Academy of Chinese Performing Arts, February 18, De Anza College, Cupertino

22 Feb

Under the title of Firecrackers VIII, this organization, directed by David Z. Chen, with schools in Fremont and Cupertino, presented a three-hour program of Chinese dance and some ballet excerpts performed by 66 winsome young Chinese-Americans. Each number was introduced by a pair of four eloquent young students speaking Mandarin, using appropriate gestures and delivering their assignment with staggering aplomb. In a word, the sum was phenomenal, if not exactly to my habituated Western taste.

The program comprised sixteen numbers, each thoroughly costumed to make one marvel at the diligence of the moms behind the students, 800 of them, who mostly attend class once a week.  Where many U.S. school recitals would challenge modesty, here there was a bare midriff and a few hip wiggles, but vulgarity was out the stage door and in the trash can.  One could quibble
with the sequins, gold ribbon or gleaming satin cloth on designs clearly echoing the dress of one of China’s minorities, but the ethnic origins was clear, even in the music, rendered symphonic from its wispy, evocative original melody.  Full use was made of lighting and dry ice.

The second half of the program included two separate expositions of classical ballet. One  was danced in soft shoes, rather than the pointe shoes normally seen in this fragment of the first movement of a very noted ballet, for which permission to perform clearly was not obtained  prior to performance. Coaches routinely are sent to mount the full length work and the Academy would be well advised to ask before staging this or any other similar work. Special coaching in epaulement and fluidity in port de bras also would be advisable.  But give the ensemble full marks for memory; every step and formation were absolutely correct.

Four Ballet Variations followed three numbers later; Swanhilda’s opening in Coppelia; a variation from Raymonda; the Black Swan variation, no less, Paquita,  and an interpolation from additional music  from Act III of Swan Lake.  Again, accuracy carried the day with highest marks for the young Black Swan who lacked only coaching for more fluidity to a basically confident, on-the-mark delivery.

Perhaps the most thrilling number came next to the finale, the extended pas de deux Dang Ma from the Kunqu theatre, where man and young woman faced off in an extended acrobatic fight until they realized they were both on the same side.  The long feathers in the female headdress, the elevated shoes, sword and banner were deployed with singular skill by Didi Yang, and met by the adept tumbling of Yunchao Yang, an Academy instructor with credits in the Beijing Kunqu Theatre. Their performance provided the most thrilling event of the evening.

The program itself lacked nothing for color or bi-lingual explanation, but one would have to follow the student performances for several years to match names to faces.  I wish that the The Academy of Chinese Performing Arts ability to  elicit a devotion and instill discipline could somehow penetrate society at large through some miraculous osmosis.  Hard to emulate, definitely, but one can dream, can’t one?

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