This was SO much more impressive and beautiful than I anticipated it to be. The precision of the dancing/martial arts was spectacular, and I actually learnt quite a bit about Confucius!
I’m hopefully going to something quite similar this week- The Imperial Bells of China.
Originally posted on The AU Review
Often referred to as The Sage, Confucius is a staple in Chinese tradition and belief. In a celebration of the wisdom and life journey of the iconic sage 60 dancers of the China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre bring his story to life. It is the story of a man who so drastically changed the moral and political landscape of China, and fought to bring harmony and wisdom to the court and people of China in the face of a discordant world and faltering King.
The dance drama is performed in continuous “Acts”, which represent Confucius’ tour around the States. It is a journey full of frustration, without the accomplishment of his dream and where devotion is never repaid.
The Prelude ‘Inquiry’ opens with a memorial ceremony, before the story begins with Confucius resigning from his post as Minister of Justice to introduce his Doctrines of Benevolence and Etiquette. In Act One ‘The Chaotic Time’ Confucius is met with only hostility and ignorance. The Imperial Mistress meets Confucius by chance and is touched by his Doctrine. She convinces the Duke to recognize the Doctrine. The Minister senses danger to his position of power, and begins a coup of violence and exiling.
Wars are endless during Act Two ‘Out of Food’, with an exiled Confucius leading his disciples with an optimism and persistence only hardened by the lives of the tortured people he witnesses. His resolve moves the divine power, who makes time go backward into a dreamland of Act Three ‘Great Harmony’. Here, in his dream, Confucius sets an altar under and almond tree and shares his doctrines with fellow men of virtue. War is turned into a time of peace, where the people live happily and the maidens dance. Honour is given to the gentleman who is like jade, both benevolent and full of integrity. Confucius is presented with a symbol of awe and honour, the sword of Ziwei.
His dream soon ends though, and Confucius is returned to a world of slaughter and violence in Act Four ‘Mourning for Benevolence’. Returned to this world Confucius shuffles alone, lost and helpless. Despite his distress, Confucius maintained his optimism that people would carry forward the doctrine. He held strong to the belief that a man of benevolence would never be depressed, man of wisdom never perplexed, and a man of courage never be frightened.
We come to our conclusion in the Epilogue ‘Happiness’, where Confucius becomes a teacher and compiles his Six Classics- Classic of Poetry, Book of Documents, Book of Rites, Classic of music, I Ching, and Spring and Autumn Annals. His philosophy is continued through the generations towards a world of harmony and prosperity.
This performance was beautiful, incredibly beautiful. The story is brought to life by some of the most exquisitely talented dancers- who move through their dances so gracefully they appear to be floating most of the time. The intricate costumes contribute to this effect wonderfully, with the long length of the sleeves and the floating material extending the dancers movements as they leap, tumble and execute the most precise movements with apparent ease. It is just so incredibly graceful.
At several points our leading lady is picked up and gracefully twirled around the body of her male counterpart before being thrown into a spin and caught in a graceful movement. The whole move has not the drama that you might expect to feel, just a sense of awe and wonder at how perfectly smooth the whole thing was executed.
This leading lady, The Imperial Mistress, was truly incredible to behold. Her movements were flaw free and so beautiful. I could hardly keep my eyes from her. Her flexibility and strength was evident, but masked by this graceful ease.
Confucius himself was also just a wonder to behold. His dancing was as graceful as The Imperial Mistress, but with this evident sense of strength and power. Supported by his incredibly expressive face, he created such a character presence on stage that rightful befitted the wise Sage he depicted. His ability to freestanding forward-flip so high into the air kept me in awe every single time…
All of the leads were remarkable, but the ensemble was also so equally superb to watch. They were often used to such interesting effect as part of the stagecraft, forming barriers and moving in perfect synchronization. I loved the intricacies of the movements, the head movements that so precisely matched the movement of the body and the twitches of the hands that caused the long sleeves to sweep around.
The style and technique of Confucius was a wonderful way to be introduced to some of the traditional style of the dance, art and culture of China. It was truly an incredible performance to behold, and one that so perfectly depicted through dance the equal parts strength and gentleness that it’s namesake represents.
Confucius was performed by the China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater as part of the Australia Chinese Cultural Festival 2014.