Review: Chinese troupe shows indie spirit

  • Article by: CAROLINE PALMER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2011 - 3:57 PM

China's first independent modern troupe displays passion and power in its Minnesota debut.

BeijingDance/LDTX, China's first nongovernmental and independent professional dance company, made its Minnesota debut Tuesday night at the Ordway Center in St. Paul. What does LDTX stand for? Lei Dong Tian Xia ("Thunder Rumbles Under Heaven") and indeed there were moments, particularly during the final work of the evening, "All River Red," when the dancing itself seemed like a force of nature.

The six-year-old troupe, led by artistic director Willy Tsao (who studied with St. Paul teacher Kathy Mohn while training in the United States), seeks to expand contemporary dance in China. "All River Red," for example, choreographed by deputy artistic director Li Hanzhong and Ma Bo, re-imagines "The Rite of Spring" by using Igor Stravinsky's famous revolutionary score to explore the aesthetic and political influences that propel a dramatic shift from tradition to innovation.

The choreography recalled some aspects of Vaslav Nijinsky's 1913 version of "The Rite of Spring," particularly in the push-pull dynamic that emerges between the individual and the community, but mostly it communicated a 21st-century blend of passion and power that informs Western audiences about the fast-changing cultural environment in China. The highly skilled dancers performed with an emotional intensity equal to Stravinsky's epic score.

Other pieces showed similar promise, although none surpassed the originality of "All River Red." An excerpt from "The Cold Dagger," also choreographed by Li and Ma, is a fairly standard modern piece inspired by strategic elements of chess, with flowing movement incorporating fighting stances drawn from martial arts. The work is visually busy -- perhaps too many competing stylistic ideas -- but it also has one of the better endings (or endgames) in recent memory for a dance work, as one in a large group of dancers is felled by an imaginary arrow.

Liu Bin's "Sky" dwelled too extensively on modern dance's more introspective tendencies, unwittingly creating a divide between the performers and audience. On the other hand, an excerpt from "One Table N Chairs," choreographed by Tsao, Li and Ma, fascinated with its mash-up of club-kid fashion and a soundtrack from Chinese opera. Dressed in silver trench coats, the performers created tableaux that may or may not be directly related to the opera's actual story line. It was an odd yet effective cross-genre pairing that once again illustrated Beijing/LDTX's determination to transcend tradition in favor of a more expansive -- and eclectic -- future.

Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.

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