Po­etry in mo­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN NAN

Dancer uses fluid move­ments to in­ter­pret an­cient texts

She stands still, takes a deep breath, spreads her arms like wings and then thrusts them up­wards. She then stares at her long sleeves as they slowly slide down her arms.

She then re­peats the move a cou­ple of times and ends with a big smile.

This is Tang Shiyi’s mas­ter­class at the China Na­tional Opera & Dance Drama Theater, show­cas­ing shui xiu, which means water sleeves in Man­darin. It’s one of the most com­monly seen el­e­ments in tra­di­tional Chi­nese dance.

“Shui xiu is the most at­trac­tive part of tra­di­tional Chi­nese dance for me. Dancers do shui xiu to per­form var­i­ous move­ments, which ex­press the char­ac­ters’ emo­tions, such as ec­stasy, sad­ness and any in­tense feel­ing,” says Tang.

Shui xiu is also a cru­cial el­e­ment in Tang’s lat­est dance piece, The Flow­ing Dance From Tang Po­etry, which will be staged in Bei­jing on Dec 31 and Jan 1 at the Tian­qiao Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter.

The piece, which is pro­duced, chore­ographed and per­formed by Tang, was first played at the 18th China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber.

Tang, 26, who grad­u­ated from the Bei­jing Dance Acad­emy, is now the prin­ci­pal dancer of the China Na­tional Opera & Dance Drama Theater, and has won many top awards, in­clud­ing two at the Tao Li Cup, the top dance honor for young Chi­nese pro­fes­sional dancers.

She has also played lead­ing roles in dance dra­mas, such as Shui Yue Luo Shen in 2011, an adap­ta­tion of Ode to the Nymph of The River Luo (Luo Shen) writ­ten by the poet Cao Zhi of the Three King­doms pe­riod (220-280); Con­fu­cius (2013), which fol­lows the great Chi­nese sage trav­el­ing to 14 states with his stu­dents to spread his ideas; and Zhao­jun, based on the story of the leg­endary Wang Zhao­jun, a fa­mous an­cient Chi­nese beauty who vol­un­teers to marry a ruler of a Hun tribe in ex­change for friendly re­la­tions with the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC-AD 220).

The Flow­ing Dance From Tang Po­etry is Tang’s chore­og­ra­phy de­but, and com­bines three clas­sic Chi­nese po­ems from the Tang Dy­nasty (618907) — Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night, by poet Zhang Ruoxu; Song of Ev­er­last­ing Sor­row by poet Bai Juyi; and Sword Dance by poet Du Fu.

The idea of hav­ing her own chore­ographed pro­duc­tion came about in 2014 when Tang in­jured her hip dur­ing re­hearsal.

“I stopped danc­ing for a whole year, and I was wor­ried about my fu­ture,” says Tang.

“I have por­trayed many roles on­stage but none of them is me. I did not want to live my life in vain. I wanted to con­vey my ideas through danc­ing.”

Speak­ing about her show, she says that as the three po­ems come from dif­fer­ent times of the Tang Dy­nasty and re­volve around dif­fer­ent themes — such as the tragic ro­mance be­tween Em­peror Li Long ji and his fa­vorite con­cu­bine Yang Yuhuan, and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween na­ture and hu­mans — they of­fer her a chance to use dance to ex­press her artis­tic imag­i­na­tion.

For the show, Tang in­vited di­rect- or Tong Ruirui, com­poser Guo Sida, a live band fea­tur­ing flutist Ding Xiaokui, gui­tarist Shan Zi, cel­list Zhang Ping and guzheng (zither) player Ding Xue’r, as well as four dancers, to join in.

Speak­ing about his role, Tong, who has been work­ing with Tang since she was 16, says: “When she told me about her idea of com­bin­ing Tang po­etry with danc­ing, I was very in­ter­ested.

“I have chore­ographed many works for her and we are like teacher and stu­dent. But now she is more like my friend and she in­spires me with her un­der­stand­ing of tra­di­tional Chi­nese dance.”

Tong also says that though the im­age of the Tang Dy­nasty is of­ten associated with grand and lux­u­ri­ous scenes, for the dance piece, the stage set, cos­tumes and mu­sic will be sim­ple, con­tem­po­rary and ab­stract.

For in­stance, the com­poser Guo uses per­cus­sion to ad­dress the tempo and the set de­signer Liu Ke­dong uses bam­boo poles on­stage to por­tray the lay­ers of space.

Tang started learn­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese dance at age 6 be­fore re­ceiv­ing schol­ar­ships to study at the af­fil­i­ated mid­dle school of Bei­jing Dance Acad­emy. “I have spent most of my life in the re­hearsal room and yet I feel I do not know enough about tra­di­tional Chi­nese dance, which con­tains so much his­tory, cul­ture and Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy.

“I want to ex­pand tra­di­tional Chi­nese dance to a new di­men­sion and this piece is my first at­tempt. The process is very chal­leng­ing as well as com­pelling.”


Tang Shiyi show­cases shui xiu, or water sleeves, in her lat­est show TheFlow­ing DanceFromTangPoetry.

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