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Archive for the ‘Music’ topic

月光 – Moon Dance by Yang LiPing (Dynamic Yunnan)

Liping Yang performing the moon dance as a silhouette with the moon as a backdrop

Traveling through the Yunnan province in China left me with a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I did it. With most of the Chinese ethnic minorities living here, there is a very rich mix of cultures to be found here. It’s a place filled with centuries old traditions and ways of living, while at the same time, it is also in constant transformation as it clashes with the new, more modern and bolder China. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative.

On the other hand, the whole trip was also mentally and physically very straining. Many of the people here are very poor and live in crowded and filthy conditions. Despite having grown up in some of the least developed nations on this planet, even I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock I had to experience in the rural areas. And so after three weeks, I was glad to be going home to some peace, quiet and personal space.

But before we left, we went off to see one more show in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. It was a dance performance by a group called Dynamic Yunnan and choreographed by Yang Liping (杨丽萍). She is known in China for her Peacock Dance which she performed as well. Inspired by the traditional music and dances from around the province, she had created about ten different dance acts, but each time with a modern twist to it. It was an impressive spectacle with at times over forty dancers on stage. It’s quite possible that the story line connecting all the different dances into something meaningful (the use of colors seemed to indicate as such), but even after three weeks, my Chinese wasn’t up to speed yet.

Country of Daughters (Dynamic Yunnan)There were guards present in the theater preventing anyone from filming anything. But I did manage to find a few fragments of the show online. The Moon Dance was the second act. Yang Liping herself is the silhouette in the  performance. Though the quality isn’t that great, here is another act I enjoyed: Country of Daughters. Strange, yes, but I particularly like the costumes and almost hypnotic music that went with it. And thanks to the internet, I also now what they were singing about. The lyrics:

The sun wants to rest, it can rest.
The moon wants to rest, it can rest.
Women want to rest, they can’t rest.*
If women rest, the fire will burn out.

Cold wind blows at the elderly, and women use their backs to block it.
Splinter in child’s feet, and women use their heart to pad it.
If there is a woman there, the old and the young will stay together.
If there is a woman there, the mountain may crumble and men will hold it up.

If there is no women under the heavens, the sky will not light.
If there is no women on the earth, the grass will not grow.
If a man does not have a woman, the man will be ill.
If there is no women under the heavens, there will be no men.

The performance in general was of a very high standard. It was nothing like the Yunnan I had seen in the past three weeks. It did however remind me of some of the Chinese films of recent, such as ‘Hero’ (mind fight) and ‘House of Flying Daggers’ (Beauty Dance & Echo Game). After having seen Dynamic Yunnan, I was at least able to leave China on a positive note. And with that, I leave you with the Two Tree dance.

* While it is true that in many places around the world — especially where poverty prevails — society would come to a complete standstill if it were not for the hard work of women; It was a strange discovery to bicycle into one of the villages just outside of old town Dali where we found the gender roles had been switched. Within this Naxi ethnic minority, it’s the women who are in charge. While they hang out on the streets gossiping and enjoying the care free life, it is up to the men to do the house keeping and take care of the children.

En Tus Brazos (In Your Arms)

A scene from the animation film: En Tus Brazos

I came across this touching animation of a couple reliving their glory days as tango performers. A time before the ‘accidente tragico’. En Tus Brazos is a French production, but with Spannish spoken.

Though I never did enjoye any glory days as a tango dansers myself (let alone that I can actually dance the tango), it did bring back some memories of my trip to Argentina two years ago.

A Tango Show in Buenos Aires

It was never my intention to spend more than two nights in Buenos Aires. But somehow, the weather gods seemed to favor me, letting me complete my travels through southern Patagonia in just two weeks instead of three. With days to spare, I decided to return to Buenos Aires early. At first, I regretted my choice. I felt alienated by the beautiful facades of this old city, but also by the cold welcome I had received from the others back at the hostel. It was as if the life had been sucked out of them and as a result preferred to keep to themselves. Traveling on your own, can sometimes be lonely.

The next day, I learnt that most of them had left, traveling to numerous other destinations far far away. They were replaced by a new crop of backpackers; a much more livelier bunch this time around. Things were starting to look up. By the end of the second day, I had made a lot of new friends. And with them, I started to discover Buenos Aires beyond its facades. A city that had a lot more to offer than met the eye. The stories I could tell…

But lets not get carried away. This post is about tango.

Another scene from: En Tu BrazosBA is known for its long tango tradition. It’s where it was born. During my visit, there were plenty of opportunities to see the locals dancing it. Even in the main shopping street, one could regularly run into street artists tangoing away. I just had the unlucky misfortune of bumping into them every time as they were about to commence with their last dance act: a guy doing the tango with a doll. While funny to watch, it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined the dance to be. I could not leave this city without having seen the most passionate dance invented by man in its propper form. And judging from all the lovers I witnessed openly kissing in the streets and parks of BA, I could only conclude that the Argentineans are very passionate people. They’ve made it into an art form.

