• Sarah Kwok

Flying White 飞白 - January 31-February 2

Flying white 飞白 is an innovative new work that brings together music and dance with Turning Point Ensemble and Wen Wei Dance, co-presented by the PuSh Festival. Read on as Owen Underhill, composer and Artistic Director of Turning Point Ensemble, talks more about the show, its representation of various elements, and how it explores the spaces that exist in the in between.

So, tell me about the show

Flying White is an exciting collaboration between Wen Wei Dance and Turning Point Ensemble. I approached Wen Wei some time ago based on our previous correspondence and he was delighted to work together on a large scale project.  We then approached the PuSh Festival and they agreed to put it in their festival.

Given the scale of the project, I was also delighted that composer Dorothy Chang agreed to join me as a co-composer.  Wen Wei does all the choreography but the music is divided into eight different pieces or sections, and Dorothy and I each write four.  

Flying white is a rare and extraordinary form of Chinese calligraphy where the black ink reveals a white background.  That was an idea we started with.   Dorothy, Wen Wei and I worked together on developing the ideas around the piece.

Wen Wei has a company of six dancers for this piece, but there are actually 13 musicians plus conductor.  The ensemble is cross-cultural in that in addition to the western instruments, there is a pipa, guzheng, sheng, and two erhu.  For the Chinese instruments, we received some players from the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra in Taipei.

Can you talk more about the creative processes behind Flying White?

As mentioned, once we had the basic idea for the piece, Wen Wei, Dorothy and I met several times.  Dorothy and I worked on figuring out the different sections and how to divide them, which goes from solo pieces to several ensemble pieces.  Wen Wei already had time to choreograph in July so we gave him some music to start with, and he also went quite a far way on his own developing choreographic ideas and also the materials that he would work with.  From there, Dorothy and I spent the fall developing the music.  We have now been in rehearsal since early January.  

Several different elements (including rice, paper, silk, and ink) are represented throughout the work, and I'm interested to know how these are depicted through music and dance? 

Yes, that is an interesting question.  Well, we went a long way with the paper.  Wen Wei has some sections based on large sections of rice paper.  In the last piece of music, we play a bit with the sound of ripping paper.  That is very ritualistic and visual also.  

Wen Wei has a beautiful eye for material; he is like a designer.  So the silk is extraordinary.  There are costumes with long, long, arms of silk, and other parts where a dancer is covered on the floor with silk.

As for the ink, you will have to see that in person.  The final section will be a dancer creating calligraphy with their body, black ink, and a huge piece of paper.

We will have to use water in the next piece!

This seems to be something entirely new, so it's hard to know what to expect, but I'll ask this question anyways - what can people expect to see, hear, and experience at Flying White?

It is a piece that is visually stunning, and the music is also extremely colourful and and times dramatic.  Although non-narrative, as the piece unveils, the themes become more developed and the themes become more and more developed.  You kind of go inside.  This was in part Wen Wei's idea to deal with the things between - exploring the space between black and white, inhale and exhale, east and west, life and death, and sound and movement. 

Delve into these spaces yourself as music and dance are woven together in Flying White 飞白, co-presented by the PuSh Festival, on January 31 (7:30pm), February 1 (7:30pm), and February 2 (2pm) at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre.

More information: https://www.turningpointensemble.ca/#2019

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