The dance drama tells the story of a clay modeler at the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, who after perceiving the beauty and sincerity of the ‘Lotus’ (a sacred image in Buddhist poetry), creates a painted statue for the Dunhuang caves. Choreographer Zhao Xiaogang borrows the exquisite body language of the Dunhuang wall murals and Buddhist statuary to tell the story of this clay modeler’s journey of cultivation and learning, searching for the origin of life, as he carries his sculpture great distances across land and sea. It celebrates humanity’s persistent search for true love, goodness, and cherished wishes.
Through the story, we are introduced successively to the following images: revolving mud crescent-moon spring dance, blue lotus danced with eyes and hands (based on the mudras of performing Bodhisattvas found in wall murals of the fifth and sixth centuries), the comical rhythmic dance of the stone lotus (based on early Tang Dynasty ‘lotus child’ frescos), the quiet and delicate brocade fish dance, bounded hand and feet joined bud lotus dance (based on the ‘Mizong’ images found in Dunhuang cave 465), the unrestrained warrior Buddhist saint dance (based on the Tangut warrior saint statues at Yulin Grottoes), the red lotus dance that combines strength and suppleness (based on the sixth century murals of Apsara immortals), the soul shaking white lotus dance (based on the tenth century prototype of the figure of ‘Dao Zhen’). The last section draws on the music and dancing imagery of the murals in Dunhuang cave 220, including the lotus pond dance of the seven auspicious immortals. The delicate body rhythms of the dancers and bowed string melodies of the erhu bring blessings and happiness to all those who truly know the beauty of the Lotus.
At the end of the story, when the clay modeler places his painted statue inside the Dunhuang stone cave, he cannot help but say goodbye to this figure that has accompanied him through his life’s journeys. The choreographer uses the visual effect and feeling of modern dance to express the clay modeler’s vision of art as ‘coming from life but exceeding life,’ as well as this statue’s relationship to him as ‘coming from but surpassing.’
From the choreographer:I started studying Dunhuang dance when I was eleven years old, and in the past more than twenty years I’ve never left it. At one time, experiencing the visual excitement of modern dance, I tried to escape the limitations of Dunhuang; yet, the precious inheritance of the ancestors had already turned into muscle and bone growing in my body’s deepest places. Now, after so many creations, I’ve realized that the beauty of the whole is in its parts, and returned to the very place that I began. To the poetic image of the ‘Lotus’ and the expressive medium of contemporary Chinese dance, I offer my own interpretation and refinement. In a specified time and space, using the concrete images of the ‘clay modeler’ and the ‘lotus’ and their mutual fantasies, I explore life’s most basic elements of sincerity and goodness. In traditional Chinese culture, the purity of the lotus flower emerging with its petals and leaves complete and untarnished from the mud is consistent with the basic philosophical principles of Eastern thought. Just like the experience of coming close to the Dunhuang murals, it can give people a feeling of quiet and happiness. I thank my teachers for giving me a special skill, which allows the Lotus to take us together, following the steps of the ‘clay modeler’ across the human world, hovering in the hallways of Dunhuang filled with images of lotus flowers in full bloom, wandering among the dance imagery, to reflect on the beauty and sincerity of human life.XiaoGang Zhao
Crescent moon spring nestles in the bosom of sounding stones mountainThe clay modeler wanders to this place, nebula swirl in the beautiful reflections of heavenWaves churn the spring’s water, like lotus flowers in full bloomThe clay modeler decides to sculpt a painted statueThe lithe and graceful lotus murmurs a blessing for himThe stone lotuses bring mud, sand, cotton and wheatgrass to build the statueEven the fish in the spring sense the clay modeler’s lotus-like intention and chant softly
The clay modeler packed the statue onto his back and began a journeyThey saw the devoted married couples brightly blossom and then buriedHeard the Buddha warrior attendant saint with lotus chanting scriptures, shaking sleeves in displeasure, taking tiny stepsImmortals and flying apsaras on the painted walls of the great edifice like a red lotus,Recounting to them the truth and sincerity of the world
Greed, anger, and madness of the secular worldUtterly destroy the sincere respect of the natural universeThe clay modeler entrusts his hope and wishes to the painted sculptureand places it inside the stone cave of DunhuangAs he waves his hand farewellthe painted statue seems to shed a tear, glittering and transluscent as a lotus flower