"The Butterfly Lovers" provided Western audiences with a feast of traditional Chinese dance and beautiful images.

Share story

Whatever the confluences of culture, tradition, and 20th-century upheaval that have contributed to Chinese dance, as presented by Beijing Dance Academy members on their current West Coast tour, the results are beautiful and utterly distinctive.

A mix of folk, ballet and contemporary dance, with elements of opera, acrobatics and even a certain Busby Berkeley-style pageantry, the works performed at the Paramount on Saturday night (a second performance was on Sunday) were each different and lovely, and to eyes used to Western ballet and contemporary dance, full of surprises.

The first half of the evening consisted of five short dances. In “Lotus Flower in June,” choreographed by Zhou Ping Li Na, a smiling group of women wearing bright pink and green manipulated silk-draped fans and grouped themselves so as to suggest a single lotus flower floating in water.

Two works by choreographer Sun Ying were based on folk styles. In the first, “Waist Dancing of Chu Women,” three women rolled their shoulders and nodded their heads so that their tall headdresses waved like the antennae of sea creatures. “Singing While Treading” set 18 turquoise-clad women interweaving with slow sinuous grace, their long sleeves billowing.

The dances for men emphasized strength and speed. Bare-chested, Wang Shengfeng in the solo “Infinite” (choreographer Gao Chengming) moved with forceful, methodical gestures that included the slow uncurling of his fingers. In “Emperor Qin Counting his Soldiers” by Chen Weiya, four men performed a warrior dance, their faces fierce, their huge leaps taking off at unexpected angles.

“Three Way Crossroads,” by choreographers Hu Lei, Jiang Yang and Zhang Disha, was the strangest piece on the program. Dressed in lush opera costumes three dancers executed what looked like a version of hip hop dance to what sounded like contemporary Chinese rap music. At the end, in a kind of reversal, they disrobed to traditional music, and took a bow.

The second half of the evening featured the story ballet “The Butterfly Lovers,” choreographed by Zhang Jianmin to a 1959 violin concerto by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao. The lovely, expressive Wang Zihan, partnered by the powerful Shao Junting danced the parts of the doomed lovers. Dressed alike (in the story, she has disguised herself as a boy in order to attend school) in flowing silks, they embodied youthful joy and abandon.

In the unforgettable closing image, a group of women in white crossed the stage on tiny tiptoe steps, their feet parallel, like clouds rolling across a sky, as the reunited lovers were transformed into butterflies.

Mary Murfin Bayley: marybayley@aol.com