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By Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC
October 19–22, 2011
Performance reviewed: Oct. 21
By Eva Yaa Asantewaa
For its U.S. premiere at BAM’s Next Wave Festival, Beijing Dance Theater rode in on a big concept, filled the Harvey Theater’s space with sophisticated eye candy, and failed to leave a sustainable impression. Wang Yuanyuan’s stage picture, like her ensemble, looked both handsome and downright puzzling. If you’re creating a dance about environmental crisis—a growing concern in your city and nation—why on earth make air pollution and the affected populace look so uniformly lovely?
The problem for viewers starts with well-intentioned concert notes and an “Artists’ Statement”—both drafted under the assumption that we need to be told what we will soon see for ourselves and that “Haze, as a type of air pollution, is in fact a product of the process of industrialization.” When we close the program notes and watch the actual dance, we’ve already learned everything it has to tell us. All that remains, then, is to experience Wang’s troupe of 17 sleek, pliant dancers as they work through 70 minutes of choreographic sameness.
Set to compositions by Henryk Górecki and Norwegian musician Biosphere, Haze takes place amid some of the shapeliest, most picturesque theatrical smoke effects I’ve ever seen. This atmosphere—lit to reflect various degrees of brightness, temperature, maybe even personality—is as precisely controlled as the dancers who repeatedly rock, bend, spring and noiselessly flop in clever variations across a grid of mats embedded in the stage floor. From our distance, this unusual surface resembles parched gray clay earth–as well as, unavoidably, the dust of 9/11—although dancers sink into it, down to their ankles, as if it were mud. The very fact that Wang’s surefooted performers clearly have no trouble negotiating their spongey flooring, at any speed or angle of attack, undercuts the meaning (environmental and economic destabilization) that she and set designer Tan Shaoyuan intended.
As a finale, a lingering one, snow falls upon motionless dancers scattered around the stage. A pretty sight, although, like all snow scenes, a little melancholy, too. And one might be provoked to ask, “Shouldn’t someone check the chemical mix in that snow?”
Photos: Beijing Dance Theater in Wang Yuanyuan Haze. By Jack Vartoogian, courtesy BAM.