose a restaurant. 

It was strange for me – to see a Cuban in Chinese clothes

convincing me to eat the food of my ancestors

He did not have to convince me. But we sat down … we ate … 

and the waiter said to me: “Ni jiang guo yi? (Do you speak Chinese?)”  

Yi dian yi dian! (A little bit!)” But I told him I spoke Spanish better than Chinese.

I’m sorry! And he was disappointed. Oi!

(Chorus) In this great sea of white, there was a drop of yellow. 

8. “With Eyes Closed You See All”

9. “I’ll Not Say Sorry”

Performed on piano and Japanese Satsuma biwa. Traditional Sundanese melody taught to Jen by Acicah, traditionally sung by a grandmother to her granddaughter, comforting her about the mother’s death. I placed this melody in this composition as a declaration to break the cycle of generations of women passing down inherited and internalized patriarchy.

10. “Without These Emotions”

Performed on Taiwanese moon lute. Poetry by Chuang Tzu, translated anonymously into English. I chose this poem to grace the bookmark of Dad’s memorial service.

11. “Making Love to Nature”

Korean gayageum recording composed and performed by Jen Shyu.

12. “Life As YOu Envision”


As part of Jen’s partnership with WEARTH, a tree will be planted in the Tsu Pin Shyu | 徐澤濱 Forest in Saskatchewan, Canada for every ticket sold. Interested in participating? Upon arrival at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, ask CPA staff how to virtually plant and dedicate your tree.

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