By Beatrice Rothweiler, CAAMCDT | October 2022
Autumn may be the most colorful of Minnesota’s seasons, but on Oct.15, the most vivid display of Chinese dance and music touched the hearts and souls of the audience of CAAM Chinese Dance Theater’s “Rhythm of Autumn: Invite the Moon to Dance” at the O’Shaughnessy in St. Paul.
To launch its 30th Anniversary season, CAAM Chinese Dance Theater collaborated with many professional artists, including pipa virtuoso Gao Hong; Ao Liu, CAAM Chinese Dance Theater’s own professional soloist; professional dance company Katha Dance Theatre; and St. Paul Ballet. Presenting its own dance artists under the direction and original choreography of Artistic Director Jinyu Zhou, they introduced a celebratory and highly skilled season for dance.
Performances and choreography varied in range and scope including contemporary Chinese dance, "Women, Life, Fire," that embodied femininity and tenacity of women as dazzling flames. "Black/White: Tai Chi Imagery" used tai chi push-hand combinations with stunning acrobatics, as well as “Dancing Tai Chi Fan,” a dramatic finale of yin and yang (flexibility and strength). Each performance, refreshing and energetic, enlarges our understanding of traditional ideas of Chinese culture brought to stage through choreography of Zhou and Liu, professional choreographers at CAAM Chinese Dance Theater.
Bringing lightness, joy, and humor to the program, emerging CAAM Chinese Dance Theater’s dance artists shared "Ah-Xi Dancing under the Moon,” a dance of the Ah-Xi people, part of the Yi ethnic group, by a bonfire under the moon, as well as "Shepherds" that depicts the life of shepherd and cow from a classic Chinese poem with choreography by Zhou.
Guest appearances included Katha Dance Theater performing dance of northern India with choreography of Rita Mustaphi, brilliantly enacted a ghazal poem of lovers greeting each other with flowers by the river at night. St. Paul Ballet dazzled with the distinctively revealing choreography of Helen Hatch, a distinguished Twin Cities contemporary ballet artist, in "Key to a Revelation" with music of Joseph Haydn. Each distinctive style and professional expression add to the brilliance of the show.
Ao Liu is CAAM CDT’s newest professional artist. She presented a solo, “Moonlight,” exemplifying women as the soul of moonlight, both quiet and flamboyant, in choreography created by Yang Liping, known in China as the “Peacock Queen.” Like her mentor, the silhouette of Liu's hands flutter like a bird, spread the wings of imagination while her body then quakes and explodes in the breathless shear energy.
The premiered dance works of CAAM CDT created for this production to highlight this season of the moon and its longings are likely to become hallmarks of the new performance direction under Zhou, its new artistic director. Dancers, embodying blooming flowers on flowing water clothed in water-colored dresses, under airy moonlight, awaken "Moonlight over Spring River," the beloved poem of the Tang Dynasty. Set to live music under the musical direction of pipa master Gao and choreography by Zhou, the audience was captivated by its sheer beauty and grace. The lightness of guzheng, intoxicating waves of phoenix flute, silkiness of erhu and captivating song of pipa transformed the ethereal dancers.
Next master improv artists, Liu and Gao, soloists collaborating together, hypnotized the audience with riveting, then soothing, phrases of movement and song as their collaboration drew each other across the stage both metaphorically and physically. The audience burst into applause, shouting out loud.
The last premiered work by Zhou for this season opener, "Reverie for the Moon,” is based on a poem by Su Shi of the Song Dynasty, describing wishes for a long life and, despite separation from loved ones, they all share the brilliance of the same moon. The performance expressed the nostalgia of the verses. Just as the themes embraced by this dance CDT presented an inspiring program with hints of many more years to come of brilliant dance and novel artistic ideas for consideration.
CAAM CDT appeared with pipa master Gao and the Carleton Musical Instrument Orchestra again on Oct. 30 on the Carleton College campus with a similar program for those who missed the Oct. 15 performance, or, for many of us, who just didn’t get enough of the earlier one.
Twin Cities audiences don’t need to wait long for more uniquely imaginative programming: CAAM Chinese Dance Theater will present its well-known and beloved Chinese New Year program on the O’Shaughnessy stage the weekend of Feb. 4 & 5, 2023. More details and tickets will be available on the O’Shaughnessy and CAAM Chinese Dance Theater’s websites soon!
Dazzling “red flames” in “Women, Life, Fire”
Gao and Liu in an improv session
Katha Dance Theater performing dance of northern India
Apart from the moon in the background, there’s nothing “E.T.” about this image. It was taken at a local celebratory performance in conjunction with the Moon Festival. However, the audience was just as mesmerized by the experience as movie-goers to the extra-terrestrial film were back in 1982. What local event was this?