CHEN DANCERS DELIGHT
By: Hal de Becker
My friends Hugh and Cecilia Ellis, an active team in local Chinese charities, recently invited me to the Shirley Chen bi-annual Chinese dance concert at Horn Theatre.
The invitation extended to my son Brian, his daughter Olivia (one of my granddaughters) and Heather Victorson, a former ballerina with England’s Royal Ballet.We were happy to accept but weren’t sure what to expect.
I knew of course of Ms. Chen: graduate of the National Taiwan University of Arts; a degree in dance from California’s UCLA; doyen of the art of Chinese dance; recipient of numerous awards; and former president of the Chinese American Dance Association.
From the moment the performance began we were all enthralled by the dancing, music and colorful costumes, and at its conclusion felt richly entertained and intrigued by an art form belonging to another culture.
Some dances even belonged to another time dating from as far back as the Tang and Han dynasties, both more than 1000 years old.Those dances were restored by Ms. Chen who
also staged and choreographed the program’s traditional folkloric and original works.
Whether traditional or original, her choreography, with its poses and interesting weaving patterns, always seemed faithful in style, steps and mood to its Chinese, Taiwanese and Tibetan sources.
Various aspects of the program had been in preparation for six months prior to the performance.The dazzling costumes, for example, were designed and constructed in Beijing, China and then transported to Las Vegas -- heavily insured, of course.
They consisted of flowing silks and chiffons encompassing practically every shade of every color of the rainbow.They were embroidered with semi-precious stones and frequently assembled with gold and silver threads.
The 52 dancers, mostly female and ranging in age from to five to 65, were thoroughly rehearsed and performed with professional polish.
Especially impressive were their graceful arm and hand movements which Ms. Victorson agreed could have adorned well-trained ballet dancers.They all are or have been students of Ms. Chen’s local school of Chinese dance.
Some of the concert’s 19 numbers included the suspenseful and amusing manipulation of plates and the twirled balancing on finger tips of floppy cloths. Other dances were meditative and sedate and, of course, there was an example of the famous ribbon dance.
A butterfly number was a standout with three dancers who, while wearing spacious wings in resplendent colors of yellow and ocher, moved lyrically to create the illusion of slow sustained flight.
The beautiful Ms. Chen made a brief appearance on stage to acknowledge the standing ovation her program deservedly received. She will soon be departing for China, Malaysia and Taiwan to research new dance modes, fabrics and music for her 2015 extravaganza.