OTTAWA/WATERLOO—The world's premier Chinese dance and music company stirred audiences after beginning the Canadian leg of its 2009 World Tour this week.
Divine Performing Arts New York Company, one of three companies of the New York-based arts group, played to sold-out venues in Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo.
Set to begin a week-long run at Toronto’s John Bassett Theatre on January 8, the show is attracting growing crowds as word gets out about the unique performing arts company in its third year on tour.
“It's wonderful,” said Stephen Woodworth, member of parliament for Kitchener Centre who saw the show Wednesday night.
“What's most impressive to me about the Divine Performing Arts is how it works on so many levels. On the outside you could say that it's just great entertainment for the whole family—story telling, colourful pageantry, Chinese dance and music.
“If you just go a little deeper, you could see the craftsmanship, the artistry, the discipline, the wonderful detail that’s put into the costumes, and the set design, and the dance composition. And then if you go just a little bit deeper than that, you see that it's really all about universal values, the ideas of truth, compassion, and tolerance,” Woodworth said. “These are values that are universal to everyone.”
Ms. McKenna, a Celtic singer who saw the show in Ottawa, agreed.
“My heart was open and I started to cry,” she said of the opening act. “The very beginning of the performance touched my heart so much…. I’m just blown away by this performance, I’m just blown away. I’m sort of in awe … I’m awestruck.”
She added, “From the heart of an artist myself, I’m really impressed—beyond words. There are no words to describe how amazing this is.”
Mr. Morrison, dean of the Faculty of Music at a large university, did have words to describe his experience after attending a performance Tuesday night.
“I think one of the things that struck me was the rhythm, and the music of course and the melody and harmony. But the rhythm and the dance are just very lively. I thought it was a brilliant show.”
He was especially struck by the sound of the erhu, a two-stringed instrument known for its stirring, soulful tones.
“I love that instrument. I think that sound is one of the most gripping, haunting sounds of anything that I have heard. I mean it's gorgeous! It's almost an extension of a human-like sound even more so than a violin or a traditional stringed instrument, which can be very vocal-like. The erhu is just an amazing sound, it's beautiful.”
He added that the type of scales that are used for the erhu have “a sort of very deep emotional quality to them. There is a certain sense in which one feels quite connected to that music in a fairly deep way.”
“It's all there, it's very exuberant it's very passionate, emotional–the music, the dance and the drama, so it's a real package,” he summarized.
The show has grown in both scale and reputation as former patrons have spread the word after attending. Among those was Lisa MacLeod, a member of provincial parliament who attended Saturday night’s show in Ottawa.
“Last year I said ‘every child should have an opportunity to see this show,’” she told a VIP reception before the show including government officials, arts, community and business leaders, as well as show sponsors. She then explained that this year she’d brought her own three-year-old daughter, as well as her mother.
“I can’t wait for all of you to see it with your own eyes, to listen to the music, to see the beauty, and to see what a Canadian-Chinese is truly capable of here in the national capital,” she said.
Her words were echoed by David Kilgour, Canada’s former secretary of state for Asia-Pacific, and another fan of Divine Performing Arts, who said simply: “You will be moved tonight.”
Mr. Kilgour applauded organizers who had helped the show to quadruple its audience in just three years performing at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
David Matas, an international human rights lawyer just recently appointed to the Order of Canada and another repeat patron of Divine Performing Arts, helped explain the show’s appeal.
“A combination of history and spirituality in one,” was how Mr. Matas described show.
“I’m impressed with the choreography, the music, the costumes, the originality, the blending of ancient and modern. I’ve seen the show before and it just gets better each year.”
For Cyril Dabydeen, an award-winning poet and professor, the show was a combination of aesthetic beauty and inner beauty.
“The dance has all the energy, the tumbling movements of the ancient past … the joy of it, the quintessence of the various movements, male and female—the agility, the exercise of the men and the gracefulness of the women. It’s just beautiful,” he said.
He added, “When you look at the lyrics of the singers — and I look at the words carefully because I’m a poet — I made a connection in my own spiritual and poetic mind. It is very ennobling.”
He added that “compassion and humanity are very uplifting overall,” qualities in the show that impressed him. The “great message” of what he saw encompassed “great warmth and human spirit.” The show “was extremely full of hope,” he said.
"We see the Divine Performing Arts really and truly in action, the morality and the values of the past, which human civilization around the world should never forget and overlook, no matter how much materialistic progress you make.
“The divine spirit in all of us, [the show] awakens it,” said Mr. Dabydeen “I rank this show very, very highly … the very best.”
For more information please visit DivinePerformingArts.org