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Review 3, 4-30: China Women
From Living Dance Studio, a "Report on the Body," and more
By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2003 Vanessa Manko
NEW YORK -- The Living
Dance Studio's "Report on the Body," seen earlier this month at
Dance Theater Workshop, begins while the audience mills around the
lobby of the Bessie Schonberg Theater. A group of six women move
en masse through the pre-performance hustle and bustle, emerging
from the crowd and silencing the spectators they leave in their
wake. As the audience moves into the theater, so too do these six
women, forging onward toward the stage where images of live audience
members in their seats are projected onto a backdrop screen. The
dancers then trace the shape of a man's balding head, run their
fingers over a woman's eyes, and smooth out another woman's hair.
All the while giggles and nervous laughter can be heard from the
audience. Some audience members play with the dancers, moving away
just as hands come too close to a man or woman's projected image.
Thus, "Report on the Body" plunges one right into the performance,
making the audience an immediate part of what is about to unfold.
The prelude is just
one of the many vivid stagings created by the collaboration between
choreographer Wen Hui and filmmaker Wu Wenguang for this China-based
company. This multi-media work, combining film, dance, and text,
paints a striking portrait of contemporary Chinese society by presenting
a series of images dealing with the female body. Yet, these images
are abstracted and disjointed, resulting in a collage effect which
borders on the chaotic and absurd. The influence of Bauschian dance-theatre
is quite strong in "Report on the Body." This is no surprise given
Wen Hui has studied with the dance-theatre pioneer along with other
postmodern choreographers like Trisha Brown. But the Bauschian preoccupation
with sex roles and woman's place in society is particularly apparent
in "Report on the Body."
Yet this brand of dance-theatre
focuses on China at the dawn of a new century and evokes the excesses
of consumerism and the new market economy. This is perhaps best
represented through the costumes that are such a fundamental part
of this work. Clothes in disarray, clothes thrown in bags onto the
stage or scattered across the floor, or even swept into a square
make up a great deal of the action in this piece. The garments,
while representing excess, also comment on the role of women in
Chinese society. Female dancers sweep, carry, fold and frolic among
the plethora of attire. The weight and drudgery of household duties
and everyday chores is invoked through the repetitive task of moving
clothes from one area of the stage to another.
In a particularly striking
moment, performers clad in elongated silk dresses of neon blue,
red, and lime green raise their hands above their heads. Their bodies
literally disappear within the fabric and the result is larger-than-life
dancing dresses; the female body evoked, yet eerily absent. All
the while, images of every-day life in China are projected onto
the screen: laundry spinning in the washing machine, a Microsoft
Word document upon which is written stories of a person's humble
life. Later, a traveling businesswoman, with wheeling suitcase in
tow, presents an incessant diatribe on the market economy in a smattering
of French and English. She is then swept into a heap of clothing
and another woman affixes her to her travel suitcase with duct tape.
As absurd as these vignettes
are, they all have an intensity and desperation to them -- an underlying
anxiety that seems to bespeak the state of contemporary China, or
at least the modern China that Hui and Wenguang want us to see.
The flailing limbs of the dancers as they slide and run through
discarded clothing, or the sensuous duet a dancer performs with
a folding chair, elicit a visceral and intimate interpretation of
not only contemporary China in general, but the place of women in
that society -- present, yet in the background, perhaps screaming
to be heard. A particularly compelling moment in this piece occurs
when a woman is enfolded into the white expanse of a cloth that
is draped across the back of the stage. Her body floats eerily amid
the film images that are projected onto her body. In another instance,
the draped cloth is lifted to reveal a long line of folding chairs,
upon which four dancers sit and march out rhythms. This soon leads
to a game of jump-rope. Dancers are now clad in costumes with distended
bellies and sagging breasts; the female body, representative of
China, is weary and weighed down by modernity.
While "Report on the
Body" is filled with graphic, startling images, it also contains
fleeting moments of beauty. When a woman sits and gabs on her cell
phone, a man pulls on her red silk dress which stretches in one
bold band of color across the stage like a path leading to somewhere.
She is then gone in a flash, dragged off the stage in one swift
tug. The energy and sheer rawness of the dancers is what makes this
piece such a strong statement on the modern condition, and though
it deals primarily with the state of China, the images and meanings
speak across cultures. In addition to Wen Hui and Wu Wenguang, the
other fine dancers included Zheng Fuming, Feng Dehua, Wang Yanan,
Wang Mei, and Estelle Zheng.
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