of the

by Ned Bobkoff

In my estimation, when you witness dance/theatre, what is designed to capture your senses and stimulate the imagination is where the truth of the art lies. Every second of a heartbeat has its own kernel of truth; whether you can remember all the details of what you witnessed or not. Making connections from one theatrical moment to the next doesn't require the contingency of a theoretical connection to bind the experience. It happens when it happens, how it happens, and where it happens. You don't need Joseph Campbell to know which way the wind blows.

Producer/director Dennis K. Law engineered "Heartbeat" an "action musical" for the First International Chinese Performing Arts Festival in Canada. He and his staff engaged top-flight professional choreographers, dancers, composers and musicians, designers and costumers from a variety of Chinese state sources. An original phenomenon, "Heartbeat" uses Chinese percussion music, martial and modern balletic dancing, and a display of extraordinary scenic images with flash and fire. Fiery dancing and soundscapes, like fresh landscapes, have a life of their own, once you get into them. The associations made through the spirited choreography and dancing of the production are physically realized, cultural offerings - there for the asking. One dance event leaps over another, using the history of Chinese dynasties as a jumping off place, hardly recognizable as historically correct, but sustainable in the wake of its ingenuity. The vitality and sheer attractiveness of the young performers dancing, with relentless perfection and adherence to exquisite form, keeps the eye moving and the ear resonating.  Form and content become one and the same. What more can you ask for?

As I understand it, some of the important Toronto critics gave the show, originating in Vancouver, B.C., short shrift. Apparently one well-known dance reviewer dismissed "Heartbeat" as hardly contagious, given the ad riddled Broadway shows that frequently come into town.  I take the ferry from Rochester to Toronto to experience the entertainment in this extraordinary city, and strike up such negative comments to regional competition, a failure to absorb unfamiliar entertainment, or a locked in cultural bias and rigidity. Maybe it's the ferry ride, with its wonderful buoyancy and space, that helps me think more freely.  

After all, when you watch kids in skateboard competitions toss and flip around with keenly timed abandon, you can't help but admire their feats and wish you were young enough to do it yourself. "Heartbeat" is all that youthful energy brought into a perspective of high, artistic broad range challenges: a formal and breathtaking art done with extraordinary professional discipline and a cutting edge of harmony and balance. The last time I saw a similar high rise theatrical event like "Heartbeat" were the early springboard and high wire acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil, with its galactic dynamics and spiritual hints, and the film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", where an underlying embracing element in the spring of the tree tops, kept the film grounded in the viewer's imagination. 

 "Heartbeat" is an original phenomenon, an amazing feat of human stamina and flight. A finely woven dance dynamic, the work is embellished with lavish projections and three-dimensional sculptural designs, timed to appear out of nowhere; a musical assembly of original compositions by composer, Huang Qiu Yuan; and a fascinating array of percussion instruments that play off the action with myriad tones. The action, the sound and the visual dynamics become one and the same.  A mix of the contemporary with the traditional, Choreographer YU Su Li designed and executed a triumphant martial plan all of its own. A speculative assembly of traditional forms from various Chinese dynasties is used to establish time and place: the Bronze Age, Tan, Son, Yuan, Ming, Qing dynasties, and the "Future". All activated by percussion and the beautifully elaborated and costumed dynamics between, for, around and through the sexes. "Heartbeat" has little to do with historical accuracy and everything to do with undoing imaginative limits. The remarkable company of dancers manages to make the sequence of events appear instantly free flowing in its execution. Their sustained brilliance and interchangeable role-playing lift "Heartbeat" into the heights.  "Heartbeat" even throws in humor with a take on Irish and American tap dancing. Is it spectacle? Sure, but spectacle of a rare kind: a truly Olympian conception. 

Photos - Dennis K. Law


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©2005 Ned Bobkoff
©2005 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Ned Bobkoff is a director and writer who has worked with performers from all walks of life, throughout the United States and abroad. He recently completed a stage version of Kurban Said's "Ali and Nino".

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november 2005

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