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Butterfly Lovers

Yellow River and Butterfly Lovers

Choreographer Xing Bang Fu leads two lives. On one hand, he works with the prestigious Guangzhou Ballet and other companies in his native China, creating works on upwards of 180 full-time professional dancers. On the other, he mounts choreography for the 14 mostly Asian dancers he can cobble together in Toronto where Xing Dance Theatre is based.

In China, Fu’s works are performed in massive theatres. In Toronto, Fu’s latest program is being presented in the minuscule Xing Dance Theatre Studio, a sub-basement deep below College Street United Church.

The theme of the evening is works set to very famous Chinese Western music, which, by definition, melds together Chinese-style melodic forms with Western symphonic structure, in this case, the concerto. Yellow River is a piano concerto, while Butterfly Lovers is a violin concerto. Both are intensely passionate pieces of music. The first tells the tragic tale of doomed love based on a Chinese myth thousands of years old; the second attempts to convey the struggle and spirit of the people whose lives are affected by China’s mightiest river. Both pieces use a utilitarian, abstract backdrop by Simon Lalonde, who also designed the costumes, with Fu creating his own lighting.

Fu’s trademark is contemporary dance that fuses traditional Chinese movement with Western ballet in choreography that is very pretty and very lyrical. Clearly based on ballet technique, his movement covers the stage in swooping, swirling motion. Fu loves creating stage pictures using a large ensemble, and both works contain many segments where the power of the group conveys the theme. As expected, the dancing is uneven. While his soloists reflect solid training and professional experience, the back rows of the corps de ballet are peopled by enthusiastic amateurs. Nonetheless, the dancers perform with commitment, if not absolute finesse.

The company is presenting three of the four movements of Yellow River, which Fu presented to great acclaim in Guangzhou. The first and last are large group pieces, the middle section a duet for Celia Au and Simon Lalonde. In earth-toned dresses and tunics, the dancers convey the river’s turbulent waters in staggered movements that depict the restless flow of waves, crystallized by Tammy Lok being held in the air, performing extended, fish-like dives. The most successful section is the last, with the company incorporating the clenched fists of Maoist operas, coupled with exciting, rapid-fire footwork that speaks of the triumph of the communal will. The Au/Lalonde duet, while very attractive, is not pungent enough to convey struggle.

Butterfly Love is the more focused work. Fu has updated the story to be the doomed love of two women, performed beautifully by Teresa Au, as the inexperienced young girl, and Jen-Yi Hum as her more mature friend. It is set in a school that allows Fu to create a formal fan dance for the company. Hum’s choreography is strong and compact, while Au floats on air. The company’s floor-length, long-sleeved mourning dance (led by Celia Au) is effective, as is the metamorphosis section when the women are joined in death among the butterflies.

In short, the evening is filled with pleasant, eye-pleasing dancing set to wonderful music.