Dance review: Spring Ritual - Eulogy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 5:32am

Spring Ritual - Eulogy

Hong Kong Dance Company

Cultural Centre Grand Theatre


The ancient art of calligraphy was traditionally more prized in China than the art of painting, and creates an impact far greater than (and distinct from) the words of its texts. It has much in common with dance - both art forms convey emotions and ideas through the visual power of line and movement - and choreographers have created work that draws on this kinship.

The latest is Yang Yuntao, whose new production for Hong Kong Dance Company, Spring Ritual - Eulogy , is inspired by two legendary calligraphers - Wang Xizhi (AD303-361) and Yan Zhenqing (AD709-785).

In the first half, Yang produces some imaginative, fluid choreography to evoke images of calligraphy with the dancers' bodies, which form well-defined black shapes against a white backcloth with the aid of Lin Ching-ju's fine costumes. In an outstanding sequence the dancers run and whirl across the stage manipulating swathes of black fabric, vividly creating the effect of ink flowing from the brush onto paper.

The section ends with Wang Xizhi himself (elegantly portrayed by Liu Yinghong) in a lyrical dance that pays tribute to the sense of tranquillity and joy that distinguishes Wang's masterpiece, Preface to Poems from the Orchid Pavilion.

The second half moves to a more narrative mode, based on Yan Zhenqing's Eulogy for a Nephew. The aged Yan (a powerful performance by Huang Lei) pours his grief and outrage over the brutal execution of his nephew into his calligraphy. There is some well-structured group work and the high point is a stunning passage where four men perform impassioned, warlike solos in the corners of the stage, each in turn picked out by a powerful spotlight.

Some ideas don't come off completely, notably the ending where a huge rock (looking like the asteroid from the Hollywood blockbuster Armageddon) is lowered very slowly to the stage to portentous music while Yan's calligraphy is projected on to it.

Overall, however, the piece confirms Yang as a choreographer of intelligence and originality. Design, lighting and music are effective and the dancing is excellent.

Natasha Rogai