A gathering ‘Red’ storm 

Choreographer Lily Cai may have been too young to experience the full brunt of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but its deeply penetrating historical significance has not escaped her. In fact, she worries that the Chinese government’s current policy of evading public conversation about the devastating event 40 years ago may cause people to forget.

That is why Cai created "Red Typhoon," a dance commemorating the Cultural Revolution, for the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company’s home season premiering this weekend. "Red typhoon" is a phrase anyone who lived through the revolution’s bloody decade will recognize with horror. It refers to the knocks on the door that came in the middle of the night announcing Red Guards looking for people or things of a counterrevolutionary nature.

"It’s a bad memory for many people," says Cai. "Some of my friends saw the rehearsal and cried."

"Red Typhoon" begins with a quiet "memory ceremony," where dancers hold a lit glass sphere to commemorate the approximately half-million victims of the revolution’s purges. In this first section, Cai focuses on traditional Chinese dance, where curved bodies move in spherical patterns. This classical movement is later contrasted with the linear, march-like steps of the vehement Red Guards, while the glass sphere is replaced by a totally different prop — a flowing red flag.

In many ways, the subject of this work is a perfect fit for a company that combines modern ballet techniques with classical Chinese dance (represented this time with help from four traditional dancers from China). The historical struggle between traditional and proletarian cultural values easily lends itself to the interplay of two dancing styles.

In this work, Cai incorporates highly potent imagery straight from the annals of history. In one scene, for example, a dancer performs in shoes where one heel has been cut off to represent women whose shoes were broken by disapproving guards, but who continued to walk pretending that nothing had happened in a physically painful protest.

These allusions to the brutal reality of the revolution are why Cai, a former principal dancer with the Shanghai Opera House, believes her new work could not be shown in today’s China. The government does not want to talk about this unhappy memory, she explains. Leaders have the 2008 Olympics on their mind and want to create a sense of harmony for their international guests.

"That kind of thinking to have a harmony environment is understandable," says the choreographer. "But every Chinese [person] shouldn’t forget."

The company’s music director Gang Situ will lead a pre-performance talk on the Cultural Revolution, focusing on personal memories and the symbolism of the work’s references and imagery.

Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company

Where: Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. pre-performance talk

Tickets: $25 to $35

Contact: (415) 345-7575 or www.fortmason.org/boxoffice

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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