Beijing Dance Theater “Wild Grass” Review – Flawless Dancing Sans Wow

 

The promotional photos for Beijing Dance Theater – on the Harris Theater staircase walls and about town— promised elegant and memorable dancing.

 

The fourteen dancers on the stage did in fact show a fluidity in their movements that was outstanding.  Each seemed to have the ability to go from limp to tense with ease as the choreography required.  The women on point never had that heavy clog across the stage that you sometimes have to accept.  We never saw the men straining—they just danced.  This was dancing so graceful and without panting that you never had to focus on the athleticism that it relied on.

 

Two of the three movements also had musical selections that were of particular interest.  The first movement called “Dead Fire” had a piano composition by Su Cong where high notes of the piano were struck repeatedly in a stark minimalist way sounding more percussive than piano per se. 

 

 

The third movement “Dance of Extremity” by composer Wang Peng showcased violin and cellos, at first in non-melodic scratches, and continuing with a pounding intensity.

 

 

The second movement, “Farewell, Shadows” with a techno beat seemed to be inserted for contrast, which it did provide to some extent.

 

 

The set design by Han Jiang, and especially in the first act when the dancers were moving dead leaves or ashes-- unclear which-- about on the stage with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains behind them was striking, and especially with the use of light that would bring dancers back and forth from the shadows.

 

All of these aforementioned highlights and yet this was a performance that somehow added up to something less than an unreserved “WOW!”.  Perhaps in part it was because these were all relatively dark sets, which may have had an impact on the overall effect of choreography seeming to lack in range.

 

 

It could be that the program based on famous Chinese author Lu Xun’s work was intrinsically a downer.  The program notes set the tone excerpting his work, “In silence I feel full; with speech I sense emptiness.  The past life has died.  I embrace this death with great joy, for I realize that I was once alive…”.  That’s where it started and that’s more or less where it remained.   

 

That said, this reviewer will certainly seek out Beijing Dance Theater again in hopes that the selections will have more contrast and provide a better forum for these superlative dancers to shine. 

 

Harris Theater does a great service bringing a wide variety of dance troupes to their dance-friendly hall.  This production was brought to Chicago in association with The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.

To learn more about upcoming dance performances at the Harris visit the Harris Theater website or call 312 334 777.  You can also visit the box office at 205 East Randolph, Chicago.

 

Photos:  Han Jiang

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