Visit outer Mongolia at The Kennedy Center just in time for the Chinese New Year next Friday for the Wedding of Ordos, which is billed as a dance spectacle by the Ordos Song and Dance Theater, based in China.
The troupe was named the National Advanced Cultural Unit by the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Personnel in 1995. I don’t believe we have an analogous state-sponsored theatrical organization and perhaps we should. It was fascinating on one level to see how China celebrates its own history, especially of this ancient culture – these bridal traditions apparently passed down for a millennium.
I’m not too confident I know all that much about traditional wedding ceremonies at the end of this. It would be a little like turning to Western fairy tales to learn about Medieval Europe, but that really isn’t the point. It is a dance – filled with spectacular costumes by Guo Jian and Tao Lei. The chorus dancers seem to change into one fabulous outfit after another every five minutes in front of a set by Zhang Jiwen and Dexi that spans across the stage with ancient and modern symbols of fire and gylphs, and grassland under a lighting design by Li Peng and Biligebatu that turned the whole stage into a kaleidoscope of color.
Much of the dances like the prologue “Sun Moon Fire” are metaphors or myth. The choreography by Badema and a host of others is a mix of tradition and theatricality, closest to a western modern dance style with free flowing moves and dashes of gymnastics as the lead, the groom (Baoyinamuer) takes the stage in “Pray for Love” to meet his bride (Sarina), by jumping almost ten feet to the ground. Music plays throughout in a western scale, filled with thrumming drums and rhythmic chants by composer Liu Gangbao. Most of it is wordless exploration, but there are very minor speaking roles in a Chinese dialect, which you don’t have to understand to get the drift.
There is a bit of comic relief in “Welcome Son-in-law” as the bridesmaid and best man (Wang Ting and Siqingbateer) try to keep the lovers away from one another and flirt themselves in a clown-like dance. There are small touching moments as well in “Departure” when Mother (Naheya) says good bye to her daughter in a pas de deux that would put most couples to shame, and “Cradle” as the two lovers dance. Sarina, the bride, dances with five cups on her head in impossible choreography.
The most memorable parts, however, are the ensembles when the whole cast is onstage. They are not wrong; it is a spectacular spectacle. In “Sand Bath,” the women are dressed in golden bikinis as they writhe around the stage and the epilogue “Sky Earth Man” has everyone dressed as the animals of the steppes to welcome the bride and groom, but I suppose “Wedding” is the real high point as girls in peacock feather headdresses and boys in huge fur and gilt costumes circle the newlyweds to the sounds of ancient horns.
These two performances of Wedding of Ordos are the only ones in the U.S. this year. It is a unique offering, unlike anything we have – a beautiful, rare extravaganza of color and light and music, with gorgeous costumes and skilled dancers.
Running Time: One hour and 20 minute,s with no intermission.
The Wedding of Ordos plays for one more performance tonight, January 25, 2014 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater-2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.