Jin Xing Dance Theatre Shanghai’s retrospective production Shanghai Tango reaches beyond choreographer Jin Xing’s personal odyssey.

Angelo Palombini,

Jin Xing


A bounty of cultural influences

  • Article by: CAROLINE PALMER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • February 20, 2012 - 9:40 AM

Much is made of Jin Xing's life story, and rightly so. Her journey from military dance ensemble to modern dance studio, male to female gender, acclaim in China to international applause is an admirable example of barrier busting. But once her company Jin Xing Dance Theatre Shanghai steps onstage -- as it did this weekend in a presentation by Northrop Dance at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis -- the choreography is what matters most. And yet this is another instance in which Jin Xing defies expectations.

The line between individual and artistic identity differs for everyone. Some offer no distinction while others make clear separations. Should we assume an artist's experiences always inform her work? Do we interpret her intentions solely through the lens of those experiences? No on both counts. And Jin Xing supports this with "Shanghai Tango," a retrospective of 10 works plus a coda spanning more than two decades of her career. Personal history is significant, but it is not the sum of this choreographer's artistry.

Saturday night's "Shanghai Tango" showcased an array of cultural influences. There were Chinese theatrical and visual references in the spectacular "Black and Red," for example, but the echo of western modern dance voices was present in other works, particularly Martha Graham in the grand use of space ("Half Dream") as well as Lucinda Childs in terms of minimalist flair ("Steps"). And the sensual duet "Island" was a hybrid of sorts, featuring two male dancers in a series of slow body-balances. It called to mind both the American troupe Pilobolus and Chinese acrobatic forms.

Jin Xing's perspective felt most subversive in "Four Happiness," a tart commentary on traditional female behavior, as well as in "Red Wine," perhaps the most overt reference to the push-and-pull of gender identity. But she also revealed an unfortunate tendency toward maximum melodrama. One piece, also named "Shanghai Tango," detailed a family-shattering love affair to the music of Astor Piazzolla. If there was any scenery it would have been chewed. And "Half Dream" was too enamored with its epic sweeps of movement.

The 12 dancers in the troupe showed strength and versatility, but did not always seem emotionally engaged. It was when the choreographer herself performed that we saw a demonstration of true passion, expressive dexterity and effortless fluency in technique, one that transcends categorization.

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