Friday, October 21, 2005

The Wall endures

One of the more unique offerings at TBPAC this season is a new dance piece from the Beijing Modern Dance Company. The piece, Rear Light, is wholly inspired by and set to Pink Floyd's seminal album The Wall.

From the videotape that I watched and the promotional materials I've read, the piece explores an issue highly relevant to Chinese society today - a young Chinese generation's struggle to reconcile its traditional culture with western influences and a thirst for freedom.

Imagine a company of beautiful, athletic chinese dancers - half of them dressed in school uniforms and the other half in suits and trench coats - manifesting the epic struggle that coarses through Roger Waters' powerful lyrics. The titular rear light is used throughout the show creating breathtaking silhouette effects as the dancers leap, climb and enact a universally human struggle. The tape I watched was a copy of a copy, and converted from PAL to NTSC to boot, so I can't wait to see this show live.

In our post-Tienanmen world I often forget that the Communist Chinese government still has supressive control over that culture, regardless of the economic gains the country has made in recent years. I was reminded of this again when I read a news story on a Chinese national/Australian citizen that had toured to China with the Sydney Dance Company. The dancer was stopped and detained in Shanghai for handing out "pro-democracy" materials, and was said to be a member of the Falun Gong spirituality (a practice that shares teachings with Taoism and Buddhism) which is currently facing a tremendous amount of persecution by the Chinese government.

Falun Gong has groups across the world trying to gain support and exposure. My boss mentioned going to New York with his wife and seeing members holding a rally and spreading information via pamphlets and conversing with passers-by. The president of TBPAC also saw members in Beijing, but in a much more subdued setting as they had simple, quiet dawn services along with morning Tai Chi exercises. She would have never even known who they were, particularly considering how common morning Tai Chi exercises are in that country, but a local pointed them out to her.

Speaking of the president, she tells a great story about her trip to Beijing, where she discovered this company and this show. While in China on an ISPA conference, many of the organizations present were told about this young, dynamic company. They ended up pressing their local hosts as to how to find the company, then chartered two busses and set out for a trek. She said the drive was very long and they ended up arriving at a location that looked like a ill-equipped high school gymnatorium. Immediately, several of the conference attendees felt perhaps they had wasted their time on the excursion, but once the performance started they were all blown away.

All agreed that the performance was exquisite and had elevated the dance genre to a new level. The bus ride back to the city was spent discussing how these various performing arts institutions could band together and bring this group to the United States. It took two years to make these dreams manifest, but now Tampa has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this immediate, relevant work.

So how did the inspiration come for the piece? The choreographer says that he'd never even heard of Pink Floyd, but a friend purchased the film version as a gift knowing he was a big fan of animation. Watching the movie and hearing the power of the music - even without an understanding of the lyrics at the time - he immediately knew that this was a story that represented the Chinese struggle and set forth on his work.

-David J.

1 comment:

Hawkeyeconoclast said...

Speaking of The Wall, I've had direction of "The Berlin Wall Art Project" fatefully cast upon me. I came across your blog through the TPAC e-mail newsletter. Here's a link to a preliminary page I've put up about this remarkable project of art & history.
Is there anyone at TPAC that you know of that may want to know about this project to perhaps display a piece at the upcoming Rear Light dance performance. Oops just realized that performance is today.

Thanks for your blog.
Keep the vibe alive,
Eric Haase
Social Imagineer & multi-media artist