It is too easy to forget about the different and diverse cultures that reside in China other than the mainstream Chinese. The recently staged Mystical Steppes: Along the Silk Road is a real eye openner. For the uninformed, I am referring to the live performance carried out by the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar Theatre Dance Troupe in KLCC from January 26 to 28 of this year.
As the event was jointly presented by The Star newspaper, there was no problem with publicity. A short article related to the event, usually concerning one of the many beautiful dancers in the troupe was a daily feature. I was fortunate to know of the event fairly early into their promotion and not just managed to obtained a pair of tickets but also ones with a very decent seating. That was the easy part, the hard part is getting someone to see that with me. So before I forgot, my thanks to Fiona for agreeing to accompany me despite not being sure she enjoy this kind of thing.
I figured I need a camera. I am (trying to be) a blogger after all. Unfortunately, when I asked a very reliable Ms Tan to borrow her camera, she already loaned it to another friend. A friend, who is a mother of a teenage son wanted the camera for the Rain concert she was attending. There was something very disturbingly wrong about our choice of event to attend but I can't quite place it. Oh well, it's time I start hunting around for a good camera.
There was another concern, the show will most likely be presented in their own tribal language or at least in Mandarin. I am clueless with the former and very poor with the latter. This is not a movie after all, there will not be any subtitle!!
The moment I stepped into the Planery Hall, I wish I have a camera. There is so much I can put up in this blog. Actually, in full and normal lighting, the stage looked smaller than I expected. I thought the distance was just right though. Too near to the screen and I would not be able to capture everything on stage. A little more to the centre would be most ideal.
I was surprised when the show started as there was many bright and colourful lighting and the music, although tradisional, was infused with contemporary arrangement. It was an attempt to modernise the performance but personally, I thought it took away the charm of the performance. It was an introduction to the performance and thankfully, the subsequent acts were accompanied with their normal tradisional music.
And I was wrong. There was subtitle, projected onto a long screen above the stage. Too bad I only found out during the third performance, The Big Hat Dance. This all-men dance performance that seems to carry some influence from the Russian culture appeared to be a favourite with the family sitting behind me, based on what I overheard (not intentionally) during the intermission. Unfortunately, I didn't catch the name of the second performance, which is akin to belly dances but appeared much softer and gentler, which to me, made it all the more sensual. Now I really regretted not having a camera.
There was a second belly dance performance, The Exotic Arab belly Dance whish was hailed as one of the main attraction of the event although I actually prefer the first. The main dancer for this performance also danced with a prthon loaned from Zoo Negara around her. Many spetators were awed but I can't help but wondered if the light and sound and air condition may be a little overwhelming to the snake, especially after I read that the caretaker from the zoo did warned that excessive stress could kill it.
Aside from the dances, there is also two vocal and one instrumental performance, out of which the female vocalist was without a doubt the most impressive. The second song she belted out, Highland of Tibet, was supposedly one that many vocalist avoided as it required a very high key. And I do mean a really high key, although it seems pretty effortless to her. I wondered what Simon Cowell would say of her performance?
The show was hosted by a member of the troupe and a local host, whom looked very much like the girl from an old local sitcom, 2+1 but I wasn't sure. The presentation was decent enough and the Chinese host spoke with a sharp crisp voice that eluded most Malaysian. It's true. I don't understand either. We have better host/presenter/speaker/DJ in Malaysia nowaday compared to last decade but eventhough these people know what to say, many of them just don't have the voice. I have my suspicion of the reason but that would be another story.
Was the show good? I certainly won't mind a second viewing. The dances are lively, the costumes are fabulous and the people are beautiful. What is there not to like about this? At least Fiona enjoyed the show as much as I did. Whew, I was worried she might fall asleep.
Still, I find it a bit overwhelming to watch performance from 13 different tribes in two hours. I reckoned I would enjoyed it more if the audience were given more time to appreciate and understand the culture of each tribe, to be absorbed into their world but I guess that is just me.
Apparently, there was a tradisional Japanese drum performance a week earlier at the Istana Budaya which I didn't know about because it was not as widely publicised. I thought I might really enjoyed that. I saw the drum performance of the Korean (not live though) and I really enjoyed it.The Korean show has Korean women beating moderate sized drums while the picture for the Japanese show depicted men hitting really big drum. Different but I am intrigued nevertheless.
And through the power of publicity, there were 2 other performance brought to Malaysia I got to know about which I never get to catch. First is Cats. Admittedly I don't know much of this show except that it is a musical. The poster though, was absolutely brilliant. It has two yellow circle, within each which has a rough graphic drawing of a dancing figure. Look at both circle together and we see what looked like a pair of cat's eyes staring out at the readers. Brilliant.
Second is Stomp. I read about this and was very interested with the concept where the performers dance and created music with everyday objects. Those who do not remember reading about them may still remember them in an advertisement for one of the theater sound system when you go watch a movie. Or at the very least, remember a curly haired guys with a big empty drum strapped on each of his leg stamping around, making very loud noise. Anyone? Well, I saw a version of this in one of Hong Kong variety show and although it was a short simplified performance with mostly hitting pots, bins etc like a drum, it was already very enjoyable. Hope these two shows will come to Malaysia again.
Anyway, it won't be a quiet year. The Phantom of the Opera is taking stage in Singapore in March and aroung June, there will be a local production of Chinese romantic classic, The Butterfly Lovers. Now all I have to do is find a companion.