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ALL IN ALL, IT'S JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE GREAT WALL BEIJING COMPANY FINDS INSPIRATION IN SOUNDS OF PINK FLOYD.

Byline: Vicki Smith Paluch Correspondent

Willy Tsao, the 49-year-old artistic director of the Beijing Modern Dance Company, wants his dancers to explore freedom.

``Modern dance is about freedom,'' says Tsao, who has left his fingerprints on both of the government-approved modern dance companies in China, as well as the Hong Kong City Contemporary Dance Company.

However, as artistic director of Beijing Modern Dance Company, he is encouraging the development of the next generation of choreographers. When the company makes its Dorothy Chandler Pavilion debut on Friday and Saturday, it will explore the darker recesses and edgy perimeters of the human condition in ``Rear Light,'' a full-length work set to Pink Floyd's 1979 rock opera, ``The Wall.''

Using a backlighted, scaffold-like set, ``Rear Light'' opens with 15 trench-coat-clad dancers climbing, crawling, sliding and otherwise inching their way through the labyrinth. The 70-minute work literally and figuratively reflects upon a young Chinese generation struggling to reconcile its traditional culture with influences from abroad and its thirst for freedom, explains Tsao.

The work is not Tsao's. It was co-choreographed by the company's deputy artistic director, Li Han-Zhong, and his wife, Ma Bo, a dancer in the company. The couple was inspired by Alan Parker's 1982 film ``The Wall,'' a video of which they received as a gift in 1999, nearly 20 years after Pink Floyd released the album of the same name. ``The Wall'' may be best-remembered for its use of environmental sounds (telephones ringing, clocks ticking, etc.) and its Orwellian protestation, ``We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control.'' When the song is performed in ``Rear Light,'' the dancers are caught up in bungee cords, which they try to stretch to the limit.

The work is dark with intermittent flashes of light. The dancers are in uniform: beige trench coats, black slacks, white shirts and black ties.

``Rear Light'' was originally created for Beijing Modern Dance Company's ``black box'' theater, in which the audience surrounds the stage and light was shined on the dancers from the sides and back. The audience members could see themselves through the dancers, making them part of the community. For the 2005 U.S. tour, the choreographers have had to adapt the 2001 work for the proscenium stage, making it more direct, said Tsao. The tour opened in Pennsylvania and concludes March 12 in Seattle.

``The dance explores a world where most lead their lives without direction and aim,'' says Tsao. ``The struggle to be free from tradition happens everywhere, but in watching 'Rear Light,' we can't help but think it is especially significant in China just now.''

Outlines of fallen bodies evoke the protest marchers of Tiananmen Square some 15 years ago. The hostile conformity of the crowd juxtaposed against the lone outsider comments on Chinese society.

It may also comment on modern dance in China. And Tsao is the father of it.

Tsao was born and educated in Hong Kong and received his modern dance training in the United States from 1973 to 1977. He founded the Hong Kong City Contemporary Dance Company in 1979 - he continues to direct the troupe - and introduced modern dance to mainland China in 1986, later establishing the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first professional modern dance company in China, serving as its artistic director from 1992 to 1998. Since 1999, he has been the artistic director for the Beijing Modern Dance Company, which is China's second government-approved modern dance company.

Tsao had to counter the resistance to modern dance in Beijing, where it was viewed as an evil Western art form. Modern dance was introduced to China in the 1920s, but it was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, when authorities deemed it a form of American imperialism and prohibited modern dance until 1980.

``Modern dance is the essence of the freedom of expression,'' says Tsao. ``I had to convince people that modern dance is not a Western art form.''

Tsao is optimistic that new ways of expression will take root in China, which traditionally has been ``very anti-body.''

``The painting, the cultural traditions, are not very revealing of the body, and the human body is very suppressed,'' he said. ``It could be a renaissance to the Chinese people, for the younger generation, as a new way to see one's body as a new way to express oneself.''

Following in the footsteps of his Hong Kong City Contemporary Dance Company, Tsao says he wants to make the Beijing Modern Dance Company a vehicle for young choreographers to create their own expression of their own age.

``I don't want to be stereotyped.''

BEIJING MODERN DANCE COMPANY

What: ``Rear Light,'' a full-length dance work set to Pink Floyd's ``The Wall.''

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $20 to $50. (213) 972-0711. www.musiccenter.org.

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Photo:

(1 -- 3 -- color) The Beijing Modern Dance Company's ``Rear Light'' is a 70-minute work on a scaffold-like set that uses music from Pink Floyd's ``The Wall.'' The work attempts to deal with a Chinese culture that is ``very anti-body,'' says artistic director Willy Tsao, at left.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 2, 2005
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