Chinese Performing Arts of America
NATIONAL/ETHNIC IDENTITY: China
DANCE ORIGIN: China
GENRE: Folkloric and Martial Arts
Chinese Performing Arts of America presents The Court Dance of the Tang Dynasty, the strong and elegant prelude to its full-length production, The Chinese Emperor and the Nightingale. Sixteen dancers loop and twirl silk scarves and sleeves—weaving together Tang history, a European fairy tale, Chinese classical dance, and the martial art of wushu.
The piece is set in the court of Tang Dynasty Emperor Tang Xuanzong, (ruler 712 to 756 C.E.), a king with a passion for music, poetry, and dance. Every night the Emperor’s Pear Garden dancers performed for his entertainment. In this piece, the dancers transport the real Emperor into another story: a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. This emperor pines for a wild nightingale he banished in favor of a mechanical bird. When the real nightingale returns to sing outside the window, the king’s health is restored.
The choreography includes two well-loved Chinese classical dances—the silk ribbon dance and the long sleeve dance—styles developed and performed in the Tang court. Tang aristocracy wore loose silk sleeves and flowing scarves as a sign they were above manual work. In the dances, the length of sleeves and scarves are exaggerated, demonstrating the elegant weightlessness of the finest Chinese silk.
This performance also incorporates Chinese wushu, a martial art form with elements traced back to China’s Stone Age people. No longer useful in hunting or warfare, wushu is now a form of extravagant display, familiar from Kung Fu films: and Chinese Performing Arts of America is known for its skillful merging of wushu with dance.
Ann Woo—creative director, playwright, and music editor—created this drama to depict the beauty of the Tang court and the strength of China’s Tang dynasty (618–690 and 705–907 C.E.). The Tang was a vast empire. Its capital city Chang’an, (now Xi’an) was the largest city in the world and Tang Emperors ruled immense territories, 50 to 80 million people, with armies controlling Asian nomadic powers, the Silk Road, and invading neighboring regions and sharing their great culture with neighboring Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. The Tang was China’s Golden Age of cosmopolitan culture, marking the invention of woodblock printing, clockworks, machines to delight, and many developments in medicines, engineering, poetry, mapmaking, and alchemy.
DANCE ORIGIN: China
The Court Dance of Tang Dynasty evokes the splendor and refinement of one of China’s golden ages of culture—in a modern day staging of Han (Chinese majority) classical dance. The piece features an elegant ancient technique called “water sleeve,” and costumes of extraordinarily light-weight silk, and extraordinarily long sleeves. The dancers delicately manipulate and flick their sleeves to create expressive effects and unison patterns. It is said this dance evokes the power of heaven as it symbolizes nature and its elements—the dashing rain, thundering wind, and tranquility after a storm.
the Tang Dynasty, 618-907, trade flourished along the Silk Road, bringing
progress and prosperity to China. This water sleeve dance is described in old
writings as an example of the wondrous entertainments provided by wealthy
families and in
the royal court, where the Emperor was honored like a god. It is also known
from the Beijing Opera. Traditionally, more elaborately coiffed dancers moved
in a sedate and formal manner. Choreographer Yang Yang—who studied water sleeve
technique under master Pei Ying Wang and worked with Dance Drama and Opera
House of China in Beijing—takes a modern approach. Her dancers wear simple
hairstyles so they can jump
and turn, and their contemporary athleticism and control appears as effortless,
The Dragon Dance is meant to be both frightening and benevolent – dragons are fierce but they also bring good luck. In Chinese literature, the Dragon King is the supreme ruler of all waters, ruling an undersea royal court of crab generals and countless armies of shrimp. He manipulates the weather, bringing rainfall, and—evoking the fluidity of water—can shape shift into human form. The Dragon King possibly originated from Hindu and Buddhist religions, and the Dragon Dance was performed in Han Dynasty China as villagers danced to bring rain and prevent sickness, with up to 50 performers moving the dragon puppet in undulating, watery patterns.
Creative director and choreographer Ann Woo was inspired to create Celestial Dragon by the approaching turn of this millennium: the year 2000 was also the Chinese Year of the Dragon. Woo traveled to Dailan in Northern China to learn and document traditional acrobatic and martial art techniques of the Dragon Dance. Back in San Francisco, she taught the difficult moves to her dancers, for its first performance in 1998, only later incorporating professional martial artists.
