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Beijing Dance Theater


by David Mead

October 14, 2011 -- Sadler's Wells, London, UK

In three sections, “Haze” takes the audience on a journey that starts with figures being drawn through a dark world, through a confused and seemingly violent cityscape, to dreams of a distant future and a bright new world. If that is not a metaphor for today’s world, economically and environmentally, I’m not sure what is!

“Haze” has much to commend it in terms of atmosphere and design. The whole 75-minute piece takes place on a stage covered with springy foam that had the appearance of a bouncy mattress. It sometimes made it seem as if the dancers were in some ankle-deep morass on their journey in search of a better future. Not that the foam hindered the movement; far from it. It emphasises the lack of balance or certainty in the world and allows extra movement possibilities such as collapsing with a stock straight torso as if felled by a lumberjack’s axe.

The scenario and staging are promising, but Artistic Director and choreographer Wang Yuanyan (???) fails to develop them. The first section (“Light”) is by far the best. The wonderful lighting strikes through a mist, glints off the dancers’ bodies and bathes the stage a golden hue. Górecki’s String Quartet No.2 adds to the sense of foreboding and mystery. The dancers form small groups and they embody their struggle through the darkness, their often slow movement packed with feeling.

It is in the middle part (“City”) that the problems start to surface. The choreography loses effect as it becomes much more literal and the dancing much less assured as the cast act out a game of tag that becomes increasingly threatening as they circle an individual. Wang seems unable or unwilling to develop or vary the movement. More and more we see the whirling arms, rolls, and huge, sweeping rond de jambes that show off the dancers’ flexibility that are so common in contemporary dance in East Asia. There is little in the way of accent or change in tempo, although matters are not helped by Biosphere’s relentless music. There is much passing of movement phrases from dancer to dancer and a great deal of repetition, not least in the way the dancers constantly fall or hurl themselves into the floor.

The closing “Shore” that sees the dancers on an imagined shoreline is better, not least because everything is slowed down once more, which allows a sense of control to be regained. We are also back to Górecki, which helps enormously. But there is little new choreographically and the magic cast in those opening minutes has been long broken. Until, that is, the end, when Wang presents one of the most spellbinding, yet simple, conclusions to a work I have seen in years. At first the dancers teeter on the edge of the stage, the edge of an abyss perhaps, but then, for what must be something like three minutes, they stand stock still and stare towards a future that has hope, even if it seems so far away. Once again they are bathed in golden light, but now it snows. It is unbelievably stark and beautiful.

“Haze” continues on tour to:
Harvery Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City; Oct 19 - Oct 22
Kennedy Center, Washington DC; Oct 26 - Oct 27


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