DURHAM, N.C.— Since the launch of the Divine Performing Arts (DPA) 2009 World Tour on Dec. 19, the DPA Touring Company has played to full houses in four cities in Florida and North Carolina.
Since 2006, the New York-based performance company has been bringing about a renaissance of China’s five-millennia-old traditional culture. Those who have seen this world-class show are struck by the unique charm of Chinese classical dance, a defining part of DPA’s production.
Inner Quality of Classical Chinese Dance
Brian Nieh, a lead dancer with DPA, said that classical Chinese dance is not merely a display of techniques such as jumps, turns, and flips.
“The difficulty of classical Chinese dance actually comes from the effectiveness of using these skills to convey inner feelings and thoughts.”
Nieh gave the example of Monk Ji Gong Abducts the Bride, a DPA dance sequence that highlights Monk Ji Gong, one of the most adored figures in Chinese history, renowned for his unorthodox manner of doing good deeds.
“Ji Gong is a deity. He will not steal a bride from someone else’s wedding just to satisfy his personal pursuit. But since he knows that a catastrophe is about to hit the village, he abducts the bride to save the villagers, leaving behind a surprising turn of events,” Nieh said.
“This typical program manifests the extensive expressiveness of Chinese classical dance, as it includes a lot of scenarios and plots that are mainly conveyed through classical Chinese dance.”
Nieh, who plays the main role in the piece, explains that a dancer has to consider what movement best depicts Ji Gong as he tells people to evacuate, what gesture exactly signals that a catastrophe is imminent, and what facial expression and physical movement can illustrate the monk’s compassion.
“This kind of emotion—you need to let the audience feel it, whether they are seated in the first row or the last row,” he said.
‘Land of the Divine’
“The ladies’ hand gestures are particularly dainty in Chinese classical dance,” said Wendy Su, who joined DPA in 2006. “For instance, in almost every dance piece, you can see the lotus palm—a fundamental gesture in classical Chinese dance.”
Classical Chinese dance has grown out of the history of China, once known to the Chinese people as the “Land of the Divine.” In the early stages, classical Chinese dance was largely passed down among the common people and members of the imperial court. Over the years, dancers rearranged, polished, and reworked it to include the systematic training recognized today.
“During every performance, we performers are devoted to making it a good show for the audience. I think the audience can see and feel it. Whenever I dance, I always need to fit into the character that I am depicting,” said Su.
Throughout the four-month touring season, each of the three Divine Performing Arts companies will perform more than ninety shows. Yet the busy schedule does not diminish the mood of the performers.
“We have toured in so many cities. After a show ends, usually it takes several hours for us to reach the next city. Sometimes there are even two performances in a day—a very packed schedule. I can probably say that I am a bit tired physically, but spiritually I feel very fulfilled and joyful, especially when I see the anticipation of the audience,” Nieh said.
“Sometimes there are even two performances in a day—a very packed schedule. I can probably say that I am a bit tired physically, but spiritually I feel very fulfilled and joyful, especially when I see the anticipation of the audience.”