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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 22, 2006

Flash dance meets ballet in 'Heartbeat'

Video: 'Heartbeat' of Chinese history

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser

"Heartbeat," a fast-paced action musical, uses percussion to mimic emotions in Dennis Law's vibrant show at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

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Blaisdell Concert Hall

7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays (also 2 p.m. Dec. 27), 8 p.m. Fridays (no show Dec. 29), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 20-31

$19-$49 ($5 discount for children and groups)

(877) 750-4400, www.ticketmaster.com

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Oh, the drums go bang and the cymbals clang and the feet they blaze away!

That slightly altered lyric from "MacNamara's Band" neatly sums up the "Heartbeat" experience — where West meets East at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

It's written, produced, and directed by Dennis K. Law, a retired Denver physician, and the kingpin behind a series of "action-musicals" that fuse modern show business with Chinese cultural history. Law claims "Heartbeat" to be the first Chinese dance show accompanied solely by percussion music. It has a definite Las Vegas aspect, clearly signaled by its subtitle — "Hot Drums! Hot Dance!"

In Law's interpretation, the drum mimics the beating of human heart and reflects a mental or emotional state, becoming a natural extension of tapping one's finger or foot. The show's musicians kick that up considerably by playing the edge of the drum more than the middle, creating in his words, "Wonderful noise — rock'n'roll, razzle dazzle, rhythmic stuff."

The musicians are an integral part of the show, and Law raises the orchestra pit just enough to let us see their heads and shoulders without blocking our view of the dancers. This adds extra excitement during the vigorous passages, when they reach high above their heads before slamming drumsticks down. But if you want a more consistent view of the drumming action, try for a low seat in the balcony.

The dancers do little drumming of their own, and the drums they carry are more props than instruments. An interesting exception is the "Chopstick Dance," in which the dancers alone provide the percussion.

Anyone expecting a measured, museum-like representation of Chinese historical tradition should know that Law's interpretation is exceedingly liberal.

In his Tang Dynasty "Pas De Deux" the woman dancer wears a long, flowing, extended ribbon sleeve — and very little else. Sporting an orange bikini and a minimal overskirt, she uses the sleeve as a flirtatious tool and, ultimately, as a binding strip to wrap up and contain her male partner.

This approach works symbolically throughout the show and is best illustrated in the Song Dynasty "Calligraphy Dance." Choose a single historical element — an oversized ink brush — and build a contemporary dance around it. Add a stylized mountain backdrop and costume the male dancers in baggy sail-like pants imprinted with oversized Chinese characters.

But the free-form technique can sometimes go badly awry — as in the Bronze Age "Hair Dance with Assault and Battle." Here, a band of women wearing fuzzy purple pelts — again shaped into prehistorical bikinis — toss their tresses and shuffle in an unfortunate conga line until they are attacked and carried away by a band of soldiers dressed in Bronze Age lamι and glitter.

The dancing otherwise is consistently graceful and powerful, packed with speed and energy by a youthful cast of 60 dancers and musicians recruited from schools such as the Beijing Dance Academy and the Shanghai Theatre Academy, all making their American debut in this mix of ballet, martial arts, and gymnastics. More than 400 colorfully exotic costumes, stunning backdrops, and fantastic lighting make the show visually spectacular, while its driving pace consistently holds attention.