Published: 10:17, May 13, 2024
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Blossoming realizations about living
By Cheng Yuezhu

A dance drama set in Guangzhou tells the story of a mother with Alzheimer's and her son who struggles alongside her, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

In the dance drama Blooming Life, the mother dreams of a fictional country in Chinese mythology, where everyone has pure white skin and hair. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

For the past year or so, Beijing-based choreographer Fei Bo has been living in the "city of flowers" — Guangzhou, Guangdong province — creating a dance drama about the vibrant blooms that add color to life.

While working at the Guangdong Song and Dance Ensemble, he has become familiar with the trees and plants that grow in the yard. To him, flowers are not just decorative but are quiet yet unwavering companions that symbolize various sentiments and convey different ideas.

Along with the creative crew, Fei decided to center the production on the relationship between a mother and her son, setting it in a tiny flower shop in Guangzhou.

Directed by Fei, written by Wen Fangyi, a playwright and teacher at Nanjing University, and produced by the Guangdong Song and Dance Ensemble, the dance drama, Blooming Life, premiered on April 26 at the Guangzhou Opera House as the closing performance of the theater's seventh women's art festival. It was performed for a second time on April 27.

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The moving story unfolds with the hardships and drudgery faced by the protagonists. The mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and the son grapples with pressure from working as a landscape designer while navigating his mother's confusion discerning between reality and delusion. As snippets of past memories emerge, the son recalls his mother's life and the care and nurturing she once gave him.

"I've never felt the need to focus on grand subjects to emphasize the significance of a production," Fei says.

"To me, sincerity is paramount. I hope that our work is able to touch the audience, so that they believe the story, see its authenticity and understand its messages."

The production portrays the relationship between a mother with Alzheimer's disease and her son, and is set in a flower shop in Guangzhou. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The crew visited hospitals and nursing homes to understand life with Alzheimer's disease, and they also consulted experts to learn about the disease's stages and symptoms.

To represent the symptom of the loss of color perception in the dance, the mother dreams of a fictional country in Chinese mythology, where everyone has pure white skin and hair.

Difficulty in interpersonal relationships is another symptom highlighted in the production, as the mother gradually becomes estranged from, and even hostile toward, neighbors and her son.

Despite the afflictions faced by the patients and their families, Fei aims to convey a sense of hope and positivity. The dance revisits the earlier days of the mother's life, when she experiences the feelings of being a young woman hopeful about the future, which allows the son to see her in a different light.

"When doing the promotional photo shoot, I told the performers to smile as they held back tears, which I believe encapsulates the emotional state of the characters. They are undoubtedly living difficult lives, but they accept reality and bravely confront suffering," he says.

"For me, this resembles the moment of flowers coming into bloom. Such moments are full of vitality. You can feel their warmth. I want to portray these crucial moments of nature onstage, so that a flower will bloom in everybody's heart."

The mother character is depicted as being born into a fishing family in South China. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Guangdong's cultural elements are merged into the production, including stage design that adopts local architectural styles, such as qilou, a type of building with overhangs that allow pedestrians to walk underneath to shelter them from sun and rain.

The mother is born into a fishing family, who spend the majority of their lives on boats as part of a unique community of people in South China. According to Chen Jianzhong, the production's literary consultant, this backstory provides cultural context for the characters and highlights the resilience of the women.

"This production possesses its own expression and narration that intertwine reality and illusion. It combines vivid, relatable scenes of everyday life in Guangdong province with symbolic dream scenes," Chen says.

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Multimedia technology is also integrated into the stage, lighting and sound design to showcase the contrast and achieve a smooth transition between reality and fantasy.

"Blooming Life tells of the human yearning for life and the struggle against inevitable illnesses and setbacks. On the stage, the audience can see a flower of humanity coming into bloom," says Feng Shuangbai, president of the China Dancers Association, who is the artistic consultant on the production.

"Love permeates through this production — the mother's love for her child, society's care for people with Alzheimer's, the bonds among neighbors and the son's love for his mother that matures over time. Together, they form the universal love of human existence."

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