Chinese and American culture came together on stage Friday through the vision of Lily Cai, founder, artistic director and choreographer of the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company in the performance of “Dynasties and Beyond.”
Six dancers from the company performed the dance “Dynasties and Beyond” at McCain Auditorium, blending aspects of Chinese and American culture to represent the Chinese woman through dance.
“I want to speak from my soul as a Chinese woman,” Cai said. “American culture gives me the power of being creative. Chinese culture gives (me) the rich historical roots. Being in America always challenges (my) culture— I love that.”
Audience members were able to grasp Cai’s cultural contrast through the choreography and musical style of the performance, said Leslie Engelman, graduate student in public health.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the music and how the dancers time their motion to the music,” Engelman said. “That’s just been really neat to watch because the counts are not what in Western society we think of as a beat.”
Though most of the music was Chinese, “Candelas,” was one dance choreographed to Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 5 (4th Movement).” Mahler was an Austrian composer. During the piece, the dancer’s wore nude-colored leotards and each carried two candles. They advanced slowly, arching their backs and spinning while holding the lit candles.
“It’s a piece about death, and being at a cemetery,” Angela Yuen Uyeda, dancer in the company, said. “The fire represents, for me, a feeling of always going up, a transcendentalistic point of view.”
Yuen Uyeda was specifically featured in the dance called “Straw Hat Girl,” a sensual expression of the modern Dai region dance. Yuen Uyeda’s performance was unique in that it was the only soloist act of the night.
Yuen Uyeda said that her dance was a break from the dynasty dances that preceded and followed her. For “Straw Hat Girl,” Yuen Uyeda wore a green outfit and a straw hat. The hat covered her eyes during the whole performances, a distinguishing feature of the performance.
“It gets you more engaged, I think as an audience member and also me as a dancer,” Yuen Uyeda said. “It’s a big challenge to dance with tassels in front of your face.”
Much of the performance was choreographed with the dancers’ backs to the audience and their faces covered with hats.
“It’s Lily Cai’s way of being mysterious … the focus is not on the face. It’s on the whole staging,” Yuen Uyeda said.
Cai’s dancing emphasizes that the strength of the dancer comes directly from her core, or her soul. Cai spoke on her technique, pointing out that it is more than just energy flow.
“It’s so big, my technique … I developed it over the past two decades,” Cai said. “It’s a hundred percent addressing the body, what body’s missing, what body needs … being strong … all is meaningful from the torso. I have a very different approach. It’s a soul-body problem … (I) just teach them to dance from the soul.”
Kaitlyn Long, sophomore in animal sciences and industry minoring in dance, said she personally experienced this technique when she took classes from Cai.
“She taught us things that I don’t think I’ll learn from any other teacher, like being grounded,” Long said. “She really emphasizes being grounded and dropping your spirit down, but at the same time keeping yourself up and keeping your power, your energy flowing and outwards towards your audience.”
Dancing this way requires a lot of stamina and perseverance, Yuen Uyeda said. Performing on stage brings out a lot emotion from the dancers she said.
“It takes a lot of commitment because you don’t see improvement immediately, so it’s a lot of self-patience … it takes stamina,” Yuen Uyeda said. “You feel an immense sense of joy and fulfillment, but then there’s also fear, but fear in a good way … and then relief.”
The dancer’s finale was filled with color and ribbons. The dancers leapt and twirled with ribbons of all different colors to the pounding beat of a drum.
“I am speechless,” Sana Munir, junior in architectural engineering, said. “I was mesmerized. It was so beautiful, especially the last one, with the ribbons.”
Munir said she was able to learn a lot about the Chinese culture from the performance.
“It is polite, and calm and colorful — it has a flow,” Munir said. “(The dancers) showed Chinese women as very strong; she can do anything, anything.”