Dannis Nahat’s Yulan Brings Dalian Acrobats to West Coast

18 Oct

Following Dennis Nahat’s departure from Ballet San Jose, he organized Theatre Ventures International, as a 501 © 3, non-profit organization. During the 2008 summer successful eight Chinese city tour, Ballet San Jose had included Shenyang, the capital of Leoaning, the province which once was Manchuria where Dalian is also located. Dalian is noted for its acrobats. Dennis had a ballet being mounted in Dalian and was approached by the artistic administration and asked to create a work for Dalian’s dancers and acrobats. The Dalian-Nahat collaboration was already active when Nahat was abruptly dismissed from the company whose roots dated to the Nahat-Hovarth collaboration in Cleveland in 1972 and Cleveland Ballet’s first performances in 1976. Nahat spent some eighteen months shuttling between San Jose and Dalian creating Yulan.

Yulan
enjoyed its North American premiere October 13 at San Jose’s California Theatre with a troupe of skilled, energetic, eager performers in a twelve-part pageant which caused Stephen Goldstine to exclaim “makes Cirque du Soleil look like middle school.” The production was scheduled to give four performances in Pasadena, one in East Los Angeles and another in Monterey Park before returning to Dalian.

Though missing the initial scene, Filaments of Galaxies Before Time, the visual magic of Jin Xin, Zhao Yu and Lou Yonfu for Winds of Fire wafted at the back of the stage with circling rings of divergent flame hues with Paul Chihara’s score reinforcing the spreading, fragmenting imagery. Twenty-two small, lithe acrobats were clothed in flame and brown, parts of their costumes pointed to reinforce the fire theme. Entrances on the run, double flips forward, trampolines and sinuous movements abounded. The costumes for this and subsequent episodes were designed by Xu Zeng.

Scenes 3 and 4 were devoted to Flood and Freeze, the projections and use of billowing lengths of white with the projections were among the most imaginative and aesthetic. Theatric manipulation of yardage is pretty standard for water, but the creatures, cavorting over, under and around the billows in unitards displaying slender physiques, were fetching and provided the scene with a playfulness provoking periodic spurts of applause. Of all the scenes, The Freeze that followed, where the same yardage formed glaciers and ice bergs and changing shape, was one of the most magical. Here the participating acrobats sallied forth from behind the shifting shaped ice bergs for a pas de deux [Li Huitong, Zhang Lei], a solo [Li Siyu]some acrobatics and a spectacular aerial feat [Guo Huixan]closing the scene.

What I particularly liked was seeing the cobwebbed projections first used in The Flood continue through four scenes, with the lengthy undulating yards of cloth balancing overt changes in other aspects of the background. Acrobatic feats were so numerous, daring, sometimes comical that the panorama swam in one’s eyes as one highly skilled, gigantic display. It was clear that the performers had spent a healthy number of hours at a ballet barre, but more in the fearless pursuit of specialties like Guo Huixian and He Wen, a couple operating on aerial silks.

Guo Huixan and He Wen were featured once more in Scene Six, Mating; they exchanged who held whom, inter-twining deftly. One or the other was supported by feet in cocked position, with what must be twenty-one bones of iron and muscles of steel, hours of practice and spirits of complete trust.

Also with six scenes, Act II continued the galactic themes: Metamorphosis, Wild Destruction, New Green, Natural Springs, Flowering and Yulan as the finale. The progression included jugglers; a man manipulating a ball with the aid of a net stretched between two long poles; the aforementioned Li Siyi, with Sun Lili and later Zhou Tanting. Li Siyi stretched her slender body in positions portending problems with such utter flexibility, though dazzling in youthful accomplishment.

Li Siyi later appeared as New Green, then within the Big Bobble in Natural Springs, her enclosure manipulated by Wang Chengyu and Zhou Yan Ting. An Apache pas de deux by Sun Lili and Zhang Chao and six other bobbles made refreshing visual gurgles.

Scenes five, Flowering, and six, Yulan possessed most of ballet’s typical accouterments, tutus and toe shoes, to be followed with delicate projections of a growing blossom, ultimately flowering flowers into Yulan, a Magnolia you’ve never see the likes of in the Southern United States. Lu Mingyue, back resting on a platform, manipulated roseate hued umbrellas, starting with one, adding a second on which a third was balanced, then a fourth, onward, upward until she reached seven. Quite mind boggling. Wang Chengyu and Zhou Yanting danced a pas de deux before the final ensemble created multiple tendrils with their arms and legs in front of the scarlet-hued projection of Yulan.

Dennis Nahat was the overall director and responsible for the concept; the choreography was shared with Song Xiaoxue and Zhang Hongfei. Paul Chihara’s music, recorded by the International Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing, filled the interludes, ably supporting the scenes, with phrases familiar to his work with Michael Smuin’s Tempest and some lyricism that sounded like first cousin to some of Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella. The list is simply too full to list everyone.

Much of Yulan’s charm rested with Nahat’s ability to incorporate the skills of the Dalian Acrobatic Troupe in a production apparently a smash in Dalian and elsewhere in the PRC. His willingness to undertake such a production incorporating an excited group of young performers who must enjoy artistic privileges which many American artists could envy, is stellar. It’s an amazing cross-cultural collaboration.

The Terra Cotta Prince is scheduled for the California Theatre December 19-29 when members of the troupe will dazzle us again with a winsome skill that billows over the footlights.

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