By Jiang Yuxia
Oath - Midnight Rain, an integration of traditional Chinese culture and modern dance has helped Beijing Modern Dance Company (BMDC) garner international fame. Commissioned by the 2006 Biennale de Venice, the work is set to captivate Beijing audiences when it's staged at the National Center for the Performing Arts tonight and tomorrow.
The piece is second on the bill of Beijing Vision, one of BMDC's classic programs and will be presented alongside Taoist-influenced Unfettered Journey, choreographed by Hu Lei.
Oath - Midnight Rain, choreographed by BMDC's lead dancer and artistic director Gao Yanjinzi, illustrates her understanding of rebirth by casting a human's soul to be reborn in the forms of five objects from traditional Chinese painting: A flower, bird, fish, insect and grass.
"I admire Buddhism very much…In my opinion, birth and death are not absolute," Gao told the Global Times. "There are all kinds of sayings about rebirth. I did my own reflections and I use dance to illustrate my understanding," she explained, adding that people in the East more often see life as a circle while in the West it is often seen as lineal. "You either go to heaven or hell after you die."
To Gao, the five small entities better showcase life's elements as they highlight the conflicts and clashes between the inner ideals of a human being and the outside world.
"For example, when you are reborn to the world with big wishes but a small body instead of a human's body to realize your dreams, you still have to live your life. Every small life also needs to spend its life with a strong will, then it can be reborn cherishing all its wishes to another form," Gao explained.
The 45-minute piece features six dancers and is set to a mixture of music including pop, electronic, folk and sacred. A bride dressed in a red wedding gown links one dancer to another. In between are five solos as the bride's soul is reborn in the five different forms.
"For Chinese there are three most important occasions, birth, death and marriage. You can't choose the first two but for marriage, many people have too many emotional appeals and cherished desires," she explained, adding that this sentiment is behind her idea of casting the bride's soul to seeking the continuity of life.
The stage, spacious and quiet and with light focusing on the dancers, helps draw the audience to their movements and music.
The flower is performed by a male dancer dressed in a tulle skirt and with a Peking Opera headdress, tumbling and doing headstands; while the other entities also borrow elements from traditional Chinese culture, the grass waves a long horsetail whisk; the fish swings long sleeves as in classical opera; the insect has the makeup of female roles in Peking Opera and swings on a trapeze.
By casting a man as the flower, Gao said it is consistent with the idea of Buddhist rebirth and helps her highlight the clashes between the mismatch of genders. "If you are a woman in your present life but reborn in a man's body in the next, it may not be your wish but you still have to face it, with the power of life," she explained.
With the concept of modern dance yet to become popular in China, Gao suggested that people enjoy such performances with a peaceful mind.
"Once you can cast off all your social identities and status, you can see something more meaningful in life," she said.
The response to Oath - Midnight Rain is markedly different in the West.
"I was told by the audience that they experienced a dream with their eyes open," she explained, adding that the majority of Western audiences go to her performances to see something beyond their imagination.
"The nature of modern dance is life itself. It is my reflections and dialogue between life and existence, dialogue with nature, society and human beings," she said.