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Silk Stone Moving

Ulster County Townsman, Thursday, July 3, 2003, page 8

by Marianne D. Darrow

' Silk Stone Moving' Premiere at Kaatsbaan

(Tivoli) - Michael Mao's "Silk Stone Moving" was indeed a unique premiere at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center Sunday afternoon. The performance featured Michael Mao's intriguing choreography, with "background" of projections of slides with oriental symbolism by photographer Howard Finkelson, and the music of the silk string zither by master zither player, John Thompson. Together, the trio evoked a soothing almost calming mood in the hour-long performance, with no intermission. Although based on ancient lyrics and tales from centuries ago in the music, the choreography drew from many of Mao's influences. The blissful combinations incorporated everything from the modern vocabulary of Graham, Shawn and Craske, with classical ballet reflecting David Howard, even the acrobatics which mimicked perhaps the breathtaking Cirque de Soliel.

The vocabulary of "Silk Stone Moving" was totally Mao's, as the Asian character of dance wove as a fabric into the choreography. The music seemed to inspire the almost-narrative segments of the work, rather than match step to note. The dancers used the massive stage in the performance space to the best advantage, for elevations, breathtaking lifts, and fast-moving entrances and exits. Whether, as in the opening, one dancer held the total attention of the capacity audience, or whether attention had to be divided by watching various moves by dancers spaced across the floor, the result was nothing short of captivating. Mao used repetition of certain combinations to great success in making his point. The costuming, with one change to all white, was as flowing as one should expect from the title. The duo using the great white scarfs was a highlight visually as well as from the dance point of view.

Mao has assembled a group of dancers with a truly multi-cultural background, who have expertise in dance technique as well as mime. The drama throughout was on the faces, and in the body language in every segment. Mao has trained his "team" to display an enviable "unity" within "diversity" which should certainly be a goal for many institutions - not only a success here in this remarkable company.

Although the "tales" on which the fascinating silk string zither music was based had dark sides, the riveting choreography seemed to tell a tale of more hopeful existence. It was almost a "circle of life" with the final dazzling (drum, gong) sequence heralding something more to come. And the audience at Kaatsbaan would have welcomed at least another hour of the totally Mao-style choreography.

Shanghai born, Michael Mao was educated in literature and Asian studies at Princeton and Harvard. Currently based in New York City, Mao and his Mao-Dance have performed world-wide, from China to Europe, finding more than receptive audiences to his many works. Mao, watching the performance Sunday, remarked that there may be some changes to the work before New York City sees it. It would seem positively impossible to improve on this work, which totally charmed - almost hypnotized! - the audience with the "what happens now?" Mao choreography. This reviewer found the white costuming evoking memories of a summer in Japan.

John Thompson spent at least another hour talking to patrons about the intriguing instrument and his study of the incredibly complicated "notes" in his quarter century in Hong Kong. With Howard Finkelson's photos displayed in the foyer, and Michael Mao talking to admirers about the choreography and costuming, the performance became almost a workshop for the dance patrons. Bentley Roton and Greg Cary, two of the co-founders of Kaatsbaan, also chatted during the post-performance reception, assuring everyone that more premieres and workshops are on the agenda for Kaatsbaan's summer. Good news, if they are as remarkable as Mao's!

Go to Silk Stone Moving, to my performances or to the Guqin ToC