Tapestry in China
Travels and tests: Tapestry Dance Company's final week in China
As we board our coach for a three-hour trip to Hangzhou and a show this evening, memories of the last two venues and performances flash through my mind.
It started on a 200 mph bullet train trip, zipping along for a three-hour tour. It was a pleasant trip for most, a smooth ride that took us through flat, uneventful terrain, with snacks and hot buttered popcorn offered throughout the journey. It was mid-afternoon, most of us had already had lunch, so sleeping pre-show seemed the best idea. It was too bad, since the popcorn sounded really good after four weeks of Chinese food.
Our coach met us at the train station for a 35-minute sans-compass-drive to the theater. On this chilly, wet afternoon, we traveled through the "lanes don't mean anything" adventure. We also realized that our “small town” destination was actually one with a population of about 10 million.
Driving through decrepit and poverty-stricken areas (sadly in need of the Jetson-speed demolition and construction that is seen everywhere), I pondered how tap dance could make its mark. Ironically, tap is an art form born from some of the same poverty and deficiencies in our country over two centuries ago. This is a window of opportunity that is new to us and them, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. A voice of rhythm, a chance to learn, a chance to listen.
Listening is not what the guard at the theater front gate wants to do upon our arrival, however. Flash to a live episode of "Will He Open the Gate?" through the rain soaked window of our bus. An unbelievable version of something between a kindergarten tug-of-war and a knock-down drag-out fight between our producers, bus driver, theater manager and this gate guard.
As we pull up to one of the most beautiful theater buildings I have ever seen—an architectural glass beauty on the bank of the river surrounded by sculpted flower gardens—the portable entrance gate and the Do Not Enter sign are moved. The gate closes, our roadies and handlers exit the bus, the gate opens, the guard closes with wagging fingers, the gate opens back up, yelling and more yelling, and the gate closing again. All in the rain.
Our Production Stage Manager, Victoria Crawford, is wondering why we're late for our 4pm call, as it's now close to 5:00pm. Without a wardrobe staff, we have over 50 costumes to steam. We still need to space, warm up, set costumes and do makeup. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Luckily, we are getting pretty good at this.
The show went off on time and was surprisingly fun and relaxed, and we almost got side lighting, but the equipment showed up an hour before the show. With his patience and graciousness, our lighting designer Stephen Pruitt is my hero. I really don't know how he's doing it. As mentioned in my first post, I definitely owe my crew a trip to the Caribbean. Luckily, Victoria already lives there. She's paid some hard dues on this trip as well.
Because there always seems to be one, we incurred a new problem: Our taps have damaged what we now know to be the very soft pine floor of the stage. This is actually the second theater this has happened to. In the States, the decks are maple or covered with masonite or polyurethane. Now (as of two days ago), we travel with our own hardwood floor. Thank you, Manager Wang!
I won't go into details of the hotel or the dinner that night, but suffice it to say, we were glad to get back to our Shanghai home: The Rayfont Hotel.
We rose the next morning to yoga class and packed the coach back up for an hour-long trip to Shanghai Normal University. I was honored to teach a master class to the Dance Department majors with no tap experience, and I had a blast teaching basics and part of the Shim Sham.
That night’s show went off without full costumes and lights, but a packed house of excited university students were thrilled to see the show. Rushing the stage afterwards, the girls swooned over Thomas (our Aussie dancer) and Travis (Montreal) and couldn't keep their hands or cameras off them. My ego was fed enough by being told by the students I was "cool." Yeah, I'll take that.
As I’m writing this, we're 20 minutes to spacing, and I’m typing this in the four star hotel behind the theater, next to all of the Western high-end fashion stores like Gucci, Lancome and Louis Vuitton. The best part: My room has a bathtub. A long soak has been overdue…
Here's to a good show tonight! Once again, hats off to my incredible company and crew.