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DANCE REVIEW : Chinese Youngsters Stage Their Version of Our Variety Show

November 17, 1987|CATHY CURTIS

Nimble, fearless and almost always smiling, the Chinese Children's Palace of Hangzhou brought their own form of variety show to the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon. When they weren't tossing off astounding acrobatic feats, this troupe of children and teen-agers from Zhejiang Province lunged sturdily through a clutch of more-athletic-than-aesthetic dances and offered earnest recitals on native instruments.

Twirling on long sticks held by three girls, white dinner plates looked like weightless flower petals shimmering in the sun. When an unidentified girl balancing six plates on each hand mounted a daunting stack of benches, stood on her head and bent backward to pick up a flower in her teeth--the plates still in motion--she instantly became the audience's darling.

That is, until they saw Chen Haiying casually flip over while stacks of bowls clung to various portions of her anatomy; or until they saw Ruan Chenxi look comically anxious just before he entrusted his bantam weight to an almost impossibly tall and precarious perch jerry-rigged with steel pipes.

Judging from eruptions of giggles among smaller audience members, the simple, knockabout humor of Gang and Qiang Shao belonged to the same perfect universe as Sunday-morning cartoons.

But it's hard to believe that authentic regional and national dances could be so stiffly repetitive, with such cloying tableaux. The galloping warriors in "Song of the Horsemen" might just as well have been put through their paces by a desperate hack film director trying to conjure up folkloric exotica on a movie set.

The star of "Sea Fantasy" (billed as "a fisherman's ballet of wind and waves") was a large sheet, rippling and billowing as a result of the patient manipulations of dancers stationed at each corner. Accompanied by insipid pop music, the seafarers flung up their arms and launched into backbending jumps as if in mindless imitation of the excesses of Western and Soviet dance.

Musical offerings were the prim antithesis of such cavorting. The startlingly varied warbling, chirping and harsh trilling sounds Wu Zhanghua produced on the dizi (a Chinese transverse flute) and the plangent strains of the yangqin (a dulcimer) were particularly intriguing to these Western ears.

The Chinese Children's Palace also appears tonight in the Downey Theatre and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.

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