Spring Equinox 2015: a showcase of the LDTX dancers’ own choreography

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In their Spring Equinox programme, the LDTX dancers presented an array of creative and innovative new choreographies. On the last Saturday of March, a huge crowd squeezed into the LDTX studio in Southeast Beijing to watch eight of the fourteen works created by the LDTX dancers. The company founder, Willy Tsao, welcomed everyone warmly (in both English and Chinese), proudly overlooking his dancers’ brave new works, and encouraging everyone to return for part two a week later.

The overwhelming feeling I got while watching these pieces was sparked by the litheness of the dancing bodies before me, and the emotional maturity of every dancer who took to the stage. Tsao’s dancers are phenomenal and interesting movers. While this means there is never a boring moment, there were of course some stand-out pieces of the evening.

The show opened with Gong Xing-xing’s A Space, in which three dancers in stripy pyjamas play around a trampoline. At first, the two men (Adiya and Bai Hua) seem completely oblivious to one another despite dancing in unison, playing on the bar of the upside-down frame. They seem preoccupied by something off to their left, and keep throwing nervous glances over their shoulders. A poetic moment reveals a third dancer (Gong) beneath the trampoline, her lithe legs picked out by an intense orange beam of sunny light. The three frolic playfully around, under, and upon the trampoline – peering over the edge, hands pushing on one another’s heads, competing for a better view – until Gong departs, leaving her pyjamas crumpled on the floor. These Adiya and Bai squirrel away eagerly and hang from the edge of the trampoline, as if creating a den. A final, sad trio ensues with the men below echoing Gong’s movements atop the trampoline, a circle of hazy light filtering through its surface from above as they share their pain.

Themes of pain and sadness resurfaced in Li Ke-Hua’s Waiting. Three women (Li, Tang Ting-ting and Fan Lu) are anchored to a single desk. Li’s walks her hands back and forth along the tabletop in her impatience. Sparks fly as Tang spars sexily across the table with Ma Yue, but ultimately he leaves her alone. The three sit together, as if communing their sorrows yet absent-mindedly unaware of one another. They pile up their heads in the centre of the table. Li puts her hands to her face yet they become other women’s hands. She seems haunted by ideas and ghosts of the other women in his life. Hands interlinked over their heads and foreheads to the desk, they convey a deep loneliness in the company of these other women.

One
One

The courage that Li, Tang and Fan had lost bestowed itself upon Qian Kun in Zhaxiwangjia’s One. This piece opens with one man (Zhaxiwangjia) slowly adorning another (Qian) with a pile of identical pale blue dress shirts – each one is wrapped around his neck or draped over his head. Cue five other dancers in need of a shirt. Once identically dressed they move together – all except one. Qian is ostracised, not by the behaviour of the group, but through his own choice. The group commands the space. The role of outsider shifts – one lone body is absorbed and another spat out – and whoever sees the group from without bursts into laughter. The six soon collapse, catatonic in their hysterics. In walks the director to haul them up. There’s a wonderful feeling of brotherhood. A string of grasped elbows links them like the joists between steam engine wheels, while one stands a head above the rest. One flies for them all. One hand stretched out in front of him, Qian searches the air for a connection, while others’ hands find, grasp and release each other all around him. As he stumbles towards Zhaxiwangjia, seated downstage, it suddenly feels Truman Show-esque so I’m not surprised by the vigorous fight that ensues. I am surprised, however, when Qian empties the colourful contents of the clothing bucket over his head, and wears the bucket itself!

Among the interesting solo pieces – Lesiurely, Roam by Ma Yue, ? by Gao Yang, Boundary by Liu Sen-Lin and Lycoris Radiata Fan Lu – I was particularly touched by the combination of sadness and playful experiment in Qian Kun’s Light Up The Darkness. Seemingly drawing inspiration form Charlie Chaplin, Qian plays with black paint on a white glove, getting it all over himself in the process, ending the piece by seeking (and receiving) a warm embrace from an audience member.

All of the pieces showcased in this first show were exciting, emotionally mature and beautifully danced. I took 21 twenty-something science students to watch this, their first live contemporary dance performance. Their summary? They “didn’t understand” much but decided “art doesn’t need language”. What a wonderful message borne by the LDTX dancers.

Doll
Doll

Building upon the first week’s stunning performances, the LDTX dancers presented another six brilliant new works in the second instalment of their Spring Equinox programme in Beijing.

