BWW Review: CHINA NATIONAL OPERA & DANCE DRAMA THEATER Offers a Winning Production of Confucius
China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG) returned to the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on January 5th, 6th, and 7th 2017 with Confucius, a new dance drama performed by the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. The production, directed and choreographed by Kong Dexin who is a 77th-generation direct descendant of Confucius, was a mesmerizing display of dance that was seamlessly infused with expert acrobatics. I expected nothing less after having covered three previous offerings by CAEG over the years.
For the current dance drama, the story line by playwright Lui Chun -- with a Prologue, four Acts, and an Epilogue - told of the journey of Confucius that resulted in his philosophy spreading throughout China. As a reminder, Confucius -- who lived from 551 to 479 BC -- was a philosopher, politician, and teacher during an era of moral and political upheaval in China. Confucianism, his legacy, is one of the foundations of Chinese culture.
During the performance, titles and quotes appeared on lighted signs at either side of the stage, a conceit that was occasionally helpful but by and large distracted me from the exquisite dancing. After having read the synopsis and notes in the Playbill before the curtain rose - or actually without even having read anything -- I could easily have followed the narrative from the movement alone, which is what dance is all about. No translation or verbal crutches are needed. Back when I was the Artistic Director of a ballet outreach company in New York City, I used to tell the schoolchildren during the very first lesson that our productions would have "no voices". One child piped up and said, "I get it! This is like sign language!" Out of the mouths of babes. Many of the classes I taught included English Language Learners, all of whom understood the "sign language " of ballet immediately. I wish the Chinese troupe had trusted the audience to understand the message of the movements instead of pulling our attention away with written words. Yes, some of the signs had inspiring quotes by Confucius that were not in the Playbill, but that was even more frustrating because I kept trying to remember the quotes after having seen them flashed on the signs for only a few moments during which the dancing was vying for my attention.
But enough carping. Overall, Confucius was an indelibly positive experience delivered by top notch performers. I was especially captivated by the sections when the women executed the Chinese Classical heel-to-toe form of walking that makes them look as though they are rolling. Also, Tang Shiyi in the lead role of the Concubine proved to be a skilled and supple dancer/acrobat whose multiple airplane turns left the audience gasping. Hu Yang as Confucius, with excellent technique, was wonderfully expressive. Perhaps best of all, though, the ensemble of 55 first-rate performers was impeccably rehearsed - both the men and the women. A special mention to Costume Designer Yong Donglin for the colorful and dance-worthy garb, often with flowing sleeves that were incorporated into the choreography.
Confucius, which is a part of CAEG's Image China cultural exchange initiative, will have a January 13th to 15th run at The Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. If you'll be in the area, don't miss the opportunity to see this extraordinary production. Ticket prices range from $30 to $150 and can be purchased online at https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/RRXAG.
Photo by Liu Haidong