(first published in Habibi, volume 18, number 3)
The Gold of Xian
Performance 30 September 2000
by the Het Internationaal Danstheater of Amsterdam
Copyright © 2001, by Robyn C. Friend. All rights reserved.
I would like to introduce you to a wonderful dance company of which you may never have heard. Het Internationaal Danstheater is a full-time professional dance company based in Amsterdam, which is devoted to staging traditional dances, costumes and music from around the world.
That their scope is broad was demonstrated by a recent presentation of dances from the countries along the Silk Route, performed in the Netherlands on 30 September 2000. The performance was titled “The Gold of Xian”, and featured dances from China to Armenia, and parts in between.
The concert began with dances from the original source of sericulture, China. The curtain opened upon a stage filled with dancers dressed like the warrior statues found in Chinese tombs, with nylon mesh over their faces obscuring their features and increasing the appearance of statuary. To the sound of the P’i-p’a and other traditional Chinese instruments the dancers did the movements of tai chi, evoking ancient Chinese culture. This was followed by Chinese acrobatics, stilt walkers, and a dragon dance. The women then did a cute fan dance, followed by a long silk dance solo by Linda van Andel.
Heading westward along the Silk Route Armin Dorn performed an amazing Mongolian Eagle dance, an exercise in control as much as dance. Moving slowly, painstakingly, from one contorted position to the next, Dorn moved as an eagle in slow motion, awakening, stretching his wings, and raising himself up from an eagle’s crouch.
A colorful Tibetan dance for men and women was followed by a qawwali song, and four kathak dancers, featuring an especially impressive solo by Igor Kourchine.
One of my favorites of the concert was the performance of Pamir music on the zang (mouth harp) by two of the dancers (Armin Dorn and Cristian Catargiu) and two musicians. The variety of melodies and rhythms, combined with the charming playfulness of the quartet was a delight.
Some of the dances from Central Asia included a lively Uzbek dance in the Ferghana style with the women dressed in khan atlas costumes, and the men in striped coats, and a charming Khwarazmi solo by Natalia Toptchi. A vigorous dance from Tajikistan was performed by the full company, the women wearing authentic Tadjik embroidered or tie-dyed dresses.
Inspired by the legends of the Amazons, the women performed very strong dances of the Avars of the Caucasus mountains, using movements usually thought of as Kavkaz men’s dances, even dancing on their toes. The costume, similar to Pakistani shalwar-kamiz with a head veil, seemed jarringly out of character for the dance, demure in contrast to the bravura of the dancers.
The evening ended with a suite of dances from Armenia performed by the full company.
The entire concert was accompanied with live music ably provided by the company’s orchestra on authentic instruments, including tar, harmonium, tabla, P’i-p’a, and zurna.
To the extent possible, traditional costumes are used. When this is not possible, costumers Patricia Henry and Herbert Wardenaar are responsible for the brilliant reproductions of costumes. I especially liked the Tibetan costumes, with their long silken sleeves flapping in time to the music.
Kudos go to the director, Maurtis van Geel, who travels the world over, collecting dances, music, and costumes, and finding instructors and choreographers to work with the company. He brings a special vision to the art of bringing folklore to the stage, crafting concerts organized around a central theme. This brings a coherence to his presentation of ethnic dance that makes it more accessible to an audience for whom it may be unfamiliar.
There were some disconcerting notes, however. The women don’t change their hair style between dances. This makes for rapid costume changes, but sacrifices something of authenticity when, for example, they wear a bun at the nape of the neck for the Central Asian dances instead of the traditional braids. There is no attempt to use makeup to change their appearance, either, so that they look like just what they are: Europeans (from the Netherlands, Rumania, Slovakia, Russia, and Australia) doing folklore of exotic and far away peoples.
But these are minor considerations in the overall picture, which is delightful. This company is to be congratulated for putting on a high-quality show in terms of music, costumes, choreography, theatricality and pure dance talent. The vision is big, but the results meet the challenge.
— Robyn Friend, 2001