Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
How daring would it have been of the Performing Arts Company of the People's Republic of China to have given one long work or a bill of complementary pieces for its alternate program at Wolf Trap? We'll never know because Wednesday's fare was as conflicting a selection of music, dance and drama as Tuesday's opening.
The one invariably on the program was a constant adjustment demanded of the audience's senses and sensibilities. It is not that music is just for listening and dance for viewing but that both faculties ought to be employed differently for each art. On these mixed bills, it is easy to watch instrumentalists and become so fascinated by their movement that one forgets to listen, or see the dancers' musicality but not their physicality.
Adjustments from a traditional form like Peking Opera to American songs like "America the Beautiful" can be taken in stride. It is the westernization of Far Eastern folk dance and music and the Chinese use of European ballet in which something seems amiss. Even the folk dancers seemed ballet trained, and their material is single-image. If the dance lasts an instant too long, and it always does, the image crumbles. Then, a Thai peacock strut becomes too sweet and a belligerent' march of Mongol women becomes pallid.
The scenes from the old "operas" on this program had revolutionary themes of class struggle not unlike those of the newer "model" ballet, "Red Detachment of Women," which appears on both programs. In the opera "Autumn River," a boatman helps a nun to escape from the servitude of her vows.In "Yentang Mountain" there is a peasant uprising. The difference between these song, mime and acrobatic displays and the ballet is not just technique. The operas tell their stories with humor as well as with humanity.
During the height of their popularity or permissibility these operas and ballets may have been seen by more people in China than "The Nut-cracker" has in the rest of the world; yet, they have disappeared totally from the repertoire for years, and could again. At Wolf Trap, the two programs alternate through Sunday.