Analysis of Chinese Classical Dance and the Divine Performing Arts
(Clearwisdom.net) The US based Divine Performing Arts began a tour of five of Taiwan's major cities on April 7, 2007, with its premiere in Taipei. Ms. Yumin Wan, the Art Director of Asian branch of NTDTV and a professor at Taiwan Opera Art University, shared with us her understanding and knowledge of Chinese dance after watching the Divine Performing Arts performance in New York earlier this year. By discussing the characteristics of Chinese dance and the Divine Performing Arts' artistic accomplishments, Professor Wan brings the reader a greater understanding of authentic Chinese performing arts.
Characteristics of Chinese Classical Dance
The characteristics of Chinese classical dance are elegance and nobility. The most fundamental movements of Chinese classical dance emphasize arm, eye, body, footwork and coordination. To perform a Chinese dance, one must become adept and proficient in all of the above. Coordination refers to coordinating the arms, eyes, body and footwork. The movements must be flowing, graceful and pleasing to the eye.
A female dancer must move as if a lotus flower glides on water. The dancer must stand straight and tall, just like the stem of a lotus flower. Yet, the movements must also look natural and effortless. A male dancer must walk with his toes pointing outward and with his knees slightly bent.
Chinese classical dance is different from western dance. Western dance emphasizes lines while Chinese classical dance emphasizes harmony and circular motion. For example, "orchid fingers," a typical position in Chinese classical dance, require the fingers to be slightly arched and elbows slightly bent. A dancer will never hold the arms straight unless it is an act where he/she condemns someone.
A Western dancer extends the line of her body. Chinese dance expresses lines in different ways. In Chinese classical dance, performers may need to tilt their bodies, form a circle with their arms or bend their legs to express different lines. When they achieve the exact requirements of the movements, they will express the elegance of Chinese dance. Because of the breadth of movement, Chinese dance allows the portrayal of a wide range of characters, feelings and personalities.
When watching the Divine Performing Arts performance, one could see that they were devoted to expressing the beauty and elegance of Chinese classical dance. They are capable of expressing each character's emotions, characters and thoughts. "Mulan" is an excellent example. The interactions between the leading and supporting characters and their emotions were very shown in every body movement. I would say that their performance skills are so refined that they have reached a divine level. In short, everything about the Divine Performing Arts performance makes me feel pleasant and comfortable!
In addition, there are other important techniques in Chinese classical dance, such as the circle, twist, tilt and bending.
First, I will explain what bending refers to. I explained that a dancer must keep his knees slightly bent or he will look just as if walking on the stage and will not be able to portray the character. These are the fine details that Chinese dance performers must practice over and over again.
Tilt means that a female performer must not stand on the stage like a straight stick. Her body must move like the stem of a lotus gently waving in a breeze to present the natural beauty of the human body.
In ancient China when a young maiden saw a man, she would blush immediately. Then, she would block her face with her sleeve and lower her head. This is the natural elegance of a Chinese lady. With these detailed body movements, the audience will be able to tell what is on her mind. For a male dancer, he must show valor and heroism in his movements and his eyes must show the necessary spirit as well.
Only by incorporating "spirit," "elegance," "form," and "body movement" will a dancer be able to fully express the unique style and elegance of the Chinese classical dance. I have indeed witnessed the meaning of these characteristics in the performance of the Divine Performing Arts. It was quite a touching experience.
In addition, the entire stage is a wonderful marriage of the overall composition, the digital background, the expression of the characters, and the techniques of the dance. Everything on the stage is of high quality. It is very pleasing and comfortable to watch and that's why the audience is very touched. This is the true meaning of genuine Chinese divine culture. This is the most beautiful, most pure and most kind and eternal artistic treasure.
How to Appreciate the Divine Performing Arts Performance
Quite a few scenes were most impressive, among them "Forsythia in Spring." First, one may be drawn to the beautiful digital background. Next, one may experience the meaning of the dance. There is tranquility in the movements and there is movement in the tranquility. One will notice the smoothly changing formations in the dance and the contagious joy expressed in each dancer's peaceful, smiling face. In every dance, a performer's amiable quality, infectious mood, performance and the music together shows the realm the dancer has reached.
One thing that is worth mentioning is the excellent skill of spinning the octagon handkerchief. It is a very difficult skill. If one pays close attention, one will notice that the dancers possess the most excellent skill in spinning the handkerchiefs -- they don't need to look at them. They glide over the stage while spinning the handkerchiefs. It is as if this activity did not affect their dance movements at all. It shows how much heart and effort they have put into practicing this particular skill. They are so good at it that they are in complete control of the movements of the handkerchiefs.
The choreography of the dance is quite refreshing and upbeat. The digital landscape with mountains and rivers contrasts beautifully with the orange octagon handkerchiefs. The beautiful color contrast provides a visual feast. The performers are not the only reason for the success of the dance. The stage design and the light effect also bring out a happy and lighthearted atmosphere. It takes the audience into the landscape of the mountains and rivers and gives the audience a happy feeling.
