A superb execution of sacrifice

Rite of Spring Part 1 - The Adoration Of Earth


‘Rite of Spring – Part 1 : The Adoration of Earth’
International Festival of Dance Academies
Taipei Metropolitan Hall, Taiwan
20 July 2012

Choreography: Xiao-Xiong Zhang
Costume Design: Chien-Wei Wu
Lighting Design & Photography: Xiao-Xiong Zhang

A superb execution of sacrifice * * * *

Arching across the depth of the stage in a semi moon formation, the bronze-toned flesh of the sixteen servant warriors glistens.  They are poised, very much alive yet motionless, seated mirroring each other like keepers of their kingdom door. This is a stunning image that opens ‘Rite of Spring – Part 1 : The Adoration of Earth’ for dancers of the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA). Choreographed by resident dance lecturer and choreographer, Professor Xiao-Xiong Zhang, this work first premiered as a full length production for the TNUA in 2008. It was reworked and performed in May 2012.

The opening scene begins Zhang’s interpretation of Nijinsky’s century old choreography ‘Le sacre de pretemps’ for the Ballet Russes who premiered the work in Paris on 29 May 1913. Zhang’s interpretation is as much striking as it is provocative for any admirer of the human form as it paints a powerful and compelling tale of tragedy some prefer to forget.

A high priest or reigning elder of the land (4th-year dancer Huang Li-Chieh) appears in an expressive and imposing demon-quelling manner standing tall and strong ready to defend his dynasty. The warrior’s gaze meet each others before a powerful sign from the almighty  gestures one of his loyal devotees (Lin Zheng-Xin) into his sacred holy space.  Lin approaches cautiously, edging closer to danger. Showing his dutiful allegiance, he dives and tumbles before him, twisting, folding, reaching and retracting before another much shorter young male dancer (Huang Kuan-Jung) meets his calling. He is initiated into manhood by dancing a series of clever acrobatic maneuvers which ends as he leaps into his masters arms to rest perched high above.

The warriors form a circle while stamping their feet and bowing down to their master. Their muscular defined bodies, I’m told by Zhang, depict statuesque characateurs of the Cambodian War (1970 – 1976). In this work are references of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge which occurred between 1976 – 79 when almost half the population had been murdered. Memories of this time are still fresh in Professor Zhang’s thoughts. He explains in his mind  he still sees the bloodshed and decapitated bodies floating in the river. Zhang lived through this period during the war before fleeing Cambodia at the end of 1971 to live in China. He then emigrated to Australia in 1983 where he trained and worked as a dancer for many years.

As Igor Stravinsky’s original score intensifies, all 16 male dancers defend their territories with a grounded intoxifying dance which draws me deeper into this world. They spring and leap skyward with straightened torso’s like poisoned arrows and spears. The powerful synchronicity of this initial scene unfolds with the wind of their bodies rushing by me to reveal four female dancers. Only one (ex-Cloud Gate 2 dancer, Wang Yuan-Li) wears a black see-through dress designed by Chien-Wei Wu that exposes her powerful feminine muscularity while the other female dancers are wearing see-through flesh tones draped over their petite frames.

As they enter the royal arena it awakens images in my mind of loss, power, defeat, death and sacrifice that is so prevalent in Asian history. Yuan-Li playing the matriarch, joins Li-Chieh in a duet that contorts, writhes, contracts and extends to the heavens reaching for protection for her daughter (ex-Cloud Gate dancer, Shen Yi-Wen) who has been chosen as the sacrificial girl so that other life can continue.

You see almost every muscle of these virtuosic student dancers as ten couples fill the space in a unison dance that clings to life itself, ending with the women being lifted effortlessly above the heads of the warrior men. This provokes in me ideas about cultural cleansing, removing and displacing the villagers from their daily life against their will. Most captivating is Huang Li-Chieh who controls the entire stage throughout the performance. The women cling together for safety, depicting fish swimming up-stream preparing to feast.

A second duet with Yi-Wen and a very tall and statuesque Chen Jia-Hong is equally powerful. Scenes of resistance are played out with the sacrificed girl floating, falling and desperate to be saved from her destiny. She is trapped by the warriors now gesturing towards her as Jia-Hong playing the executionist overwhelms her with frightful intimidation as he presses his hands suffocatingly over her face. In her last dance, she farewells her maiden friends. Part 1 : The Adoration of  Earth comes to a most powerful and sudden conclusion with her being lifted towards the heavens to realise her fate.

Zhang’s choreography is an electrifying depiction of traditional belief which marries beautifully and poetically to Stravinsky’s composition as if it were written for this dance alone. It is a spiritually charging recreation which showcases the incredible talents of Taipei’s next generation of elite dancers ready for the world stage.