The evening opened with an intense piece, Doll by Du Yan-hao. Seemingly naked bodies writhed in neon-lit Perspex boxes; shiny tar-black masks hid the dancers’ faces and disjointed limbs pushed through a screen en masse, giving Doll an edgy, futuristic aesthetic. Du’s choreography for 10 dancers saw them tangled in a heap on the floor, twitching and jerking up and down, one off-kilter movement sparking the next in clockwork fashion. Re-stacking themselves, five bodies disappear beneath the others as they arrange their feet in an unbroken line, each dancer’s feet indistinguishable from the next pair. Moving only below the knee, the twenty feet swing through the air, hitting the right-angle like hammers inside a piano and falling back to the floor in unison. The mechanismic quality of movement continues throughout the piece with dancers stepping through a production line manipulated as if undergoing rigorous product testing. Bodies collapse like string puppets as they are lifted from behind, their legs moving like pistons in the air, heads lolloping forward and their elbows rising up and out in suspense.

Continuing along a similar vein, Tang Ting-Ting’s duet, Reflection, was fast-paced, punchy and unrelenting. Tang and Du create a dark, shadowy atmosphere in which their intense relationship swings between passion and violence. He pulls her around by her long hair, catching her as she falls backwards into his grasp and never allowing her far from his reach. Yet she seems to revel in this connection, pulling her own hair in his absence. They share a quick angular duet on the floor, echoing one another’s movements while casting misshapen shadows. A large projection in black and white on the back wall further explores the power balance between the two dancers, her hands becoming his hands on her face, gradually melding with his face and finally zooming in on his lingering defiant gaze.

Liu Yin-Tao’s playful, swinging Fade Away and Jin Xiao-Lin’s sombre Where each contained aesthetically pleasing moments – particularly the unpacking and re-stacking of a set of chair frames like Russian dolls in Where. However, I felt the strongest emotions emerge from the two solo works of the evening.

Adiya’s Everywhere opens as he pats a cloud of white dust from his dirty clothing in a pool of light. Just as the smoky plume settles, he reemerges from the shadows to draw patterns on the dusty floor. Everywhere is extremely touching in its almost Sisyphean spiraling movement, Adiya falling to the dusty floor time and again, often seeming catatonic with despair and unable to rouse himself, only to rise and pat off the dust once more. It is as though the repetitive circular motion leads him away from his sadness and back to it interminably, sobs wracking his body between moments of strength. The piece is beautifully framed by an expanding circle of light that retracts and finally encloses him in darkness.

Similarly shrouded in sadness, Liu Ying’s Untouchable is sensitive and thoroughly human. Liu’s long expressive limbs contain a delicacy that enables her to appear almost weightless, yet the emotions she communicates kept her fully grounded in reality. The shiver of her spine and the shake of her back as she lies foetal on the floor convey a deep sadness that is quickly brushed aside by the shake of her head. Her fleeting emotions are almost childlike; she flips onto her stomach, cocks her head and her feet swing up in boredom. Looking ethereal in a floating white dress, Liu’s simple movements somehow get right to the core complexity of being human. Untouchable is a truly beautiful four minutes.

First Ritual
First Ritual

After the wide array of new works choreographed by the LDTX dancers, a revival of First Ritual by Li Han-Zhong and Ma Bo seemed a strange choice for the evening’s finale. While the interesting movement vocabulary was handled well by the dancers, the sensitivity of the previous pieces dissipated with the harsh, booming voiceover and elaborate costume design of this larger group piece. Compelling themes surrounding ritual, identity and mob mentality emerge through dynamic visual effects – bowls of clear water turning bright colours; a suspended empty traditional coat swung wildly around – but I couldn’t help thinking that this loud, dramatic work had best stand alone. The purpose of this arrangement, though, was to showcase the work before LDTX take First Ritual to the Macau Arts Festival in May.

Once again, the LDTX dancers stunned and amazed the audience at their studios in Southeast Beijing (yet more of my students among them). Their Spring Equinox programme was packed full of mature, sensitive and interesting works by the dancers-turned-choreographers, whose work I hope will be seen at larger events in future.

First published as two reviews for Bachtrack.com in late March and early April 2015. Read my review of Spring Equinox Programme I here and my review of Spring Equinox Programme II here.

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