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"Pearl": Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night, at the David H. Koch Theater
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"Pearl": Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night, at the David H. Koch Theater

- Classical and Cultural Connections: Arts and Education

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Legend River Entertainment, Zhenjiang Media and Culture Group,
Angela Xiaolei Tang, Steven Ship

Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night

Conceived by Daniel Ezralow, Arabella Ezralow,
Liu Bin, Angela Xiaolei Tang

Inspired by the life of Pearl S. Buck
(Pearl Buck Bio)
Story by Daniel Ezralow & Arabella Ezralow
Original Music by Jun Miyake

David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center

Directed & Choreographed by Daniel Ezralow

Supervisor: Cao Dang Ling
Exec. Producer: Zhang Bin
Artistic Director: Tang Wenbiao
Production Design: Michael Cotten
Costume Design: Oana Botez
Lighting: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: David Crawford
Creative Video Design: Mirada
Projection System & Media: Zak Borovay
Production Stage Manager: Kenneth Davis
Company Manager: Dave Harris
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions
General Management: Martian Entertainment

Special Guest Dancer: Margie Gillis
And an Ensemble of Actor-Dancer-Gymnasts

Press: Keith Sherman & Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 27, 2015

The dance drama, “Pearl”, about the American-born Pearl Buck, who grew up with missionary parents in late nineteenth century, early twentieth century China, is, essentially, still a work in progress. The Playbill program did not delineate the names of ensemble actors to their roles, including dancer, Margie Gillis, who was the middle-aged Pearl (she lived to 80). The curving replication of the staged Yangtze River, with a multitude of gallons of water, was invisible from the orchestra level, except when Pearl and other characters would bend down and let water drip through their hands. A large, movable, tilted mirror would have worked. The story of Pearl Buck’s life was “evoked” rather than explicitly told, as the program notes, poetic and vague, are not legible in the dark. The audio narrative was often overpowered by the sound track. A story transcription, on an overhead screen (the Koch has one) would have been informative. And, the audience could hear a man’s backstage instructions to the cast, throughout, presumably the director/choreographer, Daniel Ezralow, who has been reviewed on these pages for choreography in “Spiderman…” and Pilobolus Dance Theatre. A late scene with the ensemble perched on giant elasticized bands, spread across the stage, then let go, one by one, was more media stunt than storytelling, about one of the world’s greatest novelists and humanitarians.

What was most successful, however, was the sheer ingenuity of the technical effects and magical dance imagery. The Chinese poem, “Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night” was the central structure in the production, with Spring for Pearl’s youth, River for movement, Flower for love and creativity, Moon for longing and reflected light, and Night for the dream. Within the first metaphorical segment, a tiny dancer walks behind a partially illuminated vertical prop and comes out as the next older Pearl, with increased maturity. When it’s announced that Pearl’s siblings have died as children, a figure of a child disintegrates with bubbles and beads of light rising to the rafter. When Pearl goes to college in Virginia, ragtime music abounds (music is taped and beautiful, by Jun Miyake), and lovely costumes (by Oana Botez) are retro American. Mr. Ezralow’s choreography shifts from Chinese to American in cultural motifs, effortlessly and masterfully. When Pearl marries and divorces John Lossing Buck, an American economist, there’s silhouetted dance theater, but little context (I read her bio on return). Pearl’s early writings fill the illuminated bars (that rise and fall in various lengths and shapes), with the clacking of typewriters. Ms. Buck’s publishing success, the Pulitzer Prize for “The Good Earth” and the Nobel Prize for Literature, were flashed on the scenic media props. Chinese letters, as well, would form and shift. But, if only we, at stage level, could have had a glimpse of that infamously recreated river.

The choreography, on its own, was enchanting and ethereal, especially the solos. Ms. Gillis, a languorous dancer, made much use of her arms. The youthful cast, as Chinese villagers, college students, figures swimming and stepping out of the Yangtze River, and dancers freeing themselves from binding cords, created a magnetic aura. Yet, these shifting, dance scenes provided little context for tonight’s fragmented and elusive story. I mused to myself, that a significantly, scaled-down production may have been well served in an intimate setting, with raked seating, where everyone could have seen a smaller river and felt more invested in the tale. Yet, the Koch Theater’s technology system is astounding, and the audience did seem to be mesmerized in the moment, although I did hear rumbles of audience confusion during intermission at orchestra level, regarding the many anonymous characters, the flat, enigmatic river, and the directorial backstage sounds. I would love to see this show again, in a tighter, more polished production. Kudos to Pearl Buck and her many humanitarian accomplishments, especially for Asian and mixed-race children of adoption.

Patrick Cook and Krystal Matsuyana
in "Pearl"
Courtesy of Elizabeth Hinlein

Pearl Buck Photo
Courtesy of "Pearl"

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at