An evening of dance at Zhuhai’s Dream Theater

                                                                                                                                              photo:  Hobi Ho


Silent Voices, a solo performance by Ning Xi with choreography by Kevin Polak artistic director of KheN, is a deeply psychological work. Performed at the Dream Theater in Zhuhai, China on Friday, September 14, 2018 the performance is scheduled to appear in Shenzhen and Guangzhou in coming months.[1]

Silent Voices, documents a woman’s journey from a state of anxiety and uncertainty to psychic liberation. As Mr. Polak stated, when discussing how he conceived the work, he said it functions as an assessment of the historical role of women and the presentation of a readjustment of that role.

In his writing regarding the performance he wrote, “I kept lingering into the relationship between Men and Women. Silent Voices is a performance about the unspoken words and worth of Women, their fear to speak out and/or be themselves, which is imprinted in their cell memory for millennia, due to numerous reasons. Just to name a few, monotonous religions, society, men’s fear, laws, opinions, awareness and history.”[2]

When asked about the work’s genesis, the choreographer quoted philosopher William Golding in stating: “Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she’ll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she’ll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she’ll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she’ll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her.”


[1] Dalian 10/5-7, Beijing 10/19, Chengdu 10/27, Changde 11/3, Xian 11/10, Kunming 11/19, Guangzhou Dance Festival 11/17-22, Shenzhen 11/30, Nanjing 12/21/2018

[2]  Quoted from Mr. Polak’s article at: https://www.linkedin.com/wukong-web/articleShare/6445805520849825792?trk

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With this Mr. Polak speaks of how the world has turned upside down the roles between men and women. He identifies this work as an attempt to address the imbalance and prescribe a remedy.

On stage, the set was minimally dressed with two folding chairs over which two white fabrics are placed. These function as projection screens hosting the image of water, in this case surf lapping the shore. As Mr. Polak clarified that the structure of the work followed the 5 elements of Chinese philosophy, “water, metal, wood, fire and earth”, this image was meant to articulate the first of these.

The sound track for the performance are songs from the Dutch singers Stef Bos, Maaike Ouboter, Wende Snijders and Irishman, Damian Rice. From Stef Bos we hear, Ik haar gekend I have known her and Damian Rice’s work, Long, long way, which we are told by the choreographer identify the water element and fear.

As the event began, Ning Xi rose from the floor working her way to a microphone placed downstage at its center. She attempted to speak, but could not and from this the dancer moved into her performance. At one point she detached the microphone’s cable and wound it around her body, almost possessed by its form. Her movements became violent spasms as she confronted her entanglement in the cable and at one point sought the aide of a member of the audience to release her.

photo: Zheng Wei Zhuhai TV

These actions were accompanied by a song from Maaike Ouboter, entitled Smoor with lyrics that speak about dispossession and sadness, and we are told by the artistic director are symbolized by the metal element as displayed in the metal of the microphone and its cable.

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Later in the performance from a song by Stef Bos, Niet van deze Wereld we get the lyrics:

Stilte is kracht, Jij bent niet van deze wereld. Jij bent niet van deze tijd. Jij strooit zout in open wonden. En ze zijn je liever kwijt dan rijk, Ze zijn je liever kwijt dan rijk.

The English translation: Silence is Power. You are not from this world. You are not from this time. You sprinkle salt in open wounds. They rather get rid of you then acknowledge you.

Lyrics alluding to the awakening of a woman’s power, and the historic attempts to suppress her, as seen in the performance with the dancer undergoing her transformation by stripping away her shirt to reveal the female form below her tightly fitted leotards.

photos:  Zheng Wei, Zhuhai TV

The artistic director of KheN, in describing the significance of the musical score for this work, wrote the following:

“Going from pinky to thumb, pinky is water = fear (first and second songs Stef Bos, Ik haar gekend and Damian Rice’s, Long, long way)

Then ring finger, sadness metal, microphone cable (Maaike Ouboter, Smoor)

Then middle finger – fire – happiness – but in history, the women that where truly connected to their essence were burned as witches ( Stef Bos, Niet van deze Wereld)

Then index finger – wood- aggression ( Wende Snijders, Laat me)

And as a last conclusion thumb – Earth- love (Maaike Ouboter, Lijmen).”[1]


[1]Excerpt from the author’s correspondence with Kevin Polak regarding the musical score for Silent Voices.

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photo:  Zheng Wei and Liu Jing, Zhuhai TV

The performance, in this manifestation, was illuminated by a single light source, that of the video projector placed downstage of the dancer. From it the field of movement was illuminated and at times Chinese texts were scrolled, providing a poetic counterpoint to the motion on stage.

The performance moved through the five Chinese elements articulated above with projected images of fire, as the dancer mounted one of the chairs, now positioned upstage, with her background illuminated by the video of projected fire.

photo:  Zheng Wei, Zhuhai TV


It was hard not to be moved by the artist and her struggle. Her freedom came at a moment when an image of her hands cupping soil appeared from behind her, forming a heart shaped pattern.

photo:  Ron Rocco

From this the performer once again approached the microphone, but now her voice was liberated, she spoke:

“这是一件让我很痛、很羞耻的事。内心的羞耻感折磨了我很长时间。站出来,说出来,绝不容易。

从何说起?你们又会怎么看待我呢?不愿正视我的疼痛,还是站在一旁,你一言我一语,让我的眼泪渺小到不值得探究。

我是一名女性,我曾经为此感到抱歉。我是一名女性,现在,我为此感到骄傲。”

This is something that was very painful for me and of which I was shameful. The feeling of shame tortured me for a very long time. It was never easy to come forward and talk about it.

Where to start? How would you think of me?

Not willing to look at my pain, or stand on the side talking about this or that and ignore my tears falling down, or to explore any further. I am a woman, I used to feel apologetic about it.

I am a woman, now I feel proud of it.”

In conclusion, the choice of lyrics, stage effects and lighting along with the choreographed movement made this is an extremely well-conceived work coming from an established choreographer of international recognition.

Mr. Polak, who was a member of the Nederlands Dans Theater based in The Hague, has a good knowledge of stage craft, no doubt benefiting from the example of Jirí Kylian the Nederlands Dans Theater’s Artistic Director.

Ning Xi is an accomplished dancer trained in both Asian and western traditions. In China, where Modern Dance and Dance Theater are a novelty, this work is a brilliant beacon signaling the future of dance in China.

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