Lily Cai Dance Company blends past, present Chinese culture

The Lily Cai Dance Company performed in the Wadsworth Auditorium on Saturday March 25. The company’s specially choreographed dances blend past and contemporary Chinese culture. (Ash Dean/Photo Editor)

The Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company treated Geneseo to an awe-inspiring show on Saturday March 25. The performance consisted of three individual pieces: “Dynasties,” “Xing” and “Silk Cascade.” 

The company was established in 1988 by Lily Cai herself, whose choreography melds ancient Chinese dance forms with modern dance. Her “passion has been to reveal the soul and internal beauty of the Chinese women through dance” and she does so by “bridging the continuum from past to contemporary,” according to Cai.

The opening number, “Dynasties,” was a work spanning ancient to modern times. The piece began with modern choreography and simple costumes, but then traveled in time from 770 BC to the 1920s. 

All six dancers quickly reappeared in traditional Chinese clothing carrying baskets over their shoulders. The repetitive movement of the dancers creating an “S” shape with their torsos represented the women of the Zhou Dynasty. 

The scene then transformed into a representation of the Tang dynasty, where graceful, elegant court dancers appeared with long red ribbons. The beautiful ancient art of ribbons is mesmerizing to watch. The ribbons were thrown up in the air and floated effortlessly around the dancers. Next, during dance of the Qing dynasty, the dancers emerged with large headpieces and traditional platform sandals.

The piece soon left the dynastic era and the dancers moved to the music of a different kind of royalty. The piece transformed into high society culture of 20th century Old Shanghai. Chinese tradition began to mix with Western influence as the dancers moved in less conservative dresses and began to explore newer styles of dance.

The next piece, “Xing,” explored the Chinese art of fan dance. Cai’s choreography draws from all regions of China to create a more contemporary, edgy form of fan dancing. She describes “Xing” as “a dance of unique body language—soft yet powerful, a clear tribute to the strength, grace and beauty of dancers.” Cai dedicated this piece to the dancers of her company. 

The final piece, “Silk Cascade,” was an exciting, stunning performance that armed each dancer with 20-foot long silks. The piece was inspired by artist Jackson Pollock and by the strokes of a paintbrush in traditional Chinese calligraphy. 

The beginning of the piece was an intense burst of black and white ribbons, which symbolized the opposing and complementary yin and yang. As colorful ribbons were introduced, the music and movement became joyful and peaceful. 

This piece has become Cai’s choreographic signature. It represents all important elements of a “good life.” The red ribbon represents good fortune and joy, the gold ribbon represents prosperity and the green ribbon signifies long life and happiness. 

The piece closed with a whirlwind of ribbons moving in all different directions. After a big crescendo, the lights went dark and the organized chaos ended.  

Cai’s inspiring choreography was a beautiful fusion of traditional Chinese culture and contemporary dance styles. The dancers successfully illustrated some of the history of Chinese culture, with an emphasis on the culture of women. From the conservative dresses and more restricted movement styles to the free, colorful ribbons, the performance demonstrated the beauty of growth and change.