Beijing Dance Theater Appears Sans Sets. Sans Much Interest, Either.

How “Crossing” was supposed to look.

Welcoming the audience to the performance by Beijing Dance Theater, UCSD ArtPower director Jordan Peimer mentioned their spectacular sets. If you look online, you can see what he means—for instance, in “Crossing” (which they did here), vertical and horizontal streamers cross the stage, and it’s stunning. Sadly, the sets were pretty much missing from the stage at the Balboa Theater. Also missing was a compelling artistic vision in three pieces by company director Wang Yuanyuan.

“Farewell, Shadows.” Photo: Andrejs Vajsukevičs

The program may have been part of the problem. Two pieces were excerpts from longer works and were inevitably incomplete. The opening “Farewell, Shadows” is part of “Wild Grass,” a dance where, in photos, the stage appears to be covered with soft grass … which might have offered a great contrast with the stark, industrial-vibe section presented here. As it was, we saw only the hard-edged part of the dance. Wearing minimal black costumes, just trunks and bandeaus for the women, dancers stared at the audience with bored fashion model expressions. Propulsive, angular choreography showed off these infinitely bendable movers’ dazzling technique, but it all left me cold.

By the way, what was with the guy who couldn’t seem to hold women around their torsos without getting a hand on their breasts? Sure, it happens sometimes, but Mr. Handsy copped feels noticeably and frequently. Time for a #MeToo moment for the company’s women.

We also got excerpts from “Hamlet,” inspired not only by Shakespeare’s play but by a 2006 Chinese film version of it, The Banquet. Maybe it was like the game Pass the Secret, by the time it got to this dance, you couldn’t identify the original. Yes, there was a melodramatic, miming Hamlet in doublet and hose, but why was he a puppet-master waving a finger and sending a stageful of dancers into jerky motion? Who was the woman in a filmy white dress who came in on pointe and scattered glitter, or the hooded “Tales of the Crypt” figures? All departures from Shakespeare would have been forgiven if the dance had been engaging. It wasn’t, nor was it helped by Dirk Haubrich’s assaultive score.

“Crossing,” the one piece shown in its entirety, was the most satisfying work of the evening. A delicious spiraling, corkscrewing vocabulary took the dancers to the floor and back up. There were yoga-like poses, a unison slither, quick turns, and the dancers in their soft, drapey costumes were like moving water. We got a hint of the crisscrossing streamers—two or three of them extended across the floor. The full set looks gorgeous, and I would have loved to see this dance with it.

Do mark your calendar for ArtPower’s next dance offering, Ephrat Asherie on February 28. I saw her company at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival last summer, doing the piece they’re bringing here, and I’m eager to see it again.

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