Dance

Re:orient: double-bill The Place Theatre, London
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The Independent Culture
The Place Theatre's Re:orient festival, directed by Pit Fong Loh, is an introductory taster of contemporary Chinese dance and performance. Like the many September seasons of south-east Asian dance which preceded it, Re:orient doesn't limit itself to the obscure fascination of a select handful of imports from its designated catchment area. Hence this week's juxtaposition of a double-bill from Beijing and a penultimate programme in which New York-based Muna Tseng and Ming Shen Ku, from Taiwan, shared an evening with Hong Kong's Mui Cheuk Yin.

Indeed, Loh herself, whose Bi Ma Dance Company opened the festival, is a Malaysian choreographer living in London. Given that of Britain's ethnic minorities the Chinese constitute the third largest group, British-based (or -born) east Asian dance artists are either remarkably few or have a disproportionately low profile in this country. But perhaps Re:orient's blueprint was to look further afield and, through its more global approach, it illustrates Chinese cultural heritage both in flux and transformed.

Of the work from Beijing, Sheng Pei Qi's pair of solos seemed less self- consciously and spuriously radical than Wen Hui's 100 Verbs, a group piece for Hui and five men on a stage littered with props. This landscape could have been a metaphor for the cluttered thinking which underpinned the piece. Hui's episodic structure and incumbent nonsense owe something to the performance work of Hong Kong's Edward Lam, but she lacks Lam's sureness of touch.

Whereas Hui and her companions came across as people who have recently discovered improvisatory techniques, Sheng Pei Qi, a self-communing yet outwardly generous performer, demonstrated a marriage of modern intuition and the acquired skills of classical Chinese dance in her solos, River of Tears, and Sword Dance. The first, full of feminine shape in its rhythmic gymnastics-style manipulations of the costume's extended sleeves, was all yin next to the second work which, with its sharper edges and martial vigour, was almost entirely masculine yang.

Like Qi, Mui Cheuk Yin brings a contemporary presentiment to classical traditions. In an early creation, Awakening in a Dream, and the more recent Eulogy, Yin keeps you transfixed through a series of changing images of Oriental womanhood, and through the virtuosic handling of props: a fan which shifts from being a symbol of demureness to a switchblade. Flanking Yin's passionate but austere works were solos by Muna Tseng and Ming Shen Ku. The latter gains points for kooky value: a cross between Bjork, Tina Turner and a witch girl in Echo Well, and dressed in a surgical gown for the movement/ spoken dissertation on making a dance in I Was a Choreographer.

More substantial was Tseng's 8 Sketches in Hunan Accent, a recital in which Tseng, accompanied by pianist Sou Hon Cheung, draws on composer Tan Dun's upbringing during the Cultural Revolution - not that you would have known it. But each dance in the suite was like a small, beautifully formed gem; each carved around and highlighting the contrasts in Dun's music which echoed the playfulness of Bartok one moment and the impressionistic cascades of Debussy the next.

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