Zing and Zest
There are things in life that one would not miss if one does not know about them; but once we had a taste we would not want to miss them.
Today I want to report about two entirely different events, one of dance, the other of national pride; one hailing from the Far East, the other from the heart of Europe.
Both events took place here in Toronto during the month of
July and added zing and zest to my life.
Dance as Interpretation of Life
The Xing Dance Theatre has its home in Toronto’s Little Italy, at the corner of College and Bathurst. Hidden away in the basement of the attractive corner building I found a treasure hard to describe, but incredibly wonderful to experience. Like other art forms so has dance undergone many dramatic changes over the past decades and western tradition have mingled with Russian and North American ones, creating all new styles in the way old themes and techniques were interpreted.
In Canada we are fortunate to have a very strong dance tradition and a rich one, which is helped by our multi-national cultures.
A dancer and choreographer of the Far East can develop out of his heritage, and away from confining traditions that can stifle creativity, the most innovative dance forms and ways to convey stories worth telling, if given a chance to mingle and experience the cultures of other nations. Thus Xing Bang Fu is enriched with the knowledge of dance from all corners of the world and has found his very own way of dancing, teaching, choreographing the stories he finds worth telling.
Attending an evening in the studio space of the dance theatre was like a journey into the far reaches of creativity. The first piece presented was by guest choreographer Mari Osanai, who also performed in this piece called Sea-Watching (a) together with Hiroshi K.Miyamoto, both of Japan.
The performance was spellbinding in its seeming simplicity, conjuring up the sights and sounds of the sea and its creatures by the most difficult movements, occasionally almost contortions of breathtaking expressions. The experience was multi-layered, affording an insight into the sea-watcher’s emotions and allowing for the feeling of other life forms and the energies that surround them, drive them, conquer them, draw them in and spit them out.
This was a presentation of survival, of life, poetic and dramatic, gentle and harsh, lonely even in togetherness with others.
Mari Osana, who is very well known in the Canada’s Fringe Dance Festival Scene, has a unique way of looking at life, more like a poet than a novelist, yet with her danced poetry she tells more than a big story. She tells a complete one, one with many chapters and nuances.
Still full of the impact from this performance we re-immersed ourselves after intermission into the Hades of the building, into the black space that is the performance ground for all this amazing talent. We were about to learn about the joy of creating from a different perspective.
In choreographing "Farewell my Concubine" Xing Bang Fu was inspired by a famous Chinese Opera performer, Mei Lanfang, who was especially well known for creating female characters. A unique blend of dance styles, ballet, Chinese dance and the precision Martial Arts movements all find their place in this ballet, which takes us through a cultural journey of an artist and his life as a performer. Four female characters are being reenacted and woven into a new story. From a female warrior to a concubine that resists, the one that is dutiful and loyal and a drunken concubine, we learn of the frailties of life in man and woman of another culture. And while the trimmings might be different, it is quickly apparent that the feelings of love and admiration, of affection and loyalty, of indulging pleasure and suffering in despair are the world over the same. Hope is the one thing that restores creativity and a will to live.
The oriental costumes and the foreign make-up, the variety of movements during the different dances that are strung like pearls on an exquisite necklace by the performers, all contribute to a new understanding of Chinese culture, while telling an interesting tale and honouring a great artist.
Xing Bang Fu himself danced the principal role of Mei Lanfang. His graceful movements are forever edged into my memory. He also was a fine actor with an expressive face, capable of a myriad of different emotional nuances. Minimalism with maximum effect comes to mind while watching him.
The four female dancers, Tammy Lok, Kristel Jang, Jen-Yi Hum, and Sandy Tan performed the dances with artistic abandon. They all adore their teacher Xing Bang Fu, from whom there is much to learn. His repertoire is quite endless, and his imagination and ideas as to the expression in the story telling through dance is unique.
The canvas of this tapestry was filled out with a few more dancers: Chiara Casiraghi, Susanna Chwang, Simon Sylvain Lalonde, Phoebe Louey, Rose Lui, Nadia Maiolino, Loren Matthews, Shelley Winter and Davidson Jaconello, the latter standing out with his tallness and precision movements, classic extensions and attention to detail.
Enthusiasm was the most obvious attribute of all performers and contributors.
In original art we quickly feel if the music suits the story, the costumes and other visual aids are enhancing and not hindering the progress of occurrences, if the performers are fully engaged in the work and understand it. Here we felt that all possible objectives are being reached and more; perhaps because the audience was close enough to smell the grease paint on the dancer’s faces, could see the fine layer of moisture appearing on their brow.
Meeting all of them afterwards, including the costume designer Eric Wong, was a most humbling experience. The apparent lack of self-importance in the principal performers and creators is awe-inspiring; excellence of communication through the arts is being demonstrated here.
To keep up to date with this very fine dance company and
school go to
www.xingdancetheatre.com. Go and see them dance at next opportunity and
Swiss National Day
On July 27th the Consul General of Switzerland, Mr. Jean Claude Hagmann invited many friends of his country to the Toronto’s Ontario Club in celebration of his nation’s annual holiday. He had to stand for a very long time at the entrance to receive all that came to participate in the festivities.
The buffet was simply superb in its richness and variety and the Swiss wine was delightful, especially the red variety, which surprised with a very full body.
After much mingling and tasting of Swiss specialties the Consul General addressed the crowd with a short speech, reminding us of the things Switzerland and Canada have in common as well as of the friendship between the two countries. A touch of history rounded out the comments, which were received with warm applause.
Much admired were the traditional Alphornbläser that came along for the trip to Canada, as well as the most colourful group of "soldiers". The Grenadiers of Geneva Guard and Band in their Napoleonic uniforms were a big attraction and continuously photographed.
Their illustrious carrier was started long before Napoleon demanded their services for his ends as a form of social club for men. But after their military stint with history they of course kept the colourful uniforms and a tradition was formed that has been admired in the many countries they visited.
Togetherness with an ambience of an old European culture has its special charms. Switzerland was founded as a nation in the early 13th century, I believe, - we all have heard of the fight for freedom and the telling of the tale of Wilhelm Tell- and is extremely multicultural with its four language groups. This reflects in all the cultural activities, may it be music, the written or spoken word, dance and even the culinary arts.
The musicians and dancers had already performed at Nathan Phillip Square in front of our Toronto City Hall. The weather god was kind and held the rain off until after their presentation. A performance at the Danube Swabian Club was still to come for them. Everywhere they were warmly received and much applauded. No wonder when they add so much to our life.
There you have it: the old Europe and the ancient Chinese traditions, all in one city, side by side, delighting audiences, adding zing to the zest.
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