Willy Tsao is the Johnny Appleseed of Chinese modern dance, creating or upgrading companies in city after city. His latest, Beijing LDTX Modern Dance Company, is a spinoff of the ensemble with a nearly identical name and roster that Tsao brought to the Watercourt in California Plaza three years ago.
On Thursday, LDTX began a three-night engagement at the Watercourt with "All River Red," the hit of those 2003 performances. Like much of the best contemporary Chinese choreography, it deals with the tension between individual freedom and social solidarity.
The issue is more complex than rebels versus conformists -- though that playoff can certainly be found in the choreography by Li Han-Zhong and Ma Bo. Ultimately, this powerful dance drama to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" focuses on individuals caught up in an energy, a destiny, larger than their own -- for better or worse.
Red fabric binds the work together, whether as silken scarves that shoot from the dancers' fingertips like tongues of flame, or straps that virtually mummify Song Ting-ting when she dares defy the mob, or a long knotted cord that becomes an obstacle, a prison, even the spine of a huge, invisible dragon.
The company doesn't merely dance splendidly, it dances ferociously, almost like those ensembles that seemed intent on eating the audience alive when Chinese companies first toured the West in the Maoist era. And the feeding frenzy extends, in its own way, to "In Search of Grand View Garden," Tsao's new site-specific spectacle that honors the 20th anniversary of the Grand Performances/Watercourt summer series.
With music credited to four composers, this seven-part suite initially places the dancers all over the plaza, each one taking an elaborate black-and-white or silver robe from a wooden chest and dallying like a decadent aristocrat. Liu Chang, for instance, plays at calligraphy on a long scroll and gets all wound up in it.
Before long, the dancers strip to black-and-white tank tops and shorts, line up along the sides of the Watercourt pool and execute sleek preening moves. Then, Shen Jun enters the water, splashing in it, drawing circles in it -- but somehow remaining meditative.
The dancers divide again, and by now you understand that seeing everything is impossible. Better to concentrate on one dance in one corner of the space: say, Xu Yi-ming and Liang Yu in a fabulous gymnastic duet -- their faces coolly detached, their bodies intently involved.
After a parade around the pool and onstage group dances, the 43-minute piece ends with Cui Tao soloing in the pool, brushing and flicking the water into the air as if he's imagining it while somewhere else.
Sino-specialists will undoubtedly relate Tsao's action plan to the literary masterpiece "Dream of the Red Chamber," but what you see is an experiment in simultaneity -- a complex, haunting experience that feels the same no matter what portion of it you're able to watch. And your last chance comes tonight.
Beijing LDTX Modern Dance Company
Where: Watercourt, California Plaza, 350 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.
When: 8 tonight
Contact: (213) 687-2159 or www.grandperformances.org