Thetea­spell: A Mod­ern Ex­pres­sion of Chi­nese Con­tem­po­rary Dance

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Gong Haiy­ing

On Septem­ber 2, the aroma of hot tea swept through 300-year-old Zhengyici Pek­ing Opera Theatre as the au­di­ence set­tled in for the show. A fe­male dancer in white sipped tea and took ques­tions from spec­ta­tors. Con­trast­ing most opera stages with a strict prosce­nium, the stage of Zhengyici Pek­ing Opera Theatre thrusts far out into the au­di­to­rium. The tea cer­e­mony took place in the VIP seats. Zhao Liang, a Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary dance artist and di­rec- tor of the opera, in­tro­duced that the per­for­mance kicked off as the tea cer­e­mony be­gan.

Then, seven dancers leaped and moved across the stage of the scar­let theater, so close to the au­di­ence that the first row caught beads of their sweat. The stage was de­signed by Zhang Liang, who be­lieves that good art should be ex­pres­sive from mul­ti­ple di­men­sions and that fu­ture art will fo­cus more on “in­tegrity” and fea­ture greater in­ter­ac­tion with the au­di­ence.

The Tea Spell is the sec­ond part of the tril­ogy Ori­en­tal Soul & De­sire and was first per­formed in 2012. The first in­stall­ment, Dreams of Zen, was first per­formed in 2011, the third in 2015. This opera fo­cused on China’s cul­ture of Zen and tea and was in­spired by a del­i­cate tea set un­earthed from an un­der­ground palace of Tang Dy­nasty that is con­sid­ered the old­est and largest sur­viv­ing un­der­ground Bud­dhist palace.

The opera is per­formed with tea as a driv­ing sym­bol. The beau­ti­ful fe­male “Teafairy,” played by a man, meets three peo­ple: a wood cut­ter, a dig­ni­tary, and a monk. Those three peo­ple have dif­fer- ent ideas when meet­ing the hero­ine. The chore­og­ra­phy is con­cise. The makeup, cos­tume and dance steps of The Tea Spell were in­spired by tra­di­tional Chi­nese opera in­clud­ing Kunqu Opera and Bei­jing Opera. Ev­ery frame presents a Chi­nese style free­hand brush­work paint­ing. The per­for­mance was hailed for “cre­at­ing an ‘an­cient Ori­ent’ in mod­ern times.”

Huang Yin­ran, a renowned Chi­nese art plan­ner and poet, said that Zen and tea are the two el­e­ments that rep­re­sent pro­found tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture through two im­por­tant di­men­sions. The Tea Spell was in­tended to pro­mote tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul- ture from the day of its in­cep­tion. How­ever, the opera be­came much more. The wood cut­ter, dig­ni­tary and monk, in fact, rep­re­sent three types of peo­ple, each rep­re­sent­ing var­i­ous lev­els of iden­tity, ego, and super­ego in times past. The opera is hailed as a “pi­o­neer­ing mix­ture of Ori­en­tal aes­thet­ics and west­ern nar­ra­tive.”

Af­ter its first show in Bei­jing on Oc­to­ber 31, 2012, The Tea Spell was rec­om­mended by China’s Min­istry of Cul­ture to be per­formed in the Chi­nese cul­tural year in Ger­many in early Novem­ber that year. The opera group has since vis­ited Seoul and the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val. The opera was in­vited to per­form in the Suzanne Dal­lal Cen­tre for Dance and Theatre in Is­rael in Oc­to­ber this year.

Zhao Liang re­marked that The Tea Spell is not con­fined to the lim­its of a room. “It is what art should be rep­re­sented as in a free state,” he ar­gued. “In the fu­ture, I will present dif­fer­ent ver­sions and forms based on the ar­chi­tec­ture of the per­for­mance space.” Zhao Liang has paved a unique road to ex­plore the mod­ern ex­pres­sion of Chi­nese dance, which has cre­ated count­less new av­enues for ex­pres­sion.

With “tea” as the theme, the beau­ti­ful fe­male Teafairy (played by a male dancer) meets three peo­ple: a wood cut­ter, a dig­ni­tary and a monk. Above is the Teafairy played by Yang Hai­long. by Lau­rent Hou

On the right is “Purewhite,” played by young Chi­nese dancer Li Nan. Although a bit part in the pro­duc­tion, “Purewhite” is present every­where. by Moon

Street shot of the cast of The Tea Spell in Ed­in­burgh. As a spe­cial pro­gram for cul­tural co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the U.K., The Tea Spell showed on Au­gust 13, 2017 dur­ing the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val. by Jin Yuxin

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