“DREAMS of Zen,” a dance theater adapted from a chapter of “A Dream of Red Mansions,” plans to bring audiences to the legendary taixu huanjing (state of visionary and emptiness), where the boundary of reality and dream is so blurred that the visitors cannot distinguish between the two states.
The dance theater will be staged at Shanghai Culture Square next Friday. It is adapted from the chapter in which Jia Baoyu visits the taixu huanjing in a dream. However, audiences should not try to figure out a particular hero, as the dance is only a concept of dreamland, rather than the specific story, according to Zhao Liang, director and choreographer of the dance.
Instead of telling a detailed story, the show focuses on the philosophy of Buddhism and Taoism. All is vanity, though the world seems to be full of gloss and glitter.
“Many people don’t like modern dance as they think it is too abstract to understand, but it’s not always like that,” says Zhao, adding that it saddened him to see many modern dances in China being stereotyped.
Dance, in his view, is just a way that humans express their thoughts and feelings with their bodies.
“It is motivated by the instinct of the body, rather than the stereotyped positions in the light,” says Zhao. “It belongs to everybody, and it should be understood by everybody without difficulty.”
Creating a dance product based on the internationally known “A Dream of Red Mansions” is part of Zhao’s efforts to produce art close to ordinary people.
“Different people may see it in different ways. But for me, the blurred boundary between reality and dream that happened to me sometimes is the initial inspiration for me to creating ‘Dreams of Zen’,” says Zhao.
One such moment happened when Zhao saw batch after batch of people crying for their family members at a funeral parlor while he was collecting his father’s ashes.
“They all cried so sadly just like what we might see in dramas,” Zhao recalls. “At that moment, I found it difficult to distinguish reality from dream. I felt like I was seeing a surreal drama, but it was actually real.”
He believes that such moments may have happened to many people in their lives, and they may see part of themselves in the show.
Eastern aesthetics is again a major element in “Dreams of Zen,” like many of Zhao’s previous works such as “The Tea Spell.”
Elements of Kunqu Opera are widely used to make the modern dance drama more “Chinese,” considering the story background. Zhao even has the dancers study postures with Kunqu Opera professionals, so that they can combine the elements more naturally with the dance.
“I don’t like to be labeled as a choreographer of merely Eastern aesthetics. What I’m doing now is just about what I am interested in at the moment. I may shift to very modern dances if it attracts me,” says Zhao.