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A TASTE OF THE ORIENT.

DANCE SALAD ASIA WORTHAM CENTER, CULLEN THEATER HOUSTON, TEXAS APRIL 28-29, 2000

REVIEWED BY MARENE GUSTIN

If normalizing trade with China means more of Houston's recent Asian-flavored Dance Salad, then art lovers across America should be calling their congressional representatives to vote yes. The annual event offered a spicy mix of East-West contemporary choreography that was both tasty and tart.

The Hong Kong Ballet was a featured attraction, presenting excerpts from its full-length ballets The Emperor and the Nightingale and Wayne Eagling's The Last Emperor, first seen in America at the company's City Center (New York) debut in January, 1999. Both works combine the traditional elements of storytelling with neoclassical steps, creating lyrical yet modern duets. First-prize winner in the 44th National Ballet Competition (Japan) in 1987, and in 1993, winner in the Festival of Ballet produced by the International Ballet of Luxembourg, Eriko Ochiai fluttered without being flighty as Nightingale. Michael Wang was enthralling as the last emperor in choreography set to a score by Su Cong, who wrote the score for the 1987 Bertolucci film of the same name, for which he won an Oscar.

Also featured was the Singapore Dance Theatre in two works by Choo San Gob. Founded in 1987 and now directed by Choo San's sister, the company often uses the choreography of native-born Goh, as staged by Janek Schergen. The company performed Birds of Paradise (1979), set to Alberto Ginastera's Concerto for Harp and Orchestra. While the ensemble patterns remain brilliant, the kitschy hand and head movements, the flamingo-pink unitard and Jetson-style hair does seem dated in a very unattractive retro way.

Singapore's second piece was by one of today's hot young choreographers, Australian Stanton Welch. His Maninyas, Second Movement, was a study in opposing duets, one rough, one soft, set to music by Ross Edwards. The red madras-plaid dresses and background drape were at once traditional yet non-Eastern, but the look and feel were in keeping with the evening's theme. Welch's sideways spider-crawl-on-pointe was a choreographic highlight.

The main delight of the evening was the lesser-known City Contemporary Dance Company. Formed by choreographer Willy Tsao in Hong Kong in 1979, this small ensemble does imaginative new work that stretches the bounds of dance theater and postmodernism. Choreography by Dance Salad producer Nancy Henderek, Helen Lai and founder Tsao was thought-provoking, amusing and stunning--in that order--but the breathtaking element was lead dancer Xing Liang. A tall, muscular man with the body of a weight lifter and the highly arched feet of a ballet dancer, Liang is one of the most exquisite and exciting dancers in contemporary choreography. A former American Dance Festival scholarship student and gold medalist in the Paris International Modern Dance Competition, Liang rippled and spiraled his way through Journey to Memory II, amazed the audience in the theatrical Noh takeoff of Nine Songs-Section: In the Mountains, and ended the evening with a stunning Tsao solo, China Wind/China Fire: A Prayer. Here is a dancer who emotes from his toes to his shaven head.

Equally stunning in movement, but almost cloying in its progression, was Japan's contribution to this Asian feast, the Jo Kanamori solo performed by Megumi Nakamura. Lento e Largo-Tranquillissimo is theatrically undeveloped. The emotional contractions of the former Nederlands Dans Theater dancer are very real, but the eyes of the audience are drawn to the man with the watering can, who slowly, very slowly, makes his way around the stage extinguishing the floor candles, which provide the majority of lighting.

In previous years Dance Salad has tried to include local modern/contemporary companies. This year's Asian-theme program, presented by the Asia Society-Texas Center and Houston Dance Coalition, gave only a cursory--albeit talented--nod to local dancers via a war-of-the-sexes duet with Houston Ballet's Yin Le and Zhang Jian, who stepped into a soloist spot in Houston last March. Both dancers performed well in the world premiere of Dominic Walsh's 13/Shi San.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:GUSTIN, MARENE
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Words:653
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