NEW YORK—A doorway to the heavens opens. Divine beings in classical Chinese dress descend from the gate in pairs, only to reappear on the edge of the stage to bestow gifts on mankind. This was one of the first scenes of New Tang Dynasty Television's "Divine Beauty," an Oct. 29 sneak preview of its upcoming holiday shows, featuring a compilation of its global Chinese New Year performances from past years.
Unlike most performances on Broadway, New Tang Dynasty's shows don't feature a running narrative, but instead present a variety of dance, vocal, and instrumental performances that stand on their own.
The dances are skillful and well-choreographed. In the "Mongolian Bowl Dance," young girls dressed in the costume of the northern plains leap, twirl and do the signature Mongolian shoulder-shake, all while balancing a stack of three bowls on their heads.
Another highlight is "Plum Blossoms," in which the dancers use the versatility of Chinese fans as they portray the life of the plum blossom, one of the most beloved Chinese flowers because of how they bloom in the cold of winter. A crowd favorite was the "Dragon Dance," in which 10 men guide a sinuous, curving neon dragon, twisting and turning around the stage.
In addition to the dances, some of the most popular pieces were the Chinese instrumental performances: a zither duet in which the two instruments take on the voices of two phoenixes soaring in flight, and an erhu (a two-string violin) solo entitled "Destiny" that demonstrates how a single slender instrument can fill the theater with glorious sound.
But as the show goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the individual performances are concerned with something much bigger than a mere narrative. The audience is being shown, as much as possible in two hours plus intermission, quite simply—China. Chinese culture, history, folklore, myths, legends—what the Chinese people were, what they have become, and a hopeful look at what they still can be.
It is a fascinating education. Some of the richest performances were in the form of "dance operas" that depicted stories from Chinese history and legend, such as "When the Lion's Eyes Turn Red," the story of how a village was saved because of a woman's compassion; "Seeking the Tao," about a young man's quest for a Taoist master; and even a retelling of the now-familiar story of Mulan.
The performances also touch upon issues in modern China, as in "A Child's Dream," which illustrates the consequences of repression on an innocent child, and soloist Bai Xue's "Homeward Longing," in which she hopes for a renewal of her land and people.
Every single piece of the show is suffused with Chinese culture. Even the sets, mostly projection screens, are an added dimension. Many resemble colorful Chinese ink-and-brush paintings, and dazzling effects are achieved when the screens are animated, such as when snowfall covers the Chinese landscape in "Plum Blossoms," or when the Taoist master and his disciple fly to a city in the sky on the backs of Japanese cranes in "Seeking the Tao."
New Tang Dynasty's Chinese New Year show was ranked among Billboard Magazine's top 10 shows in Feb. 2006, and if "Divine Beauty" is any indication, its new "Holiday Wonders" and "Chinese New Year Spectacular" are even more worth seeing. It is a show that leaves the audience richer with the experience.