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Silk Stone Moving

Ulster Almanac, Thursday, June 26, 2003, pp.1 & 10

Cross Cultural Kinetics
East Meets West in Silk Stone Moving
by Pauline Uchmanowicz

Silk Stone Moving, a fusion of original music, art and dance inspired by Asian images and archetypes, will have its world premiere at Kaatsbaan this weekend. The one act, one-hour performance features a trinity of artists from China and New York: master zither player John Thompson's silk strings will evoke the ancient Chinese musical tradition; abstract photographer Howard Finkelson's visual images will illuminate the stage with elemental symbolism, and contemporary choreographer Michael Mao's dance troupe will reveal the dynamics of Eastern and Western movement.

The inspiration for Silk Stone Moving originated in contemporary Asian dance: "A whole new style developed (in Asia because young artists were blending traditions - both ancient and modern, Eastern and Western - with respect to music, dance and theater," says Daryl Ries of Arts Promotions Asia, the group responsible for bringing the production to the U.S.

The trio's kinetic collaboration kicks off a full schedule of summer programs at Kaatsbaan, despite recent rumors of serious financial troubles at the international dance center. Kaatsbaan executive director and co-founder Gregory Cary assured, "The financial future of Kaatsbaan is being enhanced not only by refinancing efforts but also by the construction of the new Dancers' Inn, scheduled for completion in July of 2003 and funded by a million-dollar grant
(continued on page 10)
from Governor Pataki and a $250,000 grant via Senator Stephen Saland of Duchess County.

An eminent musicologist and Asian culture scholar, John Thompson left the U.S. in 1974, He then spent (two years in Taiwan and) 24 years in Hong Kong, studying the performing on the qin or guqin (pronounced "goo chin"), a long zither with seven strings traditionally made of silk. During his years in China, Thompson, fluent in Mandarin, began reconstructing ancient qin melodies, bringing old manuscripts back to life. Since settling in New York two years ago, he has held over a dozen international qin recitals, including concerts in Hong Kong, India and New York. Most Chinese players switched to metal strings during the Cultural Revolution, and Thompson is the only leading qin player who still uses silk strings exclusively, because he believes the finer fibers add to the authenticity of the 3,000-year-old medium.

The music itself is a very complicated text," says Ries. "I wanted to get John's music onto the stage in a new way. Prior to Silk Stone Moving it had never been performed in collaboration with dance. People might not be prepared to hear it, but I find it very calming and meditative." Each song has an accompanying story.

Michael Mao's choreography takes its structure from ancient Chinese court fables. Performed by multiracial, international dancers, it mixes contemporary ballet with Asian overtones to show how certain elements of Chinese movement - such as awareness of space - captures philosophical ideals.

Born in Shanghai and educated at Princeton and Harvard in literature and Asian studies, Mao is currently based in New York City. He trained at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, the Joffrey School of Ballet, and the Merce Cunningham Studio, and studied under Ted Shawn, Margaret Craske and Manolo Vargas. His works have been presented at major dance venues through the world.

"Mao's choreography in Silk Stone Moving creates statements about how the ancients lived," says Ries. "It's a very active kind of movement that will be familiar to the audience."

Projections of Howard Finkelson's abstract environmental images will cast light and color on the dancers.

For more than 20 years, Finkelson photographed textures from Jersey City to Afghanistan, Ulster County to Southeast Asia, exhibiting worldwide. An ardent student of Asian philosophy and religion, Finkelson's aesthetic echoes these interests. "In Eastern philosophy everything contains the seed of its opposite and this is what I found in my work," the photographer has stated.

"Whether photographing ancient walls in China or natural stone and rock formations in the Shawangunks, Finkelson demonstrates how the spiritual world echoes throughout our human one and has for a long time," explains Ries. "He may take the most mundane things as subjects, and yet tell you something about the past - all there, and all kind of talking to us."

Encompassing Asian elemental symbology (earth, air, water, fire, metal), his photographs illustrate the process of different forms of matter colliding with each other, a metaphor for interactions occurring throughout Silk Stone Moving. He hones into any kind of matter - sand dunes, for example, or the rust on the side of a truck.

Tickets to Silk Stone Moving are $25. In addition, Kaatsbaan will host "East and West", a master class movement workshop with Michael Mao on Saturday, June 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Call 757-5106 for reservations. During the same hours, John Thompson will present a lecture/demonstration and a beginning lesson on the silk-string zither. The cost of each session is $15. Howard Finkelson's original photo abstracts will be on view in the Kaatsbaan Studio Theater foyer through the weekend, with an opening reception at 6:30 p.m. this Saturday, June 28. Finkelson's exhibition will also be showing at The Colony Cafe in Woodstock beginning July 11.

Go to Silk Stone Moving, to my performances or to the Guqin ToC