Lily Cai’s Dance Company At YBC, August 13

15 Aug

There is precious little that Lily Cai does not know or pass along to her dancers regarding postures, poses and steps considered traditional Han Chinese. She could take the Radio City Hall Rockettes through these paces; the effect probably would be as dazzling as some seen at the Olympics in Beijing.

Saturday evening she concluded her single evening performance with the premiere of “Shifting,” making major use of this encyclopedic knowledge.

First, however, Cai premiered “Connections” using two pieces by Arvo Part, utilizing six dancers who form the nucleus of her current company. Five of the dancers were seen seated sedately in a row of secretarial chairs while the sixth tossed, pushed, slung and fought with a large mauve-colored balloon behind them. If Cai meant to convey turbulence behind the mask of demure tranquility and loose white garments, she succeeded.

Gradually, the row of five began to unclasp their hands, stretch their arms and torsos, dispense with the chairs and demonstrate how flexible they were; Very is the verdict; a refreshing view of grace and total body movement neither totally Chinese nor completely Westernized is one of the secrets of Cai’s success in niche choreography. Cai also demonstrated that she has learned something about stage groupings, entrances and exits to maintain interest in the deliberate nature of Part’s music, skillfully backed by Robert Anderson’s lighting.

After a brief pause the dancers returned with globes of lighted candles interpreting the qualities of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, fourth movement, titled “Candelas.” This selection echoes Gerald Arpino’s “Round of Angels” created shortly following the death of his musical associate James Howell. Cai selected bronze unitards for her six women where Arpino clothed his men and the single woman in ice blue.

It’s clear Cai enjoys extenuated musical phrasing, andante and legato giving her
opportunities to display her dancers’ grace and capacity to sustain poses. There were striking touches suggesting the Chinese as influenced by the imperial connection with Tibetan Buddhism.

Following intermission “Shifting” has its premiere to Gang Situ’s arrangement of traditional music. The choreography included almost everything except the ribbon dances, but the red handkerchief and a fan were constants from the masked beginning to their return at the finale, complete with flowing robes, swaying bodies and tiny steps, suggesting bound feet.

At a consistent clip the dancers cocked shoulders, heads, feet and utilized various sized fans, tripping along merrily. We were spared barrel turns, but certainly saw the gamut of Chinese feminine cliches from the willowy to the pert and saucy.

For surface diversion and disciplined charm, Cai’s company cannot be faulted, but even the clash of percussion in Cantonese opera failed to produce something close to that tradition.

After two decades, Lily Cai still skirts an obvious possible hit: a Chinese folk tale or fairy story. The absence of men in her company may be the clue; few who match her technical demands can enjoy the luxury of intermittent performances.

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