Beijing Dance Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
October 26, 2011
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
Most remarkable about the piece of group choreography with which BDT made its USA debut wasn't its social message nor its dance substance but the floor on which the performance took place. It was soft. Steps sank into it just a bit. Falls rebounded with a little bounce. While it looked impersonal, like a large sheet of industrial grey felt, in order to balance on it each cast member (10 men, 5 women) had to be assertive. The help or hindrance this flooring provided gave the slim, young dancers chances to show signs of individuality, which the overt movement did not. "Haze" is group choreography almost to the point of anonymity.
What the term "haze" means to choreographer Wang Yuanyuan is "smog" plus more that is bad i.e., not just environmental problems but also "the current economic crisis''. She shows people immersed in the sickly dimness and unhealthy glare of these predicaments. They plod or struggle and do so with little hope. Much of the movement is acrobatic dance, its usual vigor buffered by the pliant floor.
Repetitiveness is rampant in the dance design with people lining up and then sequentially falling down - predictably on the count. Or, they group and jump - all of them without exception. Variations are rare and only emphasize the uniformity of these lives. Even displays of virtuosity such as flips in the air and extreme stretching come to seem regimented when they are repeated rather than being symptomatic of strivings for freedom.
The music (from the works of Henryk Goreki) sometimes served as atmospheric background and sometimes had a closer relationship with the dancing, too close when movement emphases coincided persistently with the composer's beat. The stage picture (by Tan Shaoyuan, Han Jiang and Zhong Jiani) was handsome and modernist. It included a huge crumbling wall, billowing or perfusing haze, different degrees of light and shade plus, at the end, falling snow.
In the post-performance discussion between the choreographer and members of the audience, moderator Suzanne Carbonneau pointed out that Wang Yuanyuan had gone from working with the National Ballet of China, a traditional ballet company, to founding BDT, a contemporary group. In the West, Carbonneau mentioned, it is usually the other way round and choreographers end up with big ballet companies which have more money. If my memory serves, Yuanyuan made "Raise the Red Lantern" while at NBC. It was dramatically powerful and choreographically less simplistic than "Haze".