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Review: ‘Image China: Confucius’ at The Kennedy Center

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It seemed fitting somehow during a full moon, on Friday the thirteenth, to be attending Confucius on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Kong Dexin, a 77th-generation direct descendent of Confucius directed and choreographed this opulent production.

Confucius highlights the philosopher’s journey through the kingdoms of Zhou Dynasty China, and his quest to instill codes of ethics, honor, and benevolence among the empire’s rulers. Told in six sections, “Inquiry,” “The Chaotic Time,” “Out of Food,” “Great Harmony,” “Mourning for Benevolence,” and “Happiness,” the dance drama’s structure reflects the inner and outer struggles of Confucius in expressive passages of dance and song, through one of the most turbulent and significant periods in China’s history.

The cast includes Hu Yang (Confucius), Tang Shiyi (Concubine), and an ensemble of 55 performers. Confucius is written by Liu Chun. The authentic traditional Chinese sound track directed by Zhang Qu transported me and held me in a distant land in an ancient time. Gliding bamboo screens and floating statuary design by Ren Dongsheng meshed perfectly with scene changes and ever shifting lighting moods.

Hu Yang as Confucius. Photo by Liu Haidong.

All of the vivid and flowing gowns design by Yang Donglin, not only mesmerized the audience but served to augment each dance with extended grace and rhythm. On one level I witnessed a beautiful, flowing artistic ballet. The ensemble dancers were expertly choreographed by Kong Dexin to seemingly spin and glide across the stage on the wind during the scenes “Cherry Blossom” and “Song of Orchid.” Make-up designer Jai Lei’s great skill was evident creating flawless and identical appearances for each dancer.

But I had to remind myself to close my jaw whenever Tang Shiyi and Hu Yang were onstage leaping and tumbling with Olympic excellence. The audience erupted in applause during Tang Shiyi’s opening scene “The Journey” as he hurdled through the air.

I also want to highlight the deliciously evil performance during Act I of Guo Haifeng playing the (Minister) in the “Coup d’état” scene. His presence leading a company of black shrouded henchmen is menacing and wreaks of sinister corruption. Combined with changes in lighting and music, his entourage sent shivers throughout the audience.

This is an evening of pure release from the chaos inside the beltway. Treat yourself to the fantasy and spectacle – you deserve it!

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Image China: Confucius plays through tomorrow, January 15, 2017,  at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or Toll-Free: (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online. There are two remaining performances: tonight, January 14, 2017,  at 7:30 PM, and tomorrow, January 15, 2017, at 1:30 PM.

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