Lily Eng was a progenitor of the first wave of Toronto performance art and experimental dance in the early 1970s. she was mostly Female Warrior rather than Tutu'd Princess—using deeply exploratory movement techniques, plus hardcore performance art concepts. Eng was cutting edge, defying ethnic and anti-feminist prejudices. Surfing on a wave of acclaim, she was one of few from the scene to establish an intercontinental reputation.
The film's title comes from Lily Eng's First Thursday performance at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, in 2016. She was there by invitation, but it was 39 years since the 1977 Documenta 6 performance in Kassel Germany that nailed her multinational profile—a performance seen in this film as flashbacks. Most of her contemporaries had either dropped out or transitioned to not-physically-demanding performance art. But as she's always done, Eng decided to go all out. Those in the know about Lily Eng were delighted; those not yet born in 1977 were enlightened.
The flashbacks to Eng's still-talked-about performance at Documenta 6, presented by Joseph Beuys Free International University, reveal Eng during the relentless 'raw power' phase of her career. Four decades later, in Lily Eng's First Thursday, she is pitted against the phantom of her younger self, declaring "me, me, me, YOU!"
In Lily Eng's First Thursday, we are also privy to an in-camera performance, an intimate 'closet mix' that cinematically unveils Lily Eng's evolved finesse. Closeups capture Eng's swift complexities down to a fingertip level. And we glimpse a transcendence.
With a technique that surges in part from her id, no one has successfully duplicated what Eng does. Innovatively conceived, Lily Eng's First Thursday contextualizes Lily Eng in contemporary art history.