What unison, when a group of young, outgoing maidens throw their handkerchiefs into the air simultaneously! They did not need to look at each other. Instead, they followed the tempo of the music to reach unison. What excellent tacit understanding they shared! Tacit understanding is the most important quality of a group dance. They are so successful because they have excellent tacit understanding. It is a very precious quality in the team work.
"A Dunhuang Dream" by the Divine Performing Arts
When I watched "A Dunhuang Dream," I saw an elevated realm. When the Buddhas and divine beings' statues in the Dunhuang Cave became alive on stage, the heavenly maidens danced with different movements. They showed the beautiful form of "Three Arches" in the Chinese classical dance. At the same time, the divine beings and Buddhas spoke with different Buddha hand signs. The dancing divine beings dance with the celestial music on top of misty clouds. The music greatly enhances the dancers and the digital background and the three elements work together to take the audience to a heavenly realm. For a moment, I wondered where I was. Was I on stage, in the Dunhuang Cave or in my seat? The profound meaning of the music is extremely critical in creating such a divine atmosphere.
The craftsman in the play is an ordinary human being, but he is brought to the divine realm where he communicates with many divine beings. It is because he has touched divine beings with his sincere wish to praise the divine being through his sculpture that he is granted a look into the divine realm, so he can achieve an unusually high level of quality in his artwork.
The superior quality of this dance is attributed to the highly coordinated dance and Buddha hand signs, as well as the elevated atmosphere created by the powerful music. The rich use of light effect creates different moods on stage.
Moments that Represent the Spirit of the Chinese Dance
"Herding on the Mongolian Plains" is a Mongolian dance scene. The digital background of a wide open plain takes the audience to the life on the prairie instantly. We see a group of energetic and high-spirited young men dancing, hopping and turning like young deer. They gallop freely and happily on the open plains of Mongolia.
At a closer look, we see more than just a group of dancing young men, but sparks of life and energy illuminating their promising future! How brilliant! What promising hope! As a audience, I cannot but wonder, "I didn't know life can be so wonderful and so full of hope!"
Like these energetic lives, we should make our own life spark. I feel this dance truly brings endless hope and future to the audience.
Next I would like to talk about "Mulan." This dance accentuates Mulan's virtue and how she abides by the traditional Chinese rites, as well as the values of loyalty and filial piety. The performer playing Mulan has not only shown her excellent dance skills, but also the traditional Chinese moral values long neglected by today's youth. It reminds us that we ought to be more concerned about our parents and family and cherish people around us.
This dance contains some battle scenes that require different dance skills and accentuate the importance of the character Mulan. I believe that this dance will inspire today's youth to emphasize the fundamental rites, to guard their daily behavior and to cultivate morality.
"Mulan" is a good representation of the category of battle dance in the Chinese classical dance. The performers hold blades in their hands and send a clear message that they are in battle. In terms of rites, the performers greet Mulan's father and this movement is very typical in the Chinese classical dance. Their costumes are fairly representational as well.
My Reflection on The Artistic Accomplishments of the Divine Performing Arts
When I watched the Divine Performing Arts performance in New York City, I immediately considered myself very lucky to be able to watch such a wonderful performance. Although the Taiwanese society is becoming increasingly prosperous, there are still many unfortunate people. I hope that they will have an opportunity to watch this performance because it will nourish everyones mind and elevate everyones spiritual level.
This performance is not an ordinary performance. I feel my senses, spirit and mind cleansed.
The four vocal artists each have a unique voice and a different range of voice, but their singing is equally peaceful, clear, warm and kind. All of them are Falun Gong practitioners. Together they tell the same story: Falun Gong practitioners will forgive those who have treated them badly and they will embrace those who have hurt them with a kind, sincere heart. Their songs made me feel as though I were in my mother's arms. I was deeply touched.
Although there are still many Falun Gong practitioners suffering from the persecution in China, these vocal artists do not have any hatred in their voice. In their voice I hear only forgiveness. Despite of the atrocious persecution, these Falun Gong practitioners are opening up their arms, try to touch the heart of those who participate in the persecution, and encourage them to make a wise choice for their own future.
One thing worth praising is that every dance encompasses all of what is inherent in Chinese culture and what are Chinese people's characteristics. The costumes, cosmetics, hairpieces, hairdos and the expressions of characters' personalities are simply outstanding.
We see costumes of the Tang Dynasty, Han Dynasty, Tibetan, Mongolian and Dai people. The Mongolian, Manchu and Dai dances are ethnic folk dances. There are classical and folk Chinese dances represented in the performance.
Each dance has a meaning. The finale "Victory Drums"gives us a hint as to how we should lead our life from now on after we watch the performance? How do we choose the direction without stepping aside? How should we create a beautiful future for ourselves?
The finale dance had a powerful impact on my heart. I must know where I am going while doing my current job well. I must also know what exactly I must choose in my life?