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Shanghai Beauty


Jin Xing Dance Theatre


Malcolm Tay






The Esplanade Theatre



Deep Skin

Shanghai Beauty is one of those productions that, through no fault of its own, winds up seeming less interesting than its creator. Or, in this case, its co-creator - Chinese choreographer Jin Xing, the only son of Korean immigrants who trained in ballet in the army, became a colonel, won national competitions, studied modern dance in New York, taught in Europe and had a sex change operation in the mid-1990s. Now she models, acts in movies, leads her own dance group and lives with her adopted kids in a villa in Shanghai.

But Shanghai Beauty has its own merits. Choreographed by Jin and Berlin duo Dieter Baumann and Jutta Hell, it concerns itself with definitions of physical beauty, and its movement ideas are mixed into a chain of plotless episodes. Each section of the dance could probably stand alone, and its message isn't fresh, but these are minor quibbles. Thankfully, we're spared from angsty skirmishing and hysterical rambling; dance serves as its main mode of expression.

The piece begins with a close-up video of Jin being primped into a Beijing opera actress. First, her face is painted white with rouged eyelids, her eyes thickly lined in black; then the jet-black hairpieces are glued to her forehead; finally, she dons the long-sleeved robes and the heavy, shimmering headdress, her transformation complete. Much of this painstaking process is sped up, freezing only at some points - when Jin's face is lifted, for instance, showing off her sharply drawn eyebrows. The stage costumes reflect this painstaking process, in a way, playing with the notion of covering (or revealing) the body as one facet of beauty.

The dancers of Jin Xing Dance Theatre don't have the drilled regimentation of ballet drones; they come across as distinct individuals in various shapes and sizes, yet breathe as one living whole in their group dancing. When they first appear onstage in staid Mao suits, they gather in near-darkness, their silhouettes shifting gradually against a dim blue light. They shuffle in rows with their bodies erect. Huddling together, they bend their knees and lean inward before heaping onto the floor, as if bonded by a collective burden. Then they disperse and roll into the wings.

The rest of Shanghai Beauty, however, isn't this sombre. The choreography draws on Chinese and contemporary dance, and the results sparkle. Slow, t'ai chi-like undulations yield to a bright and bouncy riff on Bach - an unseen force yanks one dancer by the arm, while the rest look on with concern. To the sound of their footfalls, the men clap their hands and slap their bodies in rhythmic combinations. The women in long qipaos flutter their long sleeves of white tulle. And, in one of its most memorable segments (it's also on the programme cover), one woman walks serenely on a bridge built of black-clad dancers, who extend the human platform with their bodies.

That the dance has no story, no narrative thread to link its sections together, may bother some viewers. As their minds run wild, they may think it's about Shanghai, Shanghainese women of a certain period or even the "new China". I think it's all about the dancing - and the clothes. Only these dancers could wear the traditional du dou like a halter-top.

"Some may think it's about Shanghai, Shanghainese women of a certain period or even the "new China". I think it's all about the dancing - and the clothes"


Choreography: Jutta Hell, Dieter Baumann and Jin Xing

Lighting Design: Jochen Massar

Lighting: Xiao Lihe

Costume: Jutta Hell and Jin Xing

Stage/Video: Jutta Hell and Dieter Baumann

Dancers: Jin Xing, Han Bin, Li Lingxi, Liu Minzi, Sun Zhuzhen, Tan Zhiwei, Deng Mengna, Wang Tao, Zhao Yuanhang, Xie Xin, Pang Kun, Liu Xianyi, Luo Xiaoli and Lu Ge

More Reviews by Malcolm Tay

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.