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Two “White Snake” Pantomimes is a concert paraphrase of music initially conceived as a ballet score, based on the legend of the White Snake—an enduringly popular subject of Chinese traditional literature and theater, as well as modern-day film and television.
The story of a snake spirit and her unhappy love for a mortal man has cross-cultural parallels to narratives that reappear throughout Western dance, from Romantic-era ballet-pantomimes to 20th-century ballets by Igor Stravinsky and Hans Werner Henze. In keeping with