China, Dance, International, Phoenix, Lee Pui Ming, Hawaii, Theatre, Pianist, Cultural, Letoto
The pamphlet cover reads:
“Bridging cultural perspectives of our past,
present and future”.
The announcer echoes this sentiment at the prelude to act one:
“An Exploration of Chinese Culture through time and space.” He gives a brief history of Chinese folk dance, mentioning the late Professor Liu Youlan, an ethnic folk dance specialist of the Beijing Dance Academy in the 1930's. He speaks of Liu's vision, her hope that her contribution would build a bridge between eastern and western cultures.
The Phoenix Dance Chamber (http://hfcca.org/pdc.html) featured this evening was founded by Diane Letoto, and draws from Professor Youlan's genius.
This performance takes place at the "Pride of the Pacific" Hawaii Theatre in historic downtown Honolulu (http://www.hawaiitheatre.com/). How can I begin to describe the way this theater evokes the charm of another age ? You must come here to experience it, with it's rich red velvet curtains, ornate gold Bas-relief sculptures peeking from the tops of fluted columns, and ornate latticework; a perfect foil for the evening's entertainment.
Without much pomp or fanfare, the show begins, unfurling as crisply and brightly as handkerchiefs from a magician's sleeve.
Act One, Flower Mountain Festival: choreography, Leon Letoto
Dancers enter, bird like; the sound of glittering bangles on headdresses and chest ornaments mingling with the drumming of the solo accompanist. A huge drum in the foreground is a beautiful counterpoint to the swirling dancers, the percussionist beating on the skin and rim, creating a pattern for the dancers to play off of.
I seek patterns. I notice elements in the dance. Some moves are light and graceful like a simple ballet, and yet a folk style is interwoven in the movements, more indigenous, earthy. The announcer describes the intent of this traditional dance as “an attempt to attract the attention of future husbands”. The hand gestures are strange and pronounced, dynamic moves of hand and wrist. Dresses (pink and blue) are knee length and flared. Dancers: Valerie Au, Karen Chan, Jessica Cheng, Betsy Giguere, Mara Ho, Annemarie (Meinei) Lee, Victoria Lee, Jen Lum, Drummer: Leon Letoto
Act Two, Big Rain Drops: adapted choreography, Gina Ling
The next dance describes the monsoon season. Thunderstorms are commonplace in this region and are more fun than scary for the children. This is a gentle dance with young girls accented by luminous, pale green umbrellas and a violet backdrop. The music is traditional and interspersed with sounds of water and children's' laughing voices; the girls are sweetly hypnotic with their twirling umbrellas. Dancers:
Grace Brown, Juliana Chang, Avery Chung, Evonne Ho, Aimee-Louise (Lan Lan) Lee, Mei Wai Lee, ViAnna Lee
Act Three, Chopsticks: choreography, Liu Youlan
Mongolian Culture: Woman warriors in Gold and Pink stride onto the stage brandishing fans and scarves. The fans are more than ornaments, they are percussive instruments that, when closed, provide a delightful smacking sound when struck against arm or thigh, or a crisp fluttering (like birds swiftly taking wing) when opened; playing off the traditional reed instrument, and a flute sounding almost like a theramine.
As the tempo increases, I am suddenly reminded of Hawaiian bamboo instrument the Pu 'ili. Dancers: Valerie Au, Jessica Cheng, Betsy Giguere, Meimei Lee, Victoria Lee
Act Four, Spirit Blade of Heaven and Earth: choreography, Leon Letoto
The dance is announced as emphasizing Yin and Yang (earth: yin and sword: yang).
Featuring a solo swordsman; the choreography (kudos to Letoto !) is, hands down, the most dynamic of the night. The back drop is a wash of orange/red. The dancer, Devon Izumigawa, is just brilliant, and must be classically trained in ballet. The performance is very ballet inflected, with effortless strength and precision emphasized. The Shadows on the wall seem to take on a life of their own as he leaps across the stage. Light refracts off a very large, very sharp looking sword. A beautiful balance is struck between grace and masculinity. Dancer: Devon Izumigawa
Act Five, Happy Little Peacocks: choreography Gina Ling
This ethnic clan learned to dance by observing the Peacock, revered as a symbol of happiness and good fortune. The back drop has been changed to a bright robin's egg blue, and young girls in diaphanous dresses of pale aqua and yellow with glittering spangles flow on stage. It is a very delicate and gentle dance; flow, then pause, flow, then pause. Fluttering motions with fingers and dramatic fanning of skirts emulate the peacock's flamboyant tail. A contemplative treatise after the intensity of the sword dance.
These young women present such maturity and poise, brava !
Dancers: Juliana Cheng, Avery Chang, Lan Lan Lee, ViAnna Lee
Act Six, Dance of the Hunt: choreography, Liu Youlan
This performance depicts life on the Himalaya's slopes and the many diverse agrarian styles that make up Tibet culture. The back screen is a rich purple, two girls appear in long black skirts with flowing orange sleeves that sweep the ground. After some joyous steps, the girls are joined by four more in identical dress for more measured and fluid dance. Suddenly the tempo picks up and a fiery male dancer dressed similarly in blue and gold appears. He moves with acrobatic grace, and there is a wonderful play between the feminine energy of the women and his masculine energy. Again The Shadows on the back wall seem aware participants in the dance.... Finishing with a startling “shout out”, it is time for intermission.
Looking around the brightened auditorium, I note that the first floor section of the theater seemed well filled, perhaps seventy to eighty percent, predominantly with families from the Chinese community. I heard more Chinese spoken than English. It was nice to see a good showing of young people. Dancers: Valerie Au, Jessica Cheng, Betsy Giuere, Mara Ho, Devon Izumigawa, Meimei Lee, Victoria Lee
Act Seven, Spring: choreography Wang Mei
This number is a showcase for the very accomplished Phoenix Dance Chamber.
The troupe frequently tours throughout China and this dance was inspired by the traditional
dance of Yang Dong Province and represents the sprouting of new life after a long, cold winter. The curtains open to a deep indigo backdrop. Kneeling pale green figures wave delicate, frilled gold fans. They are fluttering as if in a warm breeze. A sweet, high-voiced singing sets the mood.
This dance has many of the classic moves that most westerners would associate with traditional Chinese dance. All is measured and precise. Handkerchiefs are held in the right hand. There is a moment where the movements of the dancers look like wind blowing across a field of flowers.
The soft sound of fans flapping open are significant. Then energy surges through the group and one imagines blossoms and seedlings freed from their branches, now riding the wind.
Born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, Gail grew up surrounded by the rich and eclectic music and entertainment heritage of the islands. She left Hawaii to attend the University of Colorado where she received a degree in Philosophy. After a few years in the Midwest, she moved to Nashville|
and for 2 decades was immersed in the entertainment industry as a singer/songwriter and international recording artist.
Through her record label there, she helped launch the careers of a number of talented artists in the indie scene, recorded 3 albums, toured regularly in Europe (as well as performances in Norway and Israel). Gail and the artists on her albums have received reviews in entertainment publications worldwide. And, she has maintained popular blogs focusing on trends in music and cultural events.
For a several years after parting from the label, Gail has been writing/blogging ���under the radar��� transitioning from Musician to entertainment writer.