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Possibilities Unbound

By Lynn Hasselbarth

China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe

The Egg, June 27

The Chinese Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe is a force that breaks artistic boundaries and reaffirms individual potential regardless of ability or circumstance. It is a truly hopeful expression of perseverance and human integrity, showcasing breathtaking talent and artistry amid the difficulties and challenges of limited abilities.

With its world-renowned presentation My Dream, performed at the Egg this past weekend, the CDPPAT shares an extravagant blend of dance, music, theater and comedy. With performers who are blind, hard of hearing or otherwise physically disabled, the ensemble embraces life’s hardships with a radical sense of joy and celebration. With signed poetry interspersed throughout the performance, there is a message of resilience and perseverance born out of the trying experiences of the individual performers.

In 2007, the troup was awarded special distinction by the United Nations as a UNESCO Artist for Peace, having reached diverse audiences in over 60 countries from Australia to Zimbabwe. Whether performing for dignitaries at Carnegie Hall or for young audiences at local schools for the disabled, the CDPPAT leaves a trail of inspiration wherever it travels.

During its visit to the Capital Region, the troupe performed excerpts from its show at Living Resources, a local organization that provides life-enhancing services for disabled individuals. The organization partnered with the Chinese Community Center of the Capital District to host the ensemble, providing new ground for collaboration.

The benefits of partnership were clearly evident during the opening piece of the performance, the ensemble’s trademark “Thousand-hand Bodhisattva.” A single-file line of 20 hearing-impaired dancers manipulate their arms, hands and fingers to depict the image of the Buddha. The outstretched arms represent abundant kindness and generosity, extending from what appears to be one single body. However, there are two additional bodies placed at the front corners of the stage, both dressed in simple white tunics as opposed to the brilliant yellow beaded costumes of the other dancers. It is with the presence of these additional figures that one is reminded of the dancers’ inability to hear the music. In place of sound, the dancers keep peripheral view of their guides, who direct the dancers through rhythmic arm gestures, cueing each movement.

Another piece featured Tia Lihua, the ensemble’s hearing-impaired art director and lead dancer. In a condensed dance drama, “Butterfly Lovers,” Lihua and male dancer Zhao Ligang depict a story of forbidden love in which the pair part, leaving earth only to return as butterflies united in another form. The company’s remaining dancers provide a magical backdrop for the scene, with their hands covered in glow–in-the-dark gloves, which protrude from a dark curtain with fingers fluttering like a sea of fireflies in an open field.

Between each piece, poetry is shared through sign language, with gestures and movements that are equally expressive as the larger ensemble pieces. One poem states, “Despite the impairment, our performances are unrestrictive.” This was truly the case during a contemporary piece titled “The Happy Life on the Farmland.”

Created and performed by Huang Yangguang, a young man who lost both arms in an electric-shock accident, the piece depicts the natural cycles of growth based on Yangguang’s upbringing on a rural farm in central China. Navigating the stage with humor and ease, Yangguang shows his immense agility and coordination, lifting water jugs with his collarbones and scooping water with a bowl held between his toes.

A young male vocalist, Yang Haitao, was featured throughout the performance, evoking traditional Chinese melodies through a rich baritone voice. A selection sung in English, titled “When a Child Is Born in Paradise,” recalled the story of Haitao’s youth, having been born visually impaired. Haitao remembers that as a young child his mother would encourage him by saying, “My child, sing as loud as you wish. Through your music you will not fear darkness.”

It is through this sense of personal vision that the members of the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe are able to transcend their current limitations and embrace the endless possibilities of their own lives.

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