The Centre for Performing Arts
in Vancouver
777 Homer St.
October 9-16, 25-30

(This is Jerry's review from August 2005 when the show first played.)

I know almost nothing about Chinese history, music or dance. And I didn’t realize the show started at 7:30 so I missed the first fifteen minutes. Still, I can say without hesitation or apology: Heartbeat is absolutely stunning.

Although I’m sure it would help to understand the cultural references and have some experience of the specific forms, you don’t need to be Asian to recognize the artistry and excitement of this show or to appreciate its magnificent visual and sonic effects, martial arts and dynamic dance and movement.

It’s a hybrid of Stomp and Cirque du Soleil combined with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, modern ballet, and the most fantastically beautiful costumes you’ve ever seen.

Written directed and produced by The Centre’s Dr. Dennis K. Law, Heartbeat is another in the line of “Action-Musicals” created by Dr. Law, including Of Heaven and Earth and last year’s Terracotta Warriors, to showcase Chinese performing arts.

Heartbeat has done away with Chinese language altogether. It has a minimal narrative frame in English, in which a young girl’s curiosity about drums causes her to dream about a god of dragons which leads her through a history of Chinese drumming and dance. With the help of her physician mother she eventually understands that drums “are like a beating heart—like life itself.” Both frame and moral are unnecessary and the narrative, including amplified commentary from the dragon, is the only really lame element in the show.

Basically, Heartbeat is a wordless series of spectacular dance sequences set to a remarkable, and for a Western viewer, exotic array of drums and percussion. It ranges chronologically from the Bronze Age and Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty and The Future. Nine musicians, more than forty impossibly talented dancers and martial artists, an array of beautiful painted flats and drop curtains, and over 400 of Mo Xiao Min’s gorgeous costumes provide all the content you could desire.

A typical sequence might begin with a couple of dancers accompanied by a steady drumbeat and maybe one of the three Chinese flute or string instruments that counterpoint the percussion. Gradually, more dancers join them, the dance style (credited to four choreographers) a kind of muscular ballet combined with a lot of running and leaping acrobatics. The music typically increases in tempo and volume, rising to a powerful crescendo of drums and cymbals, often with a distinct martial quality.

The martial arts performers, whirling onstage with swords, whips, sticks, flags at phenomenal speed, were my personal favourites. But every sequence is worth watching for the skill of the performers, the beauty of the lighting, staging, and costumes, and the fascinating music. The finale alone, including a remarkable tap dance sequence, is worth the price of admission.

This kind of show would cost $100 US a ticket in Las Vegas. See it here cheap.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Friday, September 23, 2005 2:03 PM
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