'My Dream' Redux: An Inspiring, Dramatic Tour de Force

December 30, 2018  Editor: Xie Wen
Artists perform Thousand-hand Bodhisattva dance. [Xinhua]

 

Theatergoers with tickets to the current offering at the Beijing Exhibition Theater are in for a treat as a famed Chinese artistic troupe is back in town, opening its iconic show My Dream with a new repertoire on Thursday.

The music-and-dance variety show, produced by the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe, has just returned from a successful international tour that includes stops in New York, Ottawa, Montreal and Macau, with packed houses and resounding applause. At the Lincoln Center, UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa called the troupe's artists "cultural ambassadors for goodwill among peoples".

In the decades since its inception in 2000, the show has never stopped reinventing itself in pursuit of greater professional excellence. New pieces are constantly added, as are new recruits, yet what remains unchanged over the years is the show's inspirational energy.

The formula is unvarying as it's awe-inspiring: a juxtaposition of the artists' bewitchingly effortless brilliance and the insurmountable hurdles they must overcome to achieve that effect, as none in the audience is unaware of the fact that all the performers glittering on stage have impaired vision or hearing; some are even mentally or physically challenged.

A group ballet dance coupled with a sign-language speech by the troupe's president, Tai Lihua, launched Thursday's revival of My Dream. "With such love and care, even a damaged tree provides green shady shelter, and even a broken flower gives off its fragrance," she said. There couldn't be a better summery of the show's essence, as it's indeed about love.

What followed immediately was The Paradise by Yang Haitao and his brother Yang Haijun, a soothing serenade that catapulted Haitao to national prominence when he performed it at the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

The brothers barely moved once led on stage, their eyes unable to see the applauding multitude before them. Heads tilted upward expectantly, they started the tune:

Gently your hands grace my face.

Quietly I feel your warmth beside me.

Even though I cannot see you,

Or your shadow.

I know you are right here,

Right here with me.

The voices were dulcet and becalming, their rendition of the song's longing evocative but never sentimental. It had an instant resonance that may be hard to explain, but is natural to blind artists bestowed with such beauty and dignity. The Yang brothers' performance was both humbling and inspiring to their audience as there was no mistaking its artistic value.

That effect - dignity in restraint, yet therefore all the more dazzling - was just as true for the other performances.

There were group dances; some highly synchronized, like Never Stopped Dancing, others with complex sequences that required fluid transitions and interactions, like The Other Shore. The visual impressions, however, were the same: if not for the conductors gesturing on the stage wings, you wouldn't know the prancing artists are deaf and must rely on sign language to cue their internalized rhythm and pace. The requisite discipline behind such theatrical splendor was never spoken aloud but was heard in the mind of every audience member.

More tunes were offered, including the nostalgic Pear Flowers Bloom Again, a paean to hometown and mother, the all-time classic hymn Amazing Grace, and the ebullient sing-along, We Are the World.

Blind pianist Jin Yuanhui played a solo, the C minor Fantaisie-Impromptu by Chopin. Music Along the Silk Road, as the name implies, is a fest for folk musical instruments. There was also an excerpt from a dance drama, Butterfly Lovers, a tragic tale of young love often conveniently - if a bit too summarily - referred to as China's Romeo and Juliet.

Of course, by now it would be unthinkable if any revival of My Dream didn't include the troupe's signature sensation, the show-stopping Thousand-hand Bodhisattva, arguably the repertoire's most challenging piece. To recreate the Buddhist deity in its amorphous magnificence - extending her (there have been inconclusive debates if it should be his instead) helping hands to the suffering mass - twenty-one dancers had to queue up in a bee line, with only the foremost visible to the audience while all others coordinated their hand gestures in the back. Collective precision, not only synchronized but in sequence as well, was the key here, and don't forget that all the 21 artists are deaf, unable to hear musical cues and reliant on the sign conductors in the wings. It was an ornate, golden, and mesmerizing performance, by far the biggest visual reward in the show.

Thursday's revival, on the occasion of the troupe's 30th anniversary and two score years of China's reform and opening up policy, was also a charity performance organized by the China Disabled Persons' Federation. The Beijing Exhibition Theater, with over 2700 seats, was packed with invited attendees, including disabled people and handicapped workers in Beijing, representatives from various UN agencies and other international interest groups in China, foreign diplomats and college and high school students. The aisles were packed with a traffic jam of wheelchairs.

The show's perennial popularity – it's been staged more than two thousand times in over a hundred countries - is a testament to its transcending artistic appeal, as it speaks in the universal and timeless language of beauty and resilience, of dignity and hope.

But if Thousand-hand Bodhisattva was the show's undisputed visual climax, it's perhaps In Soundless that proved the afternoon's most stirring moment. The solo dance by Zhang Tianjiao, about an aspirant ballet dancer's perseverance and triumph, is one of the recent additions to the troupe's repertoire.

Zhang took the stage in a black tutu, where she strutted and pranced, with such tender vibrancy that her slender shape, glorified in an expressive self-designed choreography, presented the revival's most potent symbol of human beauty and vitality. Such was her unabashed confidence that in the few seconds of a three-spin pirouette she seemed to completely cast off life's imperfections. A fleeting illusion indeed, but an unforgettable triumph shared with her audience.

By the end of the two-hour show, the thunderous applause was perhaps the best reward to the troupe's artists, even though not all of them could hear the cries of "Bravo!", nor see the audience's beaming smiles. But as the afternoon's opening song said:

I know you are right here,

Right here with me.

(Source: China Daily)

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