If life be the stuff on which dreams are made, Hua Hua Zhang’s Dream of Land is a plausible representation of an age-old conundrum:  humanity’s endless search for happiness and fulfillment outside of the self. The Beijing-born puppet and fabric artist and sculptor’s latest work uses the world of dreams to explore the human experience, accessing her own artistic journey as point of departure.


Hua Hua Zhang tells the coming-of-age story with honesty, openness, and candor indicative of great wisdom and maturity.  The show demonstrates a depth of thoughtfulness and understanding, both in manual craftsmanship and artistic interpretation, rarely achieved in the early stages of a career in any field.


We are invited to follow the travels, investigations and discoveries of a young and searching soul.   Program notes delineating ten chapters or dream sequences with metaphoric yet clarifying titles give just enough information to prepare us for what unfolds on stage.  Zhang’s splendidly-crafted puppet characters/objects are physical abstractions of the life cycle.  As the soul meanders through the world, through trial, error, conflict, suffering, and love, it assumes a more human-like form.  A belly-shaped bowl becomes a blurry-featured creature head, moves on to acquire a full body, bones and all, occupying more and more physical space.  Apparently, our experiences leave indelible traces on the physical self, instigating definition and shape. Here, the congruence with art imitating life is too strong not to reference. Zhang’s visionary tale underlines satisfaction and fulfillment as states of consciousness more connected to process and not product.


Staged as theater-in-the-round, with spectators free to sit, stand, or walk around in the central space, Dream of Land uses all of the surrounding space for the soul’s life-journey. Seamlessness is emphasized by Zhang’s creative and elegant wall treatments—crumpled brown paper that softens urban angularity, catapulting us into a timeless cavern. During the show, the walls actually “breathe”, invisibly manipulated by performers off-stage. Puppet heads and masks enter the stage action from imperceptible openings in these paper walls. This artist’s treatment of fabric, paper, sculpted puppets, and masks imbues everything in sight with a sort of Kryptonian super visibility.  Hua Hua Zhang offers up her “everyman”, endearing the public to see all before them in an optic shaped yes, by her vision and insight, yet open enough to withstand, moreover invite each and every one of our experiences as well. Neither happy nor sad and much like Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince,  Dream of Land is a lesson-reflection on how we see the world and our place within its constructs.


Zhang and eight fellow artists bring to the stage expertise from multiple dance genres, theatre, puppet, and visual arts. Acting, dancing, and intersecting in the stage space, they either represent themselves or manipulate Huang’s exquisite puppets, executing both with grace and sensitivity. Theater, dance, pantomime and visual art combine to offer a well-calibrated interdisciplinary experience.


Of particular remark are Dream of Land’s visual aesthetic and its soundscape.  The beautifully crafted, realistic props and set are curious and eye-pleasing. The environment stimulates the visual sense while suggesting multiple layers of meaning beyond what is displayed.


Local musician, composer, sound designer and architect Cory Neale’s sound score is a perfect accompaniment to the action and intention of Huang’s piece. Sound and movement juggle in playful responsiveness, testament to Neale’s sensitivity to and respect for the choreographic vision.  Dream of Land is a delight for the senses—a great take-away.







   

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- Review by Rhonda Moore for thINKingDANCE