Playwrights: Shuangbai Feng, Shuaiyuan Me, Yunlin Li, Wei Ding
Director: Wei Ding
Remake Director: Zijun Li
Music: Gangbao Liu, Kexin Liu
Lyrics: Shuaiyuan Mei
Scenic & Lighting Design: Yi Ju
Wardrobe Design: Qing Mai
Sound Executive: Shaoning Lin
China’s Spirit Dances in Chicago!
For those who have visited China, “Legend of the Sun” helps one recall the varied characteristics of the culture. Without first hand experience of China, this one production gives a glimpse into its fascinating world through iconic settings, passionate drama and exciting dance. “Legend…” blends the traditional with modern in both choreography and heartfelt music that uses age-old instruments (erhu, bamboo flute, and a fiddle made of horse bones) with Western symphonic ones. The production overwhelms with intensity and variety; and visually, it amazes. Unfortunately, the run of only two days denies many Chicagoans the opportunity to experience a unique and wonderful evening.
Thanks go to the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s collaboration with the Nanning Art Theatre and the Chinese Cultural Institute for the U.S. Premiere of this adapted ancient folk tale. The story revolves around a mountain tribe that lives in the cold without the sun, and a journey to find it. First, we watch a young mother, and then the son she bears search for the sun, allowing for many dramatic scenes of strife and happiness.
The female lead, Ying Li, exquisitely portrays four stages of her life dancing as the careful young pregnant mother; the loving and training mother of her son as a very young boy; a strong mother when he is a young adult, and finally the tragic dying old woman. She so deftly acts as much as she dances and is a joy to watch.
Her son, Le (Hao Li), carries much of the whole second half, perhaps just a little too much, dancing with his mother, grieving from her death, romantic with love interest, Teng, and struggling with his journey. At one point, he physically lifts a leg with his hands splaying it across the stage; then another and another. His anguish almost makes one want to rise up from the audience to help him. What a powerful emotive dancer to see!
Over 60 secondary dancers play many roles from peasants to flowers to tigers and even rocks and pathways. They effectively build architectural structures with their bodies in several of the scenes, an integral part of the fine choreography. Not all dancers are consistent in their quality and seem most on target with the traditional dances, which appear front and center. They use playful duets, a humorous drinking party, and even a rooster fight in scenes often labeled from the music: “Song of Love,” “Song of Journey”, “Song of Wine” etc. Side panels in English show the titles and periodically explain the setting; but the dancers so literally show the story without any sub-titles.
Typical of Chinese theater, the hundreds of costumes overwhelm with detail and color representing the three main sects of the setting in the Guangxi Province: Zhuang, Miao and Yao. The brilliant lighting added as much as the costumes, along with abundant fog for some very magical moments.
This truly polished production highlights the strong emotions of the Chinese, their perseverance, playfulness, and love of pageantry. “Legend of the Sun” offers a rare opportunity for Americans to feel the spirit of China in a grand venue at modest pricing. It would be great to have them return again next year!
Reviewed, June 12, 2012
Performances on June 12 and June 13, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway. Chicago, Il.
Tickets range from $17.50 to $55 and groups of 10 or more receive a 20% discount.
Available at ticketmaster.com or 1-800-982-2787.
“Legend of the Sun” – Nanning Art Theatre travels next to Denver and Los Angeles.