Haze – Beijing Dance Theater: Sadler’s Wells, London, 13 October 2011

Not dancing but falling

Excuse us while we kick the sky. Beijing Dance Theater Haze it up.

The curtain opened on Beijing Dance Theater’s UK debut to a gorgeously lit scene of seven motionless dancers shrouded in mist amongst a series of dangling lanterns. The curtain closed an hour and a quarter later after several beautiful minutes of nothing except snowflakes fluttering to the floor. Most of what happened in-between was rather less absorbing.

Wang Yuanyuan has impressive credentials as resident choreographer for the National Ballet of China and guest choreographer for New York City Ballet. Haze is ostensibly her response to the economic and environmental crises of 2009 but apart from the ubiquitous smoky haze that hovers around the stage the work is so abstract that it’s difficult to quantify this.

The first ten minutes or so, set to the first movement of Gorecki’s Symphony No.3, are lovely. The choreography is at its best when matching the meditative nature of the music, particularly when the dancers roll across the floor at a snail’s pace stretching their limbs up crablike to the stars. By the time the Sorrowful Songs glide in, however, you’ve pretty much seen everything and are left with an hour of endless jumps, aimless running and childlike bed-jumping.

One of Haze’s biggest assets, but also one if its biggest drawbacks, is the spongey mat that replaces the traditional dancing surface. It enables the dancers to fling themselves fearlessly about and initiate a beguiling series of novel and spectacular landings. However, doubling as a metaphor for the precarious nature of life, the mat also caused physical problems that were difficult to reconcile against its intellectual standpoint; balance was obviously awkward to control and fluid movement across the stage difficult. The effect was ponderous and heavy-going for the performers and audience alike.

The dancers themselves, strong, athletic and striking in their shapes and energy, were also messy in their ensemble work (occasionally wildly so, as epitomised when one of the dancers was so far out of position when falling backwards to the floor that he cracked his head loudly against the hard floorboards surrounding the mat, thankfully causing no apparent damage to himself).

Still, the potential for this troupe, and Chinese dance in general, is obvious and important; BDT have already come a long way in their three-year history as China’s first contemporary dance company. The selection of a work that chases Western notions of dance was a brave one but in a crowded market you can’t help wishing that BDT had presented something of theirs that delves into the vast cultural riches that their homeland has to offer.

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3 Responses to Haze – Beijing Dance Theater: Sadler’s Wells, London, 13 October 2011

  1. siqing says:

    Thanks for this review, i went to the same show as you did last night where the dude cracked his head and i have to say that was the only exciting point for me for the whole evening (wondering if he was injured!). My friend and I actually walked out during the last 10 min as we couldn’t stand it anymore. At one point i was so bored that i wanted to scratch my eyes out.

    Anyway.. next time before i decide on going for a show i’ll definitely do more research!

  2. bill rolfes says:

    This review is spot on from our perspective. We were underwhelmed at the performance.

  3. I felt very uncertain about going to see this show on Sat. after the reviews, but found it to be entirely fascinating and thought provoking, evocative, well performed and not at all boring. I have seen boring dance [ unfortunately some of the dancing without any dance at Kalamata this year and with hideously loud music] The audience was very enthusiastic at the end. The bouncy surface made a new vocabulary of movement possible. I thought they were seeing the audience beyond the stage at the end, becoming self aware in a new way.

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