2015 New Zealand and Australia Tour Reports

Leshan Song and Dance Troupe's Fault Lines debuts in Sydney at Roslyn Packer Theatre

Write:FAULT LINES   Time:2015/10/6   Hits:242

Leshan Song and Dance Troupe's Fault Lines debuts in Sydney at Roslyn Packer Theatre

June 10, 2015

(Clockwise from left): Dancers Hao Zhang, Xingfei Xiel, Sizhu Wang and Lingshuang Yang from the Sichuan-based Leshan Song and Dance Troupe have teamed up with Christchurch photographer Sarah Brodie to createFault Lines, which debuts at Roslyn Packer Theatre this week.Photo: James Brickwood

Sometimes, when he's dancing on stage, Hao Zhang experiences a flashback that he likens to "the end of the world".

Zhang, now 28, lost his cousin in the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that struck Sichuan province in China in May 2008, a disaster that claimed the lives of more than 69,000 people, with 18,000 more missing, presumed dead.

"I lost contact with my cousin for a day or so, he was located in the very severest part of the damaged area, and I just thought he was gone," says Zhang, a member of China's Leshan Song and Dance Troupe, which is preparing its earthquake-inspired dance theatre workFault Linesfor its Sydney premiere at the Roslyn Packer Theatre.

Watching television reports, Zhang says he saw his cousin being pulled from the rubble. "It took over six hours to rescue him," Zhang says, via an interpreter, "but he passed away five minutes after he was freed. Now I express all those emotions I felt when I dance."

Fault Lines, which debuted in the Melbourne Festival in 2012, is a collaboration between the 18-strong Leshan Song and Dance Troupe and Christchurch choreographer Sara Brodie, who also has firsthand experience of what it is to have your world shaken apart. She was in Christchurch when the earthquake hit in 2011.

"One thing I experienced after two or three days of aftershocks, was completely losing my sense of balance," says Brodie. "I found myself tripping over or careening around even when there wasn't an aftershock happening. And you find yourself waking in the night all the time. One of the dancers said he was woken by his own heartbeat. You become so sensitised."

InFault Lines, Brodie and the dancers explore the effects a major earthquake has on body and soul.

"It can tear you apart," Brodie says. "You fill with adrenaline with each aftershock and you don't know what to do with it. It's incredibly draining. My mother couldn't be left alone [after the Christchurch earthquake]. She wouldn't leave the house, she was too fearful to even move around. That went on for nine months until she finally snapped out of it, but I know other people who have crashed and burned three years down the track."

A least half of the dancers in the Leshan troupe lost friends and family members in the 2008 Sichuan event, which struck near the city of Chengdu, Brodie says. Leshan is about 120 kilometres from Chengdu. "They have been performing this work for a long time now but they still find it moving. Some nights, the dancers have tears rolling down their faces."

The recent earthquake in Nepal has brought many of these feelings to the surface again, Brodie adds.

Creating work with a western choreographer has been a challenge for the Chinese dancers, says Zhang.

"In China, classical dance is more like mimicking gestures. [Fault Lines] is more personal, inspired from inside," he says. "Sara talked to all of us individually about how we thought about things before the earthquake and after. We learned that people in China and New Zealand had the same feelings. That human response to natural disaster is the same no matter where you are."

Surviving an earthquake and living through the aftershocks changes people irrevocably, Brodie says, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

"I've had dancers tell me that their parents used to be very careful with their money but now they spend it like there's no tomorrow," Brodie says. "It's been like that with my parents. They always used to buy insurance. Now they don't bother. There is a stronger sense of living for the here and now. There's also a greater sense of community. People are more likely to keep an eye on their neighbours when before they probably didn't know who they were."

Fault Lines plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay, June 11 and 13.