THE HAN TANG YUEFU MUSIC AND DANCE ENSEMBLEJoyce Theater Nov. 3-8
Posted 05 November 2009 - 04:30 PM
THE HAN TANG YUEFU MUSIC AND DANCE ENSEMBLE
NOV 3-8 (fall/winter)
Watch the famous ancient painting of The Feast of Han Xizai come to life by the Han Tang Yuefu Music and Dance Ensemble. The Taiwan-based company recreates the traditional Nanguan music and Liyuan dance of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), with sumptuous costumes and sets by Oscar winner Tim Yip (Best Art Direction, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). See the dancers and musicians enact this legendary story with subtle drama and refined elegance, depicting how the politician protested government corruption through his decadent lifestyle.
Posted 05 November 2009 - 05:28 PM
In the meantime, here's Roslyn Sulcas' New York Times review of opening night.
One of the aspects of Chinese classical dancing I used to love was that you really HAVE to watch very, very closely. For example, Sulcas writes:
What is astonishing is how skillfully these performers convey emotion even though their expressions — softly smiling or impassive — rarely change.
Posted 06 November 2009 - 04:17 PM
Posted 08 November 2009 - 07:04 PM
Posted 09 November 2009 - 08:57 AM
At the same theatre about 19 years ago, I saw the Cambodian Dance Theater, also an opulently produced evening of superb Asian dance, and i believe violinconcerto and I discussed this some about a year ago, but the music was not so integrated with the dance, in that these dancers also play all these instruments (and the variety of wind, string and percussion instruments begins to seem endless, as if one large electric-guitar sized stringed instrument all of a sudden is a much smaller and different one in the hands of one of the women players, and seemed to appear there when you weren't looking--and you can never see all of what is going on at one time in this almost diorama-effect they have with different movements happening in all parts of the stage. We are not talking about, at least in some cases, extremely athletic dancing (although some of the men's is, and it's not quite as arresting as the women's movements IMO), but there is not a hair out of place the entire evening, there is total dedication, up to the levels of what is required in Peking Opera or any of the other great arts, western or eastern, including the greatest ballet companies.
Just to start with a sample, and then I must stop for the moment (I have a LOT to say about this incredible evening), there is a moment in which five stunning women go to the front of the stage with drums, that resemble bongo drums or congas, I'm not sure exactly, of course that's not what they are, I don't know what they are. They sit on stools (and all the stools they sit on are almost always shrouded by their gorgeous, incredibly subtly-coloured dresses, so that you don't have to see the stools) and quietly place the drums in front of them. Then they all take off their left shoe and place their left foot on the drum, it becomes part of what controls the sound of the drum. Then there is a lead drummer, with tiny drumsticks, and she starts, and you think, I'll be able to keep up with when the others make their entrances, but the hypnotic spell is so intense, they just seem to enter until finally all are playing, AND they are all using and moving their left foot to control the PITCH of the percussion sound. Now this is just not something I've ever seen anywhere.
I am trying to recover from this, and also the outlandish reason I even knew to see it: if I hadn't postponed my dental appointment because of some business with one of my book collaborators, I wouldn't have happened by the Joyce and seen this was there. It is like when I saw the Hallmark Hall of Fame when I was about 7, they did James Hilton's 'Shangri-La' (lost horizon, of course), and this was like finding it again.
Note to self for next post: what bart pointed out in review about the footwork of the women as compared to Graham's use of something like this in 'Frontier'.
Posted 09 November 2009 - 09:28 AM
Easily one ot the greatest evenings I've ever spent in a theater--almost indescribable in its rarefaction, exoticism, refinement, elegance...things so exquisite and rare you'd never imagine them at all.
I did just notice that Jennifer Dunning saw this group in 2003, and wrote 'I try never to use the word spell-binding', but sometimes nothing else will do. Yes, 'spell-binding', 'breathtaking', a 'fully-realized dream you live in for two hours', things like that.
Your description of the 5 drummers is spell-binding all by itself. Looking forward to hearing more, though envious of your opportunity.
More re "spell-binding." I suppose that all artists are weavers of spells in some way or other. Only the greatest succeed in binding us and drawing us in to the spells they weave
Posted 09 November 2009 - 06:40 PM
There's the painting itself that is then set in motion. And that link has a very good background text for anyone interested, regarding a performance by this group in the Forbidden City. It also clarifies the peculiar website remark, which made it sound like the 'bon vivant' Xizai was fighting corruption by living a dissolute life (that was new, I tell you, I hadn't heard that), rather than giving it up to become a wandering musician.
Still. a bit hard to understand since most of the 'play', which it is called in the above website, is concerned with aristocratic refinement. There are tea ceremonies throughout, at the beginning there are ceremonies in two different groups on either side of the stage, so that I thought of Bart's 'watch Chinese dance carefully', since no matter how carefully, you literally couldn't ever see all of what was going on onstage, you had to look back and forth, learn what stage left and stage right mean all right. Finally, you just gave in and relaxed, because there was no way even if you had two heads and four eyes that you could take in all of what was going on because so much of it was brand-new.
