This isn’t your grandma’s Sunday school |

This isn’t your grandma’s Sunday school

BRECKENRIDGE – In the church of Cheng, nude Barbie dolls, ecstatic sex, Szechwan cuisine and swords have everything to do with spirituality.OK, so Maria Cheng isn’t quite a high priestess, and the Breckenridge Theatre isn’t exactly a church (especially when it was in its heyday as Shamus O’Toole’s Roadhouse Saloon). But today and Sunday Cheng explores the spiritual side of life through her one-woman show, “Sworded Tales and Spirit Treks.” Cheng weaves stories of her family’s emigration from China when she was 11 and stories of her spiritual journey with stand-up comedy, poetry, tai chi and a touch of modern dance.The nine-scene work explores her personal answers to universal questions. It addresses the yearning for spiritual experiences as well as the common and comic pitfalls of pursuing a meaningful path. She finished writing the production in February 2003.

“One of the things that struck me is ‘Oh my God, so many of us take ourselves so seriously, and the people who are most mature don’t take themselves seriously,'” Cheng said. “I’m not mature, but I’m learning to laugh more. (My production) gets funnier and funnier as I keep rewriting and revising it. I’m a lot looser with it.”One of her main messages is that it’s a sacred act to honor your humanity, particularly through creativity – not Artistic Creativity with a capital “A” and “C,” but rather simple, everyday acts and thoughts.”Creativity is such a big part of the spiritual path,” she said. “To me, spiritual work is soulful work. Creativity is the process by which one takes disparate existing elements and rearranges them into a new, unified order. The spiritual journey is about honoring that inner voice by doing something with it.”Cheng’s show has become a spiritual journey in and of itself, and though it hasn’t nailed down any answers for her, she says it has made her journey more pleasant.

“If you think you’ve found the answers, they’ll keep changing on you,” she said. “What is more essential to one’s being is that you’re making something new.”Cheng performed her show to three full houses on consecutive Sundays last summer as a benefit for the Summit County Community and Senior Center near Frisco. She has divided her time between her home in Summit County and her tenured position at the University of Minnesota’s dance program for two years. She plans to retire and move to Summit County full time in November.Her works have garnered fellowships from several foundations, including the National Endowment for the Arts and have received critical acclaim from critics nationwide.

“It’s performance art that shouldn’t scare people off because it isn’t weird; it’s just storytelling,” said Jeremy Cole, artistic director of the Backstage Theatre. “She’s put into a framework the question of how does one balance the modern world craziness and capitalism along with spiritualism, and it’s nice because she doesn’t offer any easy answers. “I was afraid it would be preachy, but it isn’t. She just shows what she’s done. She has a very strong spiritual side, and she shows how she travels through the world. It’s nice to have someone who can delve into these issues and not tell you how to think and act.”Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at

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