Choreography: Shuangbai Feng
Direction: Wei Ding
Composer: Gangbao Liu
Scenery and Lighting Design: Yi Ju
To celebrate Chinese New Year, Sadlers Wells hosted Legend of the Sun a traditional Chinese folktale told through a large-scale dance/drama production, with over 50 performers.
The tale originates from the Zhuang nationality, in south-west China and it tells the story of the ancestors of Zhuang who lived in a place without the sun. Members of the community volunteer to go and search for it, but it is a pregnant woman, ‘Ma’ who sets about on this adventure. During this dangerous journey she gives birth to ‘Le’ her son. Ma unfortunately dies, as an old woman, before completing the mission, so it is down to her son to complete the task. The story contains love, drama and emotion, as any good folktale should. The production is a familiar style; meaning members of the audience less au fait with Chinese dance easily understood it. (As it turned out, on the night we were the minority.) There were flavours of Ballet, in the mime-esque narration of the story and characterisation, and musical theatre in it’s over dramatic, emotive, pull-on-heart-strings scenes.
Although the scale of the production is huge in terms of the number of performers, it is very cleverly scaled back in terms of set design and props. Throughout the performance, in place of elaborate pieces of staging, appear dancers’ bodies. They create mountain ranges, rivers and rocks. They not only help create the complete picture for the audience members, but the main characters walk, stumble and climb upon them as easily as if they are wooden pieces of set. This clever use of sharing and using body weight is also seen in some beautiful duet work. The main characters in the piece are very strong dancers and performers, each one earning their place as soloists.
I found the show to be charming and, in places, physically impressive. As I, personally, am not a lover of all things musical theatre, I did find some scenes to be rather over dramatic. I am a believer that dance itself can express every emotion without the need for intense facial expressions and overt miming, however, it was an enchanting introduction into the world of Chinese dance for me. I look forward to what the next one may bring!
Reviewd by Sara Daniels
(Sara is a freelance dance teacher and lecturer in dance education)