Aurora Centre, Burnside, Christchurch

09/09/2017 - 09/09/2017


Production Details

BEYOND CALLIGRAPHY by Guangdong Modern Dance Company.

“One of the big success stories of international dance… a pacesetter with a difference.” – The New York Times

A double-bill programme performed one night only and exclusive to Christchurch Arts Festival, ‘Beyond Calligraphy’ highlights the exquisite grace and physicality of China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company.  The award-winning work begins with Upon Calligraphy, developed from the stylistic essence of Chinese script styles; while Ink Wash Landscape pays homage to the spiritual essence of ink wash painting and reflects on the cold, emotionless mode of communication in the digital era, which is resolved in balance and harmony between the water and ink.

“…full of meditative grace, sharp, cut-crystal physicality and languid dignity.” – Washington Post

Sponsored by: China Southern Airlines

Sat 9 Sep 2017, 7:00pm–8:25pm  

Aurora Centre for the Performing ArtsCnr Greers Rd and Memorial Ave, Burnside, Christchurch


  • Premium: $69.00
  • A Reserve: $59.00
  • A Reserve Concession: $53.00
  • Student Rush: $20.0o

Dance ,

90 minutes

Art and beauty transcending culture

Review by Andrew Shepherd 10th Sep 2017

According to the alarmingly brief (one printed side of A4) programme, BEYOND CALLIGRAPHY was developed into a double bill, full evening programme in 2011.

UPON CALLIGRAPHY, Episode 1 (which debuted in 2005), “is a poem of movements, which are developed from the stylistic essence of [five] different Chinese scripts”.  The piece begins with an atmospheric film sequence, with typed Chinese characters (hànzì) appearing in rows, before progressing to hand drawn characters and then floating from those carved into an ancient looking stone tablet. The use of haze in the auditorium and the rake of both seating and roof means the projected light is visible above the heads of the audience, as a striking reminder of the information constantly flying through the air all around us. 

From their first appearance, you know this is a company comprising highly trained dancers in peak physical condition. The initial static body forms – exquisitely derived from the printed hànzì behind them – and the changes from one form to another, require immense control and precision.  The first, very brief, costumes allow each movement clarity, showcasing the skill of each dancer.  While the lack of pictures of the company members in the programme means I am unable to mention individuals, as the work unfolds, every dancer finds their moment to quietly shine, either individually or within the increasingly larger groups. Two women dancing upstage utilise unison and mirroring, constantly morphing into new positions to great effect.  The whole piece is full of satisfying builds and changes of intensity and dynamic, with costumes that allow the appreciation of both the physical forms and the subtle changes in movement styles. The third of the script styles is expressed by an exquisite duet in grey, where the dancers’ movements and plucked string notes work harmoniously to deliver an ancient ritual courtship, nevertheless full of surprising flourishes and unexpected movement pathways.  The five male dancers (there are eleven dancers in total for this work) deliver a masterful piece in black, bringing to mind elite martial artists. Dancing in sharply defined squares of light, their shadows become like brushstrokes on the light grey floor. The first dancer, in particular, gives a virtuoso performance of gymnastic athleticism and power.

The soundtrack is an interesting blend of traditional and modern, cleverly matched to the styles and themes explored within the choreography. The shaping and pace of the work by choreographer Lui Qi is masterful: firmly controlled and deeply satisfying to watch. This is a well-crafted and beautifully structured choreography, where she showcases an appropriate range of strength and nuance without appearing at all contrived.  Fresh and invigorating and deeply satisfying.

The second part of the double bill, INK WASH LANDSCAPE, has staggered hangings making the large stage more intimate and accessible. Projections evocative of traditional painted screens utilise moving film images that for the most part provide a pleasing reference for the hypnotic movement style of this piece.

The work opens with one (male) dancer out front, who effortlessly sustains the tranquil fluidity of the choreography, at times moving with such subtlety and grace that he does not appear to do so.  After the energy and dynamism of the first work, it can take some time to settle into this very different and subtle style of movement. The ritualistic form of the arms and graceful costuming help build a hypnotic and mesmerising quality to the work, however, which provides a satisfying complement to the first, original choreography.  This very gentle movement style makes space to see and fully appreciate dancers who do not need to act but merely be. There is partnering that is slow and sustained, yet ephemeral like the cherry blossoms shown on the filmed backdrop.  And a crossing motif that is sustained but not constrictive: when broken, it isn’t at all jarring.  The sustained intensity is extremely successful, and for me reminiscent of drops of ink dispersing slowly through water.

After some more rapid spinning movements, the return to slower movements is welcome and the resolve to the final tighter grouping and subsequent lifts was very pleasing, as was the melt to the floor at the close of the piece.

Reviewing can be hard: giving your individual opinion about someone else’s creative offering, without being fully cognoscent of the subject matter, or the history and experience of the artist in question.  This could easily become more difficult when the work you are asked to review is deeply embedded in a culture other than your own.  However, art has an amazing ability to transcend barriers – cultural, philosophical and possibly even political (given the chance).  Festival programmers clearly know this: congratulations to Christchurch Arts Festival Director Craig Cooper and his team for programming Beyond Calligraphy and giving an appreciative Christchurch audience the chance to experience this work.



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