If you're in NYC this weekend, hurry on over to the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center and grab some tickets for the Gansu Dance Theater's lavish and satisfying production of "Silk Road." The limited engagement of the Chinese troupe's dance drama opened Wednesday evening, February 27th and runs through Saturday, Mach 2nd.
As I reported last year when I saw the company's "Peony Pavilion," the performers are well schooled and meticulously rehearsed. They are, in the Chinese tradition, accomplished gymnasts as well as versatile dancers. The men in particular execute breathtaking leaps and turns but the ladies can do a mean front flip as well. What's so wonderful, though, is that the pyrotechnics are not gratuitous. They actually advance the story line rather than serving as mere titillating tricks.
Speaking of the story line, however, be sure to get to the theater early enough to study the libretto in the playbill. The narrative is convoluted – even more so than the plots of ballets such as "La Bayadère" and "Le "Corsaire" – but there's a fascinating history lesson in there about the Tang Dynasty and China's legendary Silk Road. Once you've digested the gist of the tale, you'll be able to sit back and let the spectacle transport you. I use the word "spectacle" in the best sense of the word. Yes, I'm a fan of Balanchine's "leotard ballets" but I'm also delighted by shows such as this one with parade after parade of gorgeous costumes as well as beautiful sets.
As for the choreography, what struck me even more than the virtuoso technical displays was the repeated use of passages in ensemble dances in which only the arms and hands moved. This skill, which created striking visual effects not unlike the cinematic patterns of Busby Berkeley, harks back to the Oriental tradition that eschewed jumping. I also loved watching the ladies walk with the classical Chinese heel-to-toe gait that makes them look as though they're rolling on invisible wheels. I was fortunate enough to learn that style of walking years ago during lessons at Chen and Dancers here in NYC and I still teach it to schoolchildren during Ballet Ambassadors residencies for "Around the World in Dance".
I hope you do get a chance to see "Silk Road" at Lincoln Center. If not, and you're contemplating a trip to NYC next year, try to time it so that you can catch whatever new offering the Gansu Dance Theater brings to our shores. I'm sure it won't disappoint!