If there's one thing I regret about Confucius at Lincoln Center, it's by the time this review will come out, the New York run will likely be over. This dance drama presented by the China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), tells the story of the legendary Chinese scholar’s journey through the kingdoms of Zhou Dynasty in China and his goal to instill a code of ethics and honor amongst the empire’s rulers. Told in six acts by writer Liu Chun, the tale transports the audience to a simpler time, and what the dance drama lacks in narrative complexity, the show makes up for with visual variety.
Directed and choreographed by Kong Dexin, a 77th generation direct descendent of Confucius, the dance drama includes traditional Chinese music with opulent sets and costumes. Using a mixture of real and lyrical elements, scenic and lighting designer Ren Donsheng creates a whimsical set that includes fabric panels with Confucius’ writings that move through the stage to create new depths and spaces. Donsheng mixes the functional panels with more sculptural pieces like a throne and trees. The costume design by Yang Donglin is lush and full of vibrant colors that contrast well with the monochromatic set. The lighting design beautifully accentuates the overall production design and helps create a dreamland that whisks away the audience from our mundane realities to something magical.
Kong Dexin creates this magic through her simple, yet elegant staging and characterization. The most successful aspect of the production is the dream-like movement, executed to perfection by a flawless troupe of dancers. Hu Yang plays Confucius with superior athletic ability and though clearly aged by makeup, he is able to capture Confucius’ spirit. The clear stand out in the troupe is definitely Tang Shiyi who is easily one of the best dancers I have seen in recent times. As Concubine, she is a combination of grace and strength and consistently wows the audience with tricks performed with remarkable ease.
In its attempt to convey a luxuriant melodrama, every now and then the production hits a discordant note. The musical transitions sometimes lack smoothness and while the acts and meanings of certain lyrics of songs are translated, others are not. These are of course minor flaws for a work that is as stunning in its ambition as it is proud of its own unique aesthetic. The President of CAEG, Zhang Yu, recently stated that he hopes the dance drama will “engage audience everywhere,” and I suspect as it travels to Washington, D.C. and onto other US cities, it will continue to thrill all that need little bit of magic in their lives.