The 80-minute contemporary Chinese dance performance had every element of Chinese culture you could think of in it – a little bit of Chinese dance (with flags, ribbons and fans), modernised classical Chinese music as well as Chinese opera, poetry, and most prominently, wushu (both bare fisted and with weapons). All these were linked together by the language of dance.
The programme was divided into nine parts: Origination of Heaven and Earth; Realisation of Truth in the Grounds of Cultivation; To Seek Direction from Where He is Led; Fire, Earth; The Omnipresence of Yin and Yang; Metal, Wood; the Cessation of Yang and the Emergence of Yin; The Union of Heaven and Man; and Flow of Qi.
It was clear that the prerequisite for these performers is strong fundamentals in the art of wushu. Their troupe’s founder had, after all, started as a wushu practitioner first. Lee Swee Seng had been practising wushu for 10 years when he decided that he would not limit himself to the martial arts; he explored Chinese opera and dance – the latter interest surely a natural result of wushu’s graceful movements.
Since founding the troupe in 1998, Lee has produced Wushu and Dance (2001), Wushu and Dance United (2003) and The King’s Sword (2005). This production, which was in celebration of the troupe’s 10th anniversary, was put together with the assistance of dancers and choreographers Albert Tiong (based in Singapore) and Mark Yin Hao (based in Shanghai), who served as art instructors.
The integration of acrobatic moves such as cartwheels, handsprings and such was no surprise; these are customarily used in martial arts as they emphasise strength, flexibility and acrobatic and balance skills. What surprised me were the perfect tours en l’air (literally, “turn in the air”) executed by the male dancers, none of whom had, as far as I know, any ballet foundation at all. Tours en l’air is a jump into the air with, typically for a male, a full 360° rotation. And if my eyes did not deceive me, some of the dancers even achieved an amazing double rotation (720°)!
When the performers stuck to combining wushu and dance, they were magnificent. Qi is a reminder that, with strong fundamentals in any traditional or classical art form, versatility comes naturally.