Our toe dancers balance on the floor, but China's Li Xiaozhen has head and shoulders on the ground. She thrusts her feet straight into the air, tosses up an open umbrella, catches it on her soles and proceeds to dance on its rim with the tips of her toes -- or so it seems as she rotates it with precision and delicacy. This and other feats of acrobatics, dance and acrobatic dance are being shown by the Chinese Festival of Song and Dance, which opened last night and continues today and tomorrow with matinee and evening performances at the Warner Theatre.
Actually, the show is misnamed. There's no live singing. The music is on tape and much of it is as westernized as in Charlie Chan movies. The costumes are restaurant gaudy. The dances, said to be based on folk material, seem pure Radio City Music Hall. The show opens with a Chinese version of the Rockettes. They wear black girdles with a fringe of bells at the waist, and the program tells us that the precision routine, which they deliver coyly, expresses the optimism and enterprising spirit of contemporary youth.
Two numbers offer glimpses of what look suspiciously like traditional styles. "Dance in Rainbow Costume," choreographed by Yu Yin to a theme by Emperor Ming of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) and smoothly performed by Chen Ailian, has expressive fingers and sinuous arms, belly prominence and bent leg poses. This seems to be authentically Chinese despite its Indian flavor. "Flying to the Sky" is a ceremonial scarf dance that choreographer Dai Ailian grafted onto balletomodern technique. By contrast, "Night Song of the Grasslands," choreographed by Zhao Wanhua and performed by Yao Zhuzhu and Gao Yue, is a sentimental duo that wouldn't be out of place among the character dances of a 19th-century Russian ballet.
Three women acrobats hurled spinning bowls of water while tumbling, Gao Jianxin balanced glasses on a pole while straddling ladders, and Gao Jin tossed saucers from his feet to his head while riding a high unicycle. This show at the Warner would have done well on the old vaudeville circuit!