BUTLER MUSEUM Ballet matches dance to Chen Chi's artwork
The performance was a tribute to Chinese-American artist Chen Chi.
By L. CROW
Ballet Western Reserve, under the artistic direction of Anita Lin, has established a reputation for its unique, fresh and creative approaches to dance performance and collaboration with other organizations.
This past weekend, audiences were treated to "An Evening of Dance at The Butler," in which BWR paid tribute to Chinese-American artist Chen Chi one of the 20th century's greatest watercolor painters, by bringing seven of his works to life through dance. And what an extraordinary performance it was.
This tribute had personal meaning, both to Lin, who is of Chinese descent, and Butler director Dr. Louis Zona, a friend of the artist's. When BWR originally conceived the idea, Chen Chi was scheduled to attend the event, but he has since died, at age 94. Throughout his life, he was very generous to the Butler Museum, through gifts of his paintings and financial donations.
Zona shared thoughts and memories with the audience before the dancing began. Chen Chi left China in 1947 and first visited the Butler in the 1960s, and Zona frequently visited him at his home in New York.
Zona told of the time the renowned artist asked his opinion on how to finish a certain painting. The Butler now has a large exhibit of his beautiful works on display upstairs surrounding the staircase area.
The performance began as Michael Morley introduced each painting/ dance, and read an accompanying poem, written by Chen Chi. As the dancers entered the stage area, a recording was played of Lin's father, Dr. Richard Lin, reciting the same poem in Chinese.
The first work was choreographed by Jennifer Hayden Pirtz to the painting "Fish and Water." This very lovely, graceful, classical style ballet, featured dancers en pointe, dressed in green and blue tutus representing lily pads and water, while dancers in apricot depicted the fish to Debussy's "Claire de Lune."
"Wave and Tide" was brought to life by guest choreographer William Gentes of Lockport City Ballet. This very difficult piece featured modern ballet, with stiff-legged, aggressive movements accompanying the African-style music "Janjara."
"Man Walking" was choreographed in tap by Tracy Schuler, in a work titled "Chen Chi, a Man Walking 1912-2005." The accompanying reading was about the life of the artist. Morley also pointed out that Lin's own father escaped China before the Cultural Revolution and survived and thrived, but many of Lin's family members did not. This very moving piece, depicting life and death, was also a memorial to Lin's family.
In "Early Morning Red Sun Rising East," Lin chose music by Tan Dun to accompany this very modern ballet. Dancers were dressed as doves, cranes and the sun in this fascinating piece.
After intermission, the performance resumed with another of Lin's pieces that brought to life the painting "Pink and Yellow Flowers," to the music of John Williams from the film, "Seven Years in Tibet." This piece began slowly and mysteriously, then became energetic, like flowers bursting open.
Next, we were treated to Irish step dancing, choreographed by Brendan Trewella, to a painting called "Moon." The evening ended with an unusual modern piece by Karen Westerfield, in which the dancers wore orange sacks with tiny lights strapped to their wrist, depicting "Sun."