The inevitability and impact of earthquakes is interrogated in Fault Lines. Projected on the cyclorama of the theatre, the facts speak for themselves: there is a significant quake every 11 seconds; 450 million people, in over 50 cities worldwide, including Christchurch and Wellington, live on fault lines.
So what happens when the firm ground we walk on turns traitor and brings the world down around us? How does the ragged human mind and spirit recover from such suffering? Fault Lines, an elegiac work commemorating the catastrophic earthquakes in Sichuan in 2008 and Christchurch in 2011, was performed by Leshan Song and Dance Troupe as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival.
The troupe, based in China’s Sichuan Province, were all personally affected by the 2008 earthquake that killed 69,000 people, including family members of the company. Choreographed by Christchurch-born Sara Brodie, assisted by Ross McCormack, troupe leader Lu Feng and other members of the troupe, Fault Lines is a sombre, poetic exploration of the forces that collide – natural, human and personal – and seeks to construct reconciliation, create hope.
A blend of Eastern and Western dance idioms, the work succeeds with its emotional intensity, artistry and narrative flow, integrating tai chi, traditional Chinese opera, contemporary movement and dramatic expression. In elegant callisthenic displays, subtle movement travels to the edges of the dancers’ upturned toes and curving hands. Then forming dramatic layered patterns, with arms and legs whirling and stunning gymnastic flips, the dancers give a stylised interpretation of the natural world’s turbulent rhythms.
The most moving sequences are drawn from private and collective traumas of the dancers’ own experiences of the Sichuan earthquake: a group edges feet-first towards rescue; a party girl hobbles on her one high heel; others try to find their way in darkness with the aid of their cellphone lights. A tender duet reveals the fragility of a relationship: grief bends them double, aftershocks rupture sleep. The costumes’ muted monochrome greys, the soft fragile faces of the women and the chiselled intensity of the men, all add to the work’s haunting, mesmeric quality.
Fault Lines is built around a remarkable composition by Gareth Farr, Nor’West Arch, first performed for the 2011 Christchurch Arts Festival, and a Chinese score by Gao Ping. The recordings by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra – particularly its string section – and the Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra add poignancy and depth to the performance.
FAULT LINES, Leshan Song and Dance Troupe, Aurora Centre, Christchurch, September 19-21, as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival; Tempo Dance Festival, Q Theatre, Auckland, October 10; Theatre Royal, Nelson, October 16, as part of the Nelson Arts Festival.