Toronto Star – Venom of Love transforms Chinese legend into modern dance

By: Michael Crabb
Date: Published on Wed May 14 2014

Original Link: Toronto Star
PDF file: Venom of Love transforms Chinese legend into modern dance _ Toronto Star

Folk legends and fairy tales are prime fodder for theatrical adaptation, and not just in Western culture. China’s Legend of the White Snake, immemorially embedded in oral tradition and finally written down during the Ming dynasty more than 600 year ago, has inspired everything from operas and stage musicals to movies and television series.
Now, Emily Cheung, artistic director of Toronto’s Little Pear Garden Collective for the past seven years, has transformed the legend into a contemporary dance work that blends tradition and modernity in a lavish spectacle called Venom of Love, complete with a commissioned score and state-of-the-art lighting and visual effects.
Two years in the making, it’s Cheung’s first evening-length choreography and the company’s most ambitious production to date.
Venom of Love is a tale of serpent-demons and mortals entwined in forbidden romance. Love, jealousy and betrayal are the active ingredients in a story of amazing transformations and ultimate redemption. Not all versions of the often-tweaked legend end as happily as Cheung’s.
“I’m twisting the story around,” says Cheung, in reference to a plot twist of her devising that definitely wouldn’t have been consistent with the ancient Chinese conviction that the worlds of mortals and demons are rigidly separate.
Venom of Love is a fitting milestone. This year marks Little Pear Garden’s 20th anniversary — for those who uphold such traditional designations, a china anniversary.
It’s been quite a journey since William Lau established the organization as a platform for presenting Chinese theatrical arts to Canadian audiences.
Lau says he’s excited by the company’s evolution under Cheung’s direction.
Lau, now a program officer in the Canada Council for the Arts’ dance division, is an expert in Peking Opera, a rich Chinese theatrical form as rooted in movement as it is in singing. In its early years the company reflected Lau’s traditional leanings but, as he points out, never excluded contemporary expression.
Cheung was only nine when her family settled in Canada in the late 1980s. She’d studied ballet from age five in Hong Kong and continued to do so in Canada. In many ways, she was thoroughly acclimated to Western culture and only began to explore her Chinese cultural heritage seriously when she was a student at York University. Cheung has since made several study trips to China, developing her understanding of its traditional dance forms.
Cheung was initially drawn to Little Pearl Garden as a volunteer, then as a dancer, before assuming the leadership from Lau just after graduating from York.
Since then, Little Pear Garden has become more dance-oriented, balancing respect for tradition with a broader global vision of contemporary dance. Cheung has brought in master teachers to expose company members to modern Western forms. For Venom of Love, she hired notable dancers from Toronto’s independent talent pool such as Brendan Wyatt and Malgorzata Nowacka.
“William was incredibly generous,” says Cheung. “He said, ‘Take the company where you want it to go.’ ”
Cheung has taken Lau at his word, expanding Little Pear Garden’s range of educational and outreach activities while exploring a personal vocabulary of contemporary dance expression.
“I’m reinventing my own style,” says Cheung, “creating a new dance vocabulary that I hope makes more sense for both Chinese Canadians and the wider dance audience.”
Venom of Love is at the Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W., May 15 to 17; or 416-973-4000.

Comments are closed.