On my fourth day there, I decided to go to a tango show with Annabelle, a wonderful and remarkable person I had met at our hostel. She was an Irish/German girl studying in London and living in Ibiza with aspirations of becoming a fashion designer. One couldn’t dream of better company.

We had made some last minute reservations earlier that day after hearing it would be the last show of the season. And after taking a short taxi ride, we arrived at the venue just in the nick of time. As a hostess escorted us to our place, we quickly realized that this was no ordinary theatre. Instead of just rows and rows of chairs like everywhere else, we found ourselves seated in front of a table for two with a small lamp shade on it. Placed there just to give us that extra touch of atmosphere in an otherwise darkened venue. All very cozy. Moments later, our exotic cocktails were served. It was like being invited to an exclusive ballroom party. You felt special, just by sitting here. Soon afterwards, our lampshades dimmed. All eyes turned towards the stage. The show was about to begin.

It was a dance musical, an Argentinean West Side Story as it were. In fact, there was a time when Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world, with emigrants arriving from all over. They came with their hopes and dreams for a better future. Some would make it big. Most probably didn’t. It was amongst the poor of lower class Buenos Aires that tango would see the light of day. It was a dance that somehow unified the emigrants of different nationalities; a dance  that took on many styles and variations, but also took years and dedication to learn and master. For men at the time, it was a way of meeting women. And with women in the minority in this new found world, they danced only with those whom they felt mastered it well enough.

In the musical, we were introduced to an immigrant family arriving in BA: Girl meets boy. Boy falls in love. Is poor, but tries to win her heart. Meanwhile, rich underworld figure falls for the same girl. Jealousy ensues. Knives are drawn. Things get out of hand. People die. All in the name of love. But the dancing was superb. I always had this cliché image of Tango being danced between two lovers, slow and passionate one moment, swift and almost cold the next. What I saw here was something completely different. The leg work alone was amazing to watch. Two dancers: their legs locking, clicking, kicking and unlocking again, all at the blink of an eye. As they danced, we were treated to extremely fast, yet graceful movements. These were pros and tango was much more then what I had imagined it to be. I was impressed.

But it wouldn’t be the last time I’d see tango in Buenos Aires…

Tango in La Boca

La Boca, while charming with its colorful buildings, is not the sort of place you want to visit alone. Located in one of the poorer parts of Buenos Aires, it is best described as an oasis surrounded by criminality. Any tourist attempting to leave its confines is surely asking to be robbed. It literary is a tourist trap. But despite the warnings, it’s still a must see destination and so I went together with Ben and Catherine, two Americans students on a short leave in Argentina. Even though it only was a walking distance away from San Telmo, where our hostel was located, we were advised to take the taxi instead. And so we did.

Me in La Boca posing with the Tango Dancers that entertained us during lunchIt was a hot and sunny day with the pace of life slow. We strolled around the streets for a while, admiring the colorful architecture and peeping into the little tourist shops. But with La Boca being so small, It didn’t take long before we had seen everything there was to see. At least without venturing off into dangerous territory. So we decided to have lunch instead. La Boca has quite a lot of restaurants to choose from, and each one offers a tango dance display while you enjoy your meal.

We ate outside on the pavement. Between the tables, a couple in full dress played their part and danced the Tango. One could easily believe that this was all part of the ‘couleur locale’, if it were not for the woman dancer who looked strikingly Japanese.

And just like the life around us, the pace of their movements were much slower, but more casual then what I had seen at the theatre a few days earlier. Here were just two people dancing the afternoon away, and not so much to impress, but simply because it was something they just loved to do.

Looking back, I wish I had brought my camera along with me. But by the time I had arrived in Buenos Aires, I was already suffering from photo-fatique. I just wanted to experience things without having to photograph it all. Catherine did bring hers along and we were even given the honour of posing with the dancers that had entertained us thru lunch. (If you’re tourist in a tourist trap, you might aswell act the part). We then returned to San Telmo.

My week soon came to an end, and I left with mostly fond memories. But if I ever return, it might well be worth learning a step or two of tango. How hard could it possibly be?

And from Popeye to Punch-Drunk-Love

punch-drunk-love
On a less serious note, I was a huge fan of Popeye during my childhood years. I even ate my spinach hoping to be as strong as him. I still remember when I was five; my father told me a Popeye movie was being made. I was wildly enthusiastic about this news. At least until I discovered we were moving to Upper Volta and would never get to see the movie. My world came crashing down. I didn’t want to leave. But for some reason, my parents felt it wasn’t a strong enough reason to stay in Belgium. So we left. No Popeye movie for me.

I did finally see it, many years later. And if I remember correctly, it was in the Dutch Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Every Saturday afternoon, they’d show a children’s movie for us kids. The film, as it turned out, was terrible. Even though it featured Robin Williams as Popeye, it just seemed long and winding and everything but fun. Nothing like the cartoons.

The film did however give us this wonderfully odd little song by Shelley Duvall: “He needs me“. The song was used again in Punch-Drunk-Love, a quirky song for a really quirky film. This movie on the other hand, I can only highly recommend.

T-shirts with the god Shiva print