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A Dose of 'Double Happiness'

Claire Spera |
February 9, 2010 | 11:05 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The Beijing Dance Academy in 'Lotus Flower in June.'  (Photo by Mr. Wang Shengsheng.)

Get ready to jump-start your heart this Valentine's weekend at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre with a production from the other side of the globe. In celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Beijing Dance Academy's Resident Dance Company will perform "The Butterfly Lovers," heralded as "China's Romeo and Juliet" story, along with additional pieces that invoke ancient Chinese history.

The arrival of 32 of the company's dancers, who will perform a blend of classical Chinese and contemporary dance forms, is made possible by Chinus Cultural Productions, dedicated to exposing American audiences to the "emerging creativity coming out of China," says Hong Mautz, president of the organization since its inception in 2006. "The Beijing Dance Academy (BDA) is hailed as the top dance academy in China. It is like the equivalent of the Julliard School," Mautz explains. 

BDA dancers undergo rigorous training to prepare them for the country's best dance troupes, which is where the Chinese saying "One minute on the stage takes 10 years of practice off the stage" comes from, explains Mautz.

The dancers all undergo six years of pre-academy training, then another four years at the academy. Upon graduation, the top dancers are retained in BDA's Resident Dance Company.

"For Chinus, our goal is to expose both U.S. and Chinese cultures to promote cross-cultural understanding," comments Mautz. "A lot of ancient China is understood in the context of museums in the U.S., but very little is known about the Cultural Revolution in China when [the country] was closed off. And relatively little is known about the new China ... With this performance, American people can see and enjoy a world-class Chinese production. If it goes well, we plan to continue these cross-cultural activities."

BDA itself is a post-Cultural Revolution product, with all of its dancers having been born from the 1980s on. 

Choreographer Zhang Jianmin's 30-minute piece, "The Butterfly Lovers," will be performed in the first half of the show. Set to a 1959 violin concerto written by composers Chen Gang and He Zhanhao, Zhang created the dance version of this story of star-crossed lovers in 1993.

'"The Butterfly Lovers' is actually a household name in China," notes Mautz. "It's very famous; the most famous violin concerto China has produced. There are many different artistic stage forms of 'The Butterfly Lovers.' For example, it is done as an opera, with singing and story telling. The first time it was decided to make this story into a dance was in the 1990s, and it premiered in China to great acclaim. This current version is a U.S. premiere."

Zhang's choreography is best known to American audiences via the 2004 Chinese film "House of Flying Daggers."  

Visual stimulation in the production is not limited to the dance choreography; it extends to the costumes, lighting and set design, says Mautz.

"The costumes are very, very colorful," says Mautz. "For the U.S. tour they designed a new backdrop and lighting scheme."

Among the other pieces that will be performed are "Waist Dancing of Two Women," in which the slim-waisted dancers don long-feathered head pieces; "Three-Way Crossroads," a famous Peking Opera piece adapted into dance choreography; and "Emperor Qin Shihuang Calls on Troops," inspired by the terracotta warriors of the Qin Dynasty and featuring four men "portraying the force and power of Qin soldiers" while dancing to the rhythm of drums. 

The coming weekend marks a time of "double happiness" in Chinese culture.
"The Chinese New Year is on February 14th, Valentine's Day, so it's called 'double happiness,'" explains Mautz. "This is the year of the tiger, which is supposed to be a prosperous year."

We could all use a dose of that.

WHAT: Beijing Dance Academy Presents "The Butterfly Lovers."
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12-13 and 2 p.m. Feb. 14.
WHERE: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.



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