Pearl Is A Gem Of A Show

Unique chinese dance play honours author Pearl Buck

By Byron Toben

This is an evocative dance play about China that is truly pas comme les autres!

None of your frou frou tutus, as in classical ballet.

Nor none of the regimented Red Guard Detachment of Women dance championed by Madame Mao.


Image: Jim Cox

Rudyard Kipling famously declaimed that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. Well, we’ve come a long way, Rudy, and largely due to writer Pearl S. Buck.

Ms Buck, born in West Virginia, was taken as an infant to China by her missionary parents. Those advanced souls chose to live amongst the people, eschewing the more common foreign compounds. Thus Pearl’s first language was Chinese. Aside from higher education back in the USA, she spent the bulk of her formative life in China.

Uniquely prepared to bridge the two cultures, she churned out several books and became the first woman to win both a Pulitzer and a Nobel for literature (and since then, only Toni Morrison). Perhaps the most famous of her books, The Good Earth was made into a 1937 film nominated for five Oscars and winning two.

What a challenge… to develop a dance show about a print writer (let alone to write a review about it!)

Well, China’s major Legend River Entertainment Company in the person of its key executive Angela Xiaolei Tang was certainly up to the challenge by engaging Daniel and Arabella Ezralow to assist in developing the show/tribute. Mr Ezralow has a list of credits two yards long, including the shows at the Chinese Olympics.

Incorporating original music by super star Yo-Yo Ma and Jun Miyake, they structured the story around a most cherished Chinese poem with the five key words, Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night.


Image: Yi-E Yan

Accordingly, five different dancers portray Pearl at different ages. Canada’s own Margie Gillis incarnated the mature Pearl and, as expected, performed on a par with the two-dozen younger members of the troupe.

Shades of Cirque du Soleil, the show manages to use real flowing water on stage.

Beautiful sinuous movement manages to keep the rapt attention of the audience.

Fine multi media backgrounds of landscapes, mist and overhead skies contributed to the feel. Somehow, through war, famine and natural calamity, the ancient Chinese people persist. It is this survival, and not just love of family and food, that evokes resonance with the Jewish people.

Only at the very end of this magnificent display of nonverbal exposition, does an unseen Narrator recite a passage from Ms Buck’s works where she inspirationally affirms, despite all, her faith in humanity.

Pearl premiered at Lincoln Center in New York last August. Montreal is its first stop on a lengthy tour.

PEARL continues at the Imperial Theatre until June 18.

For more information and tickets call 1 888 59 PEARL or go to and, or at the Imperial Theatre box office, 1432 Bleury.

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club

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