When the curtain goes up on Beijing Dance Theater's Haze, it's no surprise to see a soft mist in the atmosphere. It's much stranger to see the softness under the dancers' feet: the stage is covered with a spongy, mattress-like surface. With every step, they sink ankle deep.
Beijing Dance Theater is a confident young company, founded in 2008 by the creative team behind Haze: choreographer Wang Yuanyuan, lighting designer Han Jiang and set designer Tan Shaoyuan. Yuanyuan, who trained in China and in the West, is resident choreographer for the National Ballet of China, where her works include the ballet of Raise the Red Lantern.
Haze is a response to crisis, both economic and environmental. The soft, raised floor surface is dramatic as well as visually striking: this is a world where the dancers can't quite trust the ground beneath their feet. In one scene, they stand in a huddle, jumping on the spot. The floor's trampoline effect means that they can't stay in unison: it bounces them back at different speeds.
If the ground is unsteady, it's also cushioned. The dancers drop in dead falls, tipping over with no attempt to save themselves. The mattress surface breaks each fall: it offers both uncertainty and protection.
Haze starts out with a section called "Light", the smoky atmosphere lit by lanterns. The dancers emerge to music by Górecki, wandering across the stage or breaking into unison dances. Yuanyuan's contemporary dance language is smooth. She asks her dancers to take long balances, often in unison. Despite the unsteady footing, the steps are fluid, without jerks or tense angles. The company are poised and sleek.
In the second section, named "City", the dancers bustle and crowd together. The music picks up pace, with electronic music by Biosphere. In "Shore", they try to look beyond the world they're used to. They hover at the sides of the stage, on the firm surface surrounding the soft floor. They take the plunge by returning to the dancing area.
When they push to the front, they seem ready to leave altogether. They stand hesitant on the edge of the raised floor, reaching out a foot and bringing it back again. Then they retreat, returning to their own world and its problems. The light brightens, suggesting the sun coming out, and snow begins to fall.