1) There were 6 sections, I believe it was in the 5th that you see the instrument that is in the painting, I am sure meant to look exactly like that one, and possibly the same kind of ancient 1000-year-old instrument. It is at that point that one of the women first sings--you hear no singing until toward the end. She then sits and also plays this guitar-sized instrument as she sings for a long time, and which includes dancing by the lead dancers.
2) During the early tea ceremonies on the couches, two of the beautiful girls come to the front of the stage and are at either end, one is very slowly and carefully arranging chrysanthemums (two only). All of the movement of arranging is extremely slow and careful, sometimes objects are moved for no apparent reason except to have them arranged somehow more desirably (but these are not something you could no outside the secrets of the art itself).
3) What the review says about not being able to see the women's footwork due to the long dresses is not quite true, you can see something of them, and the men's robes are almost as longe. What I was remembering about Graham's 'Frontier' is that that dress is still a little longer so that the extraordinary movement that Martha or whoever dances it (I believe Martha is filmed doing 'Frontier', but I've never seen that film) really does happen without any feet visible at all; they are obviously very tiny movements that would be possible without tripping. When you see the men's feet move here, they are often simply twisting both feet to move, not an especially beautiful look when you see the feet, but allows the height to stay the same and without any lifting of the leg.
4) There is, in the 3rd or 4th section, a long passage with both 'tea drinking' sections on either side of the stage still going about their revelry, while the most prominent female dancer and one of the important male dancers are dancing center stage in front and behind them in the center are five women playing flutes and other wind instruments. These are again seated on stools which are covered by their dresses. The Playbill notes call this 'pure flute music', but it was not only flutes, also other wind instruments like Chinese versions of oboes or clarinets, one has to research these to know exactly what they were.
5) Stunningly beautiful pastel and sherbet-coloured costumes for the women, even more ineffable than the kinds one sees in ballet to my mind, the colours are a bit lighter still, the sea-blue-green of the lead female dancer is a startling delicate shade and she has sleeves that hang out at least a foot from the end of her fingers--oh yes, lots of tapering, delicate fingers, we're talking about the kind of refinements that would exist in tandem with footbinding and some of those other extreme things we have learned to think are little too extreme and decadent.
6) Toward the end, there is some unison singing of most, but not all, the character, this is always the same pitch, the men exactly an octave lower. In fact, I think all of the music was a single line at all times, no matter what instrument was being played, although when the 'foot drum' was being used there was variation in the texture of the playing, tthe timbre and intensity of the speed of rhythmic values.
7) At a distace, you could not see the feel of the women moving from backstage at the lowest part of their dresses, so they did seem to just float in a lot, and sometimes this impression was fully conveyed even onstage. Sometimes, there were percusssion blocks which the dancers would click while dancing, and they would make slow clicks with these or make them as richly sonorous as maracas in the sense of a continuous sound in which rhythmic values had been completely dissolved into a texture or timbre.
8) Since most of the dancers played several instruments when they were either dancing or seated, I was slightly horrified to be reminded of that revival of Sondheim's 'Company', in which the instruments were played by the characters (to atrocious sonic effect IMO, not to mention everything else I loathed about that production), and this was a weird thought, because it was like two opposing ends of the universe.
9) The NYTimes review Bart linked to talked about the 'gentle conveying of emotion', but I didn't think of the emotions so much as just what the movements and sounds conveyed as movements ande sounds. That review did not really do much justice to something that is this foreign and rare to audiences almost anywhere.
10) There were occasional 'performances within the performance', which were followed by delicate applause by some of the other seated dancers. They 'clapped' in aristocratic fashion, which reminded me somewhat of the very slow way the British Royal Family applauds, in that slightly absurd, overly slow way, although theirs is not especially delicate, but it certainly is largo. This kind of aristocratic applause was much more graceful, and yet not nearly so weirdly plodding as when you the Queen and Prince Philip applauding as in 2002, there was the Jubilee, I believe.
11) In the 5th Section, there is an even more elaborate tea ceremony, at the front of the stage. The most ornamental-looking of the 'perfect figurine-faced' girls worked with the tea things as two others watched her on each side, for at least 25 minutes. This kind of extravagant time was quite impressive, not boring at all--although there was no way you could no what all of the movements of objects was about, why they were significant. You could 'see the secrets' that were part of all this--orf course, you couldn't know what the secrets were by their very nature, but you could sense that the work was full of secrets.
Well, these are some of the 'sweetmeats' you get from this exquisite company and this exquisite music and dance ensemble. There are miracles throughout, but part of it is the truly natural, totally non-contrived blending of dance and musical instruments, because the same figures are able to do both--and at the highest possible level. I hope others will be able to see them in other cities, and I certainly would go to see them many more times. It is like being in a trance for two hours, and you don't resent the lack of intermission at all.
This has the look of a lengthy report, but I assure you I've barely scratched the surface of what even an inexperienced eye as my own was with such an unfamiliar art. It was unforgettable.
The Joyce, by the way, is especially good value for a lot of things. It might as well be noted that they may well not be selling any better for other companies than they did for this one, and PNB will be there soon. But these $10 'partial view' seats are not nearly as bad as what is called 'partial view' at Lincoln Center. Your eyes are at stage level, but you are in the front row, and then you can move back. I can't imagine a better ticket than what is available at the joyce and will probably go to one ot the later performances of PNB when they are here in the coming months.
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