Swept Away

Final blog
Swept Away

I am swept away. You are not supposed to be “swept” away. I keep thinking about the references to Bruno Latour’s “intermediary” and ”mediator.” Perhaps I am a mediating intermediary? I go back to my first Sunday night in October in Beijing at the Beijing Dance Academy anniversary performance at one the national “Military” Theatres. The red flag, covering the stage, with its brilliant glowing five stars, one large representing the communist party and four smaller stars radiating on an arch from the larger one. Those brilliant four stars are supposedly the different kinds of people (or classes), as written by Mao Tse Tung: the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. I was so moved. I was so caught in my own history of this history, wanting so much to say that I dreamed of coming here for so long because of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Mao’s Red Book, Beijing Opera, the erhu, this red flag, and those revolutionary dance operas created by Jiang Qing. She had taken the ballet, folk dance, Beijing Opera, martial arts, classical Chinese dance, and folklore of the revolution to make this outrageous mixture into a ”teaching” dance drama for propaganda. Did she know she made a brilliant fusion of modern, postmodern, and avant-garde with melodramatic and pop sensibilities? How right on. It still works: I am swept away. (Stumbling, that afternoon of my first Sunday I felt that surge of the famous Beijing wind and dust storms. full of dust. I become a kite in the hutong and I am blinded. It takes a lot of time to get to places here when you are blown away and swept along.)

I am swept away by the power of Chinese dance, or of Chinese to use dance or dance dance to communicate kinaesthetic resonance that has a very specific aim. I still find it hard to understand the dance and the dancers without doing more research on the last two decades in China and Beijing. I have to do that, to understand the contemporary transformation in this powerhouse, the Beijing Dance Academy. I remember those stars on the flag: the large one and the smaller stars, radiating out from that central force, not unlike how the Beijing Dance Academy works: “star” power (and I do not mean soloist or fame or Hollywood stardom). What stays with me beyond all the choreographic changes, inflections, transformations … is this sense of power that dance has in China. What is this power about? Who does it serve? What does it have to do with the new/old China? I am sure there are many answers and more questions. There is something about the centralization of dance education for the dance stages, which will stage these dances and dance dramas that can and will “move” the audiences beyond and outside their daily lives. I will take that further in my essay for the Danscross book. It was remarkable how much the Chinese choreographers’ works “moved” (swept away?) the audiences and by contrast: how the ”foreign” choreographers’ works made the audience carefully watch and consider…I was told by one young dancer friend that perhaps I could not understand how much “feeling” meant to the Chinese. I know I must avoid ALL essentializing and of course I am swept away, but I also have to reflect and question this power “across” Danscross. I am an intermediatrix.

In Hongse niangzi jun (The Red Detachment of Women)

I went to this revolutionary opera ballet by myself in a 3000 plus seat Beijing theatre that was packed and sold-out. Everyone in the 2nd balcony seats was leaning forward toward the stage to the effect that I thought the balcony my very tip into the orchestra area. For this work, they had a full orchestra and chorus, and dance ensemble of thirty-five to sixty-five members. It was one of the most “power-full” performances I have ever seen. It was not about technique, but power in devices fueled by overwhelming beliefs and passion for those beliefs. You do not have to believe me, but when the Red Detachment of Women strut, leap, and swagger (with big rifles) down stage on the long diagonal for their first full out stage appearance, the whole audience came to their feet. And the soloist, especially when she is striving and writhing during her scenes of capture, liberation, and revolution, dances everyone’s heartache: Surge. Hearts beating. Wow factor. Dance Power. More later, more and more.

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