Back to the Future Boomerang
Late last month, we concluded our performances at Lincoln Center. As promised, we showcased some of our Shen Yun classics, favorites from the past few seasons. The shows were a great success, and it was an honor to be able to perform at one of the best venues in the world.
After returning from a pleasant “summer vacation” of fourteen days, we only had three measly weeks to prepare for the upcoming performances, which included numbers we hadn’t danced in years. Every day was packed tighter than sardines in a can. We were all busy practicing in the dance classrooms, rehearsing on stage with our orchestra, preparing costumes and props.
As a senior member of the “Hairpiece Department,” I had to pay several visits to our storage room. Unfortunately, headpieces are locked away on the third floor. I say unfortunately because I detest climbing stairs, perhaps even more so than Kung Fu Panda. After a long day of dancing, the last thing I want to see is a staircase.
The first hike up left me breathless and exhausted. I clung to the handrail as I heaved myself upwards, huffing and puffing as every treacherous step tested my stamina. You can imagine how immensely relieved I was upon finally reaching the top. I paused for a few seconds, recuperating from this traumatic experience, and then proceeded cautiously through the doorway.
I flicked up the light switch and trudged over to where our hairpieces were kept, in a smaller room on the side. I felt like I was hunting for a treasure. I dug through the boxes one by one, each coated with a thin layer of dust. Inside these time capsules sat our hairpieces, some of which I hadn’t seen since the last time we packed them away, four years ago. Each has had its share of experiences, travelling with us to different places, shown onstage all over the world. Twenty years from now, if we ever decide to sell these 'antiques' on eBay, they would be priceless.
At first, I had trouble remembering what some of the old dance moves were. I don't have the brain capacity to hold four tours' worth of dance movements. There was no choice but resorting to past videos, some of which weren't even reliable sources. Dances like In a Miao Village have undergone so many revisions, we couldn't even remember which was the most updated version. Our choreographers hold the power to change movements and formations. This year, they also heightened the dances’ technical difficulty. And so it was no surprise when Miao evolved into yet another variant.
Despite some minor alterations, these past programs have brought back so many fond memories and shown how much we have grown as a whole. There were countless instances that seemed all too familiar, as if I were experiencing repeat déjà vu repeatedly all over again like a déjà vu.
Before the opening of each show, while waiting for the curtain to go up, I would close my eyes as the milky-white dried ice spread across the sleek black Marley floor, sending shivers down my spine. As the graceful Nymphs of the Sea danced onstage with ease, I couldn't help giggling as I was reminded of how clumsy we were when we first learned this dance four years ago. We spent hours practicing simply how to hold the fans at the same height, and how to create the rippling effect in unison. I was impressed by the Tang Court Drummers, not only because of how they exceeded themselves as percussionists, but also because every beat of their drums echoed with the robust energy of Tang dynasty men.
And despite having faced the dangers of spinning handkerchiefs numerous times before, I was still nervous every time I hurled my 'boomerang' into the air. The atmosphere was identical to that of last year’s tour. I tried to run faster, to dance faster, as if it would make time go by faster as well, but even so, those four minutes always felt like eons. Sweaty hands and a pounding heart didn't help me feel any better. The tension in the air was contagious: everyone kept their fingers crossed while staring wide-eyed at the leafy green hankies, hoping that they would stay in control and off the ground. Only after the curtain descended would I let out a huge sigh, yet I was usually left in so much shock that I would be shaking for at least another five minutes. Some things just never change.
July 12, 2011