Tang poem brought to life with music and dance

Ding Yi works with contemporary dance company and chamber musicians to reinterpret Bai Juyi's work

Of Music & Dance conducted by Wang Ya-Hui (above) will star pipa soloist Chua Yew Kok (left).
Of Music & Dance conducted by Wang Ya-Hui will star pipa soloist Chua Yew Kok (above).PHOTOS: DING YI MUSIC COMPANY
Of Music & Dance conducted by Wang Ya-Hui (above) will star pipa soloist Chua Yew Kok (left).
Of Music & Dance conducted by Wang Ya-Hui (above) will star pipa soloist Chua Yew Kok. PHOTOS: DING YI MUSIC COMPANY

The classical long-form poem Song Of The Pipa Player, written by Chinese poet Bai Juyi during the Tang dynasty to lament a musician's life of sorrow and banishment, will be interpreted in the form of a multi-disciplinary performance featuring Chinese chamber music and contemporary dance on Sunday.

Called Of Music & Dance, the one-night showcase is presented by Ding Yi Music Company, which has roped in dancer-choreographer Albert Tiong, who helms the local dance company Re: Dance Theatre, and Wang Ya-Hui as conductor.

The work by composers Phang Kok Jun and Hsu Tzu-Chin will also star pipa soloist Chua Yew Kok and soprano Ng Jingyun as vocalist.

This marks the latest attempt by Ding Yi to weave elements not often seen in Chinese classical music performances, such as multi- media and drama, into its productions.

Last year, it incorporated calligraphy projections and drums in Of Poetry & Music, a presentation of Tang and Song dynasty poetry.

Such elements paint a more vivid picture for the audience, says Chua, 37.

"It's a poem so rich with tragedy and you can visualise the scene in your head, of the female pipa player by the river. So we are trying to re-create that scene."

All three elements - music and dance and vocals - are "equally important" to the performance, says Ding Yi's general manager, Mr Dedric Wong, 29.

"In some parts, the music provides tension and the dancers have to react to that tension through their movement. Other parts will highlight the pipa and vocals. They all work in tandem," he adds.

Another challenge for Chua and Ng is that they have to move around on stage.

And while most of the ensemble is on stage, some players will be positioned behind the audience to give "a surround sound effect", Mr Wong says.

Tiong, 44, who is working with Ding Yi for the first time, says his challenge will be to grasp the context of the performance and to guide his dancers, who have contemporary dance backgrounds.

"The emotions are not so straightforward in this piece, they are more lyrical. Typically, we perform to recorded music, but this time, the music is live. It's tougher for the dancers. It's important for us to achieve that chemistry and balance," he says.

Wang, 47, likens it to "an opera or ballet experience, where the conductor must bring together the many elements that make the performance".

She says: "This is like Richard Wagner's music drama. He was a Romantic era composer who didn't believe opera was just about singing and orchestra, but rather a music drama where every aspect on stage and in the pit are tied together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'Tang poem brought to life with music and dance'. Print Edition | Subscribe