Woo also brought from China the fantastic 160-foot-long handcrafted dragon. CPAA painstakingly modified the puppet for black light technology, repainting each scale to make a glittering rainbow. Traditional Dragon Dance music is slow and flowing, but Woo asked composer Phil Young to compliment Celestial Dragon with up-tempo electronic MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) music.
TITLE: Dragon King
Phil Young's original score is played by four international guest musicians, all professors from the Central Music Conservatory in Beijing, and internationally recognized artists: Qiang Zhang on pipa, Xili Gu on concert dulcimer, Jianhua Wang on percussion, and Yue Li on Chinese flute. Professor Qiang Zhang is a concert pipa musician, and a leading proponent of pipa research and performance. Professor Xili Gui is a well-known concert dulcimer (or yangqin) artist and has published many articles on performance. Professor Jianhua Wang is an award-winning master of percussion and serves as the Vice-Chair of National Percussion Association. On Chinese flute, Yue Li was Golden Award winner of many national competitions, and is a rising star of Chinese folk music.
Dragon King is the second act of the dance drama Dragon2000, created by Chinese Performing Artists of America’s (CPAA) artistic team—choreographer Yong Yao, composer Phil Young, and costume designer Ching Shyu, and playwright Ann Woo, one of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awardees. The costumes were inspired by court paintings of the Tang Dynasty (7th Century). The original production was about 60 minutes long with many spectacular acts such as Coral Fairies, Blue Fish Court Ladies, and the Pearl Fairy popping out of a giant clam. Dragon King is featured in A Journey of 5,000 Years, which has been on national tour since 2004.
TITLE OF PIECE: Feng, Sui (Wind, Water)
The Chinese Performing Artists of America present an innovative choreography by Master Yong Yao, which integrates two Chinese martial arts with the philosophical principals of feng sui. Nourishing all life, the elements of wind and water are recognized in Chinese culture as two of the most essential elements. The even, fluid movement discipline of tai chi simulates water flowing on low ground, while the energetic, forceful technique of kung fu depicts blowing wind up above – here time is experienced as a quality. These two forces, part of the yin-yang principal of opposites, also manifest in the costuming and directions saluted by the dancers. The fans express the wind’s power.
TITLE OF PIECE: MOON
In traditional Chinese society marriage was
arranged, typically by
the parents. In some minority cultures, and in
youth have more freedom to choose their mates. Courting
and women has been glorified in many forms of arts such as
painting, music and dance. The piece presented in the 2005
Moon Courting, is a dance of humor and joy, which plays with
from several minority tribes in China. It depicts scenes of young
from different tribes who are competing for the hand of a beautiful
girl. Every boy tries to sit on the girl's moon-shaped skirt
get closer to her, but she skillfully and playful tries to avoid
Another scene pictures a young man thrown into a group of maidens
of the Yi
minority. He is dazzled and is indecisive about whom to pick
because they are
all so beautiful.
TITLE OF PIECE: FLYING APSARAS
The feminine heavenly beings known as apsaras, are a cardinal symbol throughout Southeast Asia. While apsaras are noted in Hindu mythology, Buddhist literature elaborates on them as being a symbol of enlightenment. They signify breath and the continuity of life, and they are the model of femininity in many Asian cultures. Because they have such a central position in the mythology and philosophy of Buddhist China, they have become the inspiration of many visual and performing artistic works.
In the 2004 Festival, the Cupertino branch of the Chinese Performing Artists of America performed Flying Apsaras, based on the original 1950s choreography of Madam Dai. This noted Chinese choreographer visited the caves of Dung-Huang, an important stop on Buddhist pilgrimages along the Silk Road. These ancient caves have hundreds of bare-footed, diaphanously-robed apsaras painted on the walls. They further depict the apsaras holding long silk ribbons drawing rainbow-like curves across the sky. So inspired was Madam Dai by the encounter with these murals, that she created a choreography that also used the silk ribbon technique preserved by the Peking Opera. The long silk ribbons depict the flying motion in the sky of these ethereal beings.