La P en V Innovative Dance Platform aims at promoting Chinese dance with high quality original works integrating Chinese and Western cultures. In Imprint of Life, choreographer Chong Chan Po attempts to produce the motion and stillness and the sound and rhythm in different times and spaces of the four seasons. Interspersed throughout the dance are small oilpaper umbrellas, some of them ‘complete’, while some are ‘bare ribbed’, without their oilpaper covering.
The first act, “Illusions in the Rain”, alludes to the spring season. Rain falls as the dancers in various positions, rotate their oilpaper umbrellas while upright, or hold the umbrellas between their legs while lying prone or supine on the floor. Towards the end, two dancers move together, one walking offstage under an umbrella, the other sitting and sliding backwards on the floor, remaining in contact with one or the other leg of the other dancer, seemingly being dragged offstage. These illusions end, and the spring rain enliven the village scene for the next act.
The second act is “Impression – Village by the Water”. It starts with the sound of running water, and a partially opened umbrella lying on the floor. A man and a woman walk towards each other from different sides of the stage. As they reach each other, they continue without changing direction, and walk away from each other and off stage. The man then re-appears, carrying a lamp. The woman emerges. They maneuver the lamp, handling it between each other, while dancing together. Other dancers appear, each holding a beaker with a light in it. Together with the music, we hear the sound of nighttime insects stirring. At one point, all the dancers exit the stage, leaving their lights on the floor. Then a woman returns and dances alone, casting a sharp shadow almost thrice her height on the cyclorama that moves in unison with her. She stops, picks up the lamp, and walks away. On the cyclorama there are video projections first showing revolving umbrellas, followed by people rushing about. Compared to “Illusions”, “Impressions” portrays more recognizable and realistic images of everyday life, at a moderate and serene pace, a pace that steps up in the third act.
After the intermission, Act III, “Pulse”, presents a scene with benches stacked up at the back of the stage, and three two-legged short benches suspended against the back wall. At the start, a man carrying an umbrella enters and exits. Then the female dancers move with their long hair loose and swirling around their shoulders. Living up to the title of this act, the music throbs rhythmically, and the dancers’ movement pulsates excitedly. The dancers occasionally take a bench and spring around or over it, and then return it to the stack. At one point, there are two women and a man on the stage, acting out an anguishing triangular relationship, looking somewhat in pain when rejected.
In the last act, “Naked Soul”, falling snowflakes indicate the last of the seasonal cycle. Among the white snowflakes scattered all over the stage, a female dancer strews what look like red petals. According to the house program, what the dancer throws are withered leaves. Umbrellas appear occasionally in this act. More often, the dancers carry fans, but the fans are bare-ribbed as well, perhaps resonating the idea of naked soul. Off downstage right an electric fan scatters the snowflakes, lifts them off the ground so that they float across the space before falling again. Despite the constant swirl of snow and drift of leaves, there is a tableau of human activity from “Pulse” to “Naked Soul”. As the snowflakes descend, they strip extraneous selves, their coldness pierces hearts and souls, purifying.
The umbrella, providing shade from the sun, protection from the rain, a shield from light snow, appears in all four acts, taking the dancers from one space and time to another. The stripped ribs look vaguely like veins that reinforce the notion of imprints of life. The umbrellas and fans also resemble burdens that cannot be gotten rid of. Throughout the performance, images of nature are projected onto the cyclorama to provide an external environment in which the dancers thrive and strive. Graceful movement to varying and complementary musical tones and rhythms with imaginative uses of oilpaper umbrellas give vividness to Imprint of Life.