On the evening of March 23, the musical dance theater performance “The Tune of Water” directed by Zhang Peng and composed by Wen Liu, was performed by different dance groups and successfully premiered at the Cadillac Shanghai Concert Hall, telling the audience of the Magic Capital (Shanghai) the moving story about a person, the song, and water.
In Xiangxi, the “water cavity” is an ancient song of the Miao ethnic group who used the concept of water to express and surpass their emotions. The river connects the people on each side of the sky. The song “Song to the Water” represents their unforgettable thoughts of each other. This kind of intention seems to be the same as that of the Northern Song Dynasty poet Zhiyi Li who said, “I live at the head of the Yangtze River, and you live at the tail of the Yangtze River. I don't see you in the day, but we both drink from the Yangtze River.”
More than ten years ago, Xiangxi folk singer Xian’e Long once sang this “water cavity” with great national charm on the stage of “Youth Song Contest,” the sound of the voice, the vibrato of the mountain springs, and the vibrato of a high mountain shouting made people feel the songs from the depths of the mountains of Xiangxi for the first time, and the sentiments conveyed in them. In recent years, Dun Tan and Weiwei Tan have cooperated to show this unique and beautiful Miao song to the world.
So, what kind of new interpretation and experience does this music dance theater “The Tune of Water” bring tonight? This performance belongs to the 2018 commissioned work of the Cadillac Shanghai Concert Hall “Endless Happiness” brand. The “Endless Happiness” series aims to “innovate and cross-borders”, to encourage a music fusion performance platform, and to explore various possibilities of music innovation. This also allows more creative artists to have better opportunities to practice and display their art on various platforms. Under the above theme, the creation and presentation of this “The Tune of Water” is undoubtedly a brand new attempt, and it is also a dialogue between “tradition” and “contemporary” works of art.
The combination of folk songs, dances, ritual music, and modern dance body language, Western instrumental music, and modern dance beauty lighting in the minority areas of the Miao and Tujia ethnic groups in the western Hunan region interprets the processes and relationships between the past and the present, such as integration, collision, defection, and reconciliation. It also reveals the self-introspection and struggle of people who live in the cities and who are in the gap between the times.
The entire work consists of six chapters: “Preface”, “Current Song”, “New Tune: Children's Song”, “Broken Tune: Wedding Song”, “Change Tune: Songs of Missing”, “Death: Lost the Song”, and the end of the song in “Endless Songs”. To a certain extent, “The Tune of Water” is an “autobiographical” work.
The protagonist of the story and the director Zhang Peng have the same name. Perhaps “The Tune of Water” is based on his personal experience and feelings. As can be seen from the titles of the six chapters, the story is carried out from the contemporary era, from birth to death, and then the meaning of “life” from the beginning to the end of living; then the story lets go of reincarnation and endlessness, which makes the story itself complete.
There are multiple types of humanistic thinking, and the image of “water” is also given a sense of ritual in the works. The story of the protagonist Peng’s rise is based on a small river in front of his home. He started from its rising water and began to name the “rise.” This river connects the hometown with the distant place, and in the past, present, and future. The flow of time clues creates a time and space context of separation, collision, and blending, and explores and answers the contradictions and doubts in the story.
In such a story, the work combines artistic expression such as drama, ancient humming, band performance, and dance performances. In each chapter, a stylized pattern is used to make each chapter retain a certain level of integrity. The ancient songs sung by the director himself are undoubtedly the biggest highlight of the entire work. His singing in minority languages runs through the whole work.
It is commendable that, as a choreographer, he can retain the original style of these ancient songs as much as possible in his singing, no matter how delicate and precise that style was. The national characteristic of the throat tremolo, or the high-sounding Miao high-cavity sounds, makes interpretation easy, which also reveals the director's deep understanding of the national music of his hometown. However, the singer does not always stand at the forefront of the stage, but changes position according to the development of the story, giving the stage to other performers, and the individual image and performance of the singer are cut on the visual stage. At that time, he exists in the form of “sound,” giving the listener in this space as much of the feeling as possible with his singing voice and content, which also guarantees the integrity of the whole and multiple forms of the work. The chorus has multiple functions in the work.
On one hand, it is part of the chorus of folk songs; on the other, it is also involved in physical performances and is also responsible for the manufacture of water flow sound effects. The instrumental part is played by a combination of piano, violin, and cello. The “water cavity” material and the twelve notes form a unique sequence of notes. The fluid melody communicates and interacts with the dancer's body language to interpret the water of the work. The theme, but the songs of instrumental music and singers are not much dialogue and integration in the works, but more often appear as different passages, which is regrettable.
There is another narrator in the play. She narrates the narrative storyline in the first person's self-reporting at the interface of each chapter; however, in my opinion, such a large monologue is somewhat designed to cater to the audience. There is too much telling the story information to the audience directly, and this weakens the original language of music and dance to provide viewers with the space of understanding and imagination, but it also makes the overall structure of the music and dance theater to not feel very organic.
In the creation of a spatial atmosphere, the laying of ecological sounds, and the integration of multiple types of performance, the attempt to present these artistic expressions can be seen everywhere in ““The Tune of Water”.” The work uses a local song “Water Cavity” to give multiple meanings, and strengthens its symbolism to people, time, and space. It is not only the experience and thinking of the story protagonist personally based on the present, but also represents many traditional cultures in this epitome of fate in the era of rapid development.
Therefore, the main creation adds a layer of mystery to the “Water Cavity” in music. In the final chapter of “The Song of Endlessness,” the sacrificial dance and drum music push the works to a climax, which makes people feel a sense of dignity and mystery that is at the same time both distant and familiar, and I think of the experience of viewing the Xiangxi Tujia Maogusi dance and hearing the Miao drum.
In the interview, director Peng Sheng positioned the theme of the work in “a ‘water’ ceremony, let us sing songs together.” At the end of the performance, the performers stepped off the stage and called on all the viewers to sing this together. The special meaning of the “water cavity” leads everyone to find the river that belongs to them in the song, explore its source and destination, and pick up the self in the flow of time and space.