‘Qingming Riverside’ at The Kennedy Center by Mike Spain

Qingming Riverside is based on one of China’s most famous paintings, Along the River during the Qingming Festival by painter Zhang Zeduan. The painting is considered a Chinese masterpiece and a National Treasure. The Hong Kong Dance Company with the Guangdong Song and Dance Ensemble combine Chinese folk dance with modern dance, poetry, music, video design, props and costumes to tell a story created from the painting.

The Hong Kong Dance Company's production of "Qingming Riverside." Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco.
The Hong Kong Dance Company’s production of “Qingming Riverside.” Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco.

The opening prologue shows the program is more than just dance but a theatrical treat for the eyes and ears. It is the first of several times fog machines are used to help create the scene, and to point out where the river is on the stage. Set Designer Sam Leung  later utilizes a bridge, trees, and beautifully crafted side-panels. It is a minimal set with most of the stage is reserved for the 36 dancers who star in this performance. Billy Tang adds expert use of lights and incredible scenery which is displayed by video.

Eddy Mok captures the Chinese folk traditions of the show with his props and costumes: a sword for the sword wielding knight, umbrellas, sedan cars, and the lamps, among others. The costumes fit what one would imagine from the Northern Song Dynasty period ranging from long silk robes to thongs, but it was what was added to the costumes that made the performance so special. There were elegant and long sleeves which the dancers used in the wave riders scene, and a night entertainment scene where female dancers danced with lanterns on their heads. I enjoyed the shoes that were specially designed to help the dancers move their weight and aid in their performance.

My favorite costumes were the chicken and horse costumes, and I enjoyed the many different masks used in the production. In the night entertainment scene there was a cock-fight which featured two dancers dressed like chickens. They were beautiful pieces of art which were visually stunning. The horse costumes used in the horse-riding scene were cute, and they appealed to my inner child. The masks used by the dancers were were full of face-changing magic. They were so impressive the program actually gave credit to Charley Wong for face-changing magic design.

Director Leung Kwok-shing deserves a lot of credit for pulling everything together to create this magnificent performance. He choreographed a wonderful composition by Shi Zhiyou which combined Western symphonic style and instruments with traditional Chinese strings. I enjoyed the score, although at times it was quite repetitive. Yang Zida is also given credit for the folk dance concept and choreography.

This presentation is truly a cultural exchange with China. Not only is it based on one of China’s beloved paintings it also includes folk dances that date back as far as the Northern Song Dynasty (A.D 960-1127), including the “Donkey Caravan,” and “Rowing a Boat on Land.” “Carrying the Bridal Sedan” and a others came from the Hunan Region and their traditions.

The dancers were amazing learning the ancient traditional dances and blending them with their contemporary expertise. Dancing on stilts, with umbrellas, poles, on bridges, with flowing sleeves, masks, and even swords the dancers never missed a beat. They wowed the audience with a few unexpected and acrobatic flips and spins which bordered on acrobatics on times. Mostly they entertained with their precise movements and scenes that looked beautiful.

The Hong Kong Dance Company's production of "Qingming Riverside." Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco.
The Hong Kong Dance Company’s production of “Qingming Riverside.” Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco.

Tonight’s performance in The Eisenhower Theater is sold out. If you are lucky enough to see this performance you won’t be disappointed. Qingming Riverside is an evening of cultural enrichment, incredible dancing, and is visually stunning!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Qingming Riverside plays January 11-12, 2013 at 8:00 p.m., at The John F. Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. Tonight’s performance is sold out. For future events at the Kennedy Center check their website.


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