nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
December 19, 2007
As the holiday celebrations become increasingly secular, another trend has also emerged—it is not unusual to find various faiths seeping into the festivity by way of Christmas-themed shows. This is the case in Holiday Wonders, a night of song, dance, and music presented by New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDT). Amongst classical performances of works from both the East and West, you will be introduced to a few major concepts of Falun Gong, a spiritual and physical practice related to Buddhism and qigong.
But faiths are no stranger to theatre, and they're practically embedded in any Christmas show, so the only question most of the audience might ask is how entertaining a show is, especially when one is promoted as a "spectacular." For those whose taste is more classically inclined, this is a visually exquisite offering with beautiful sound, and will delight those who enjoy Chinese traditional performances.
The format of the show is faithful to that of the holiday specials common in the East, which can be described as a high-class vaudeville or variety show. It is a parade of singers, dancers and musicians, with a pair of attractive hosts introducing each act or number and cracking jokes as they go along. If it sounds also like the performances in an award show, well, it is. But here they take center stage, and no expense is spared.
The audience is greeted by ushers dressed in glittering traditional gowns. The opening number, "Descent of the Celestial Kings," is a dance by the Divine Performing Arts of New York, which is affiliated with NTDT. It depicts immortal beings from different faiths, angels included, being invited by a "divine visitor" to all come down to earth. It boasts a big group of dancers in front of a giant screen covering the entire backdrop of the stage. The projection is incorporated into the dance, showing expertly designed CGI or animations. The whole effect is colorful and joyful, indicative of what is to come.
To give you an idea of what is being offered, on the Chinese side there are songs by well-known singers such as Hong Ming, Bai Xue, and Guimin Guan; Chinese traditional dances featuring sleeve dance, Tang drum, Qing Dynasty court, Xinjiang Uygur, and Mongolian cup dance. There are also dramatized dances, two about Falun Gong and one telling of the Chinese legend of "Lady of the Moon." My personal favorite is "Redemptive Suffering," a virtuoso erhu (Chinese stringed instrument) performance by Xiaochun Qi. The strikingly intricate melodies are played on a mere two strings, but how they flow!
On the Western front, the night showcases the American Brass Quintet playing Giovanni Coperario's "Fancy a 5" and a Christmas medley arranged by Milton Phibbs, Swan Lake danced by Anna Liceica and Nilas Martins of the New York City Ballet, and a spirited performance by the Hester String Quartet. Santa comes out at certain points, completing the holiday cheer.
For me, the Chinese traditional dances remain the highlight of the show. The costumes are vibrant and elaborate, but not too flashy. The dancers, mostly Chinese Americans, display moves that are high on synchronicity and subtlety, and achieve a sensitive and authentically traditional elegance.
Some of my friends came in expecting a different kind of show—full of martial arts and acrobats or even circus acts. Suffice to say that they found the show a bit lacking. But if you are in the mood for a refined and cheerful holiday celebration, there is plenty here to appreciate.