Gateway a hit in Houston

Updated: 2014-04-21 11:24

By May Zhou in Houston (China Daily USA)

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Gateway, a work connected to Kung Fu master Jackie Chan, was so powerfully presented at Houston's 2014 Dance Salad Festival (DSF) that the audience gave Bejing's Contemporary Dragon KungFu Dance Company (CDKDC) a standing ovation. That unforgettable reception brought the opening night of the festival and its array of world class performances from China, Spain, Denmark, Germany, France and Britain to a shouting, triumphant close.

Beijing Dance/LDTX is the other Chinese dance company that performed in the 19th DSF, directed and curated by local artist Nancy Henderek. The nightly performance continued through Saturday, including eight dance companies from seven countries.

Houston was familiar with Beijing Dance/LDTX since the group was making its fourth appearance at the festival. This year it brought two programs: Treading on Grass and Sorrowful Song. Both dances were choreographed by Executive Artistic Director Li Hanzhong, and his wife and artistic partner of many collaborations, Ma Bo.

"We come to DSF every couple of years. It provides a very good opportunity for our dancers to gain performance experiences," Ma Bo said. "Also, DSF gathers extraordinary talents from around the world and this definitely helps to broaden our horizons."

For CDKDC, it was their debut at DSF, and Gateway was a sensation thanks to its unique way of combining Kung Fu and dance and by having male dancers use their long sleeves as female dancers traditionally do. Another big sensation was Britain's Embrace.

DSF Director Nancy Henderek lavishly praised Gateway: "I am thrilled that they came and I hope they come back again," she said. "What I really love about that piece is, it takes the traditional Chinese sleeve dance that the ladies do in a very beautiful and subtle way, and then have the men take the sleeves and so powerfully use the sleeves, and it's very contemporary and modern. That's a symbol for what's happening in China - taking traditional elements, mixing them, being exposed to other forms, and using all of them together to create something new. I am happy this is happening in China and I am happy we are able to share this with people in the US."

Xu Li, an Oriental Arts Education Center principal and a DSF board advisor, is responsible for bringing Gateway to DSF. Xu, a friend and alumni of Gateway producer and choreographer Liu Lu from the Beijing Dance Academy, first saw the performance last summer while visiting Beijing. Xu was so impressed she recommended it to Henderek, and the director took a liking to it.

An artist with wide experiences in movies, TV, martial arts and acrobatics, Liu said she feels that Chinese kung fu contains cultural elements worth developing further. But "this needs to be done by us Chinese," she said, and Gateway is her attempt at that. In her creation, she focused on expression through body movements - the core element of dance.

What's special about this program is that the dancers are martial artists, not trained dancers. Established in 2006, CDKDC includes members from prestigious kung fu groups in China, such as Shaolin Kungfu Monk Corps and Chinese Shenwu Cultural Communication Company.

To turn martial artists into dancers, Liu started training them in ballet and modern dance two years ago. Fortunately, "they are smart and learned very fast", she said.

"Only they can handle the long sleeves and display the power. It would be hard for ordinary dancers to do it. You may call this our 'patented' talent", Liu said. She said her objective was to display masculine power on the dance stage while bringing some fresh stimuli to the dance world.

Performers Guo Kai and Yang Ao both said it was exciting to perform at the DSF. "Our training is very hard, but the audience's enthusiasm makes me feel that all the hard work is worth it," Guo said.

"I can see that the other dance groups are highly skilled. By sharing the stage with them, it proves that we are recognized," Guo said. "When I saw the audience standing up to cheer us, I felt we did pretty well compared to the others."

Chinese Cultural Consul Yang Song called DSF a wonderful international platform for different countries to showcase the best of their art, saying these two companies sent by China's Ministry of Culture represented the creation and innovation of modern dance in China.

"From the audience's enthusiastic response, they must have felt the uniqueness of oriental art," Yang said.

 Gateway a hit in Houston

Chinese Cultural Consul Yang Song (fifth from right), Houston Dance Salad Festival advisor Xu Li (second from left) and Gateway producer Liu Lu (third from left) celebrate with Gateway performers at a reception following Thursday night's performance. May Zhou / China Daily

(China Daily USA 04/21/2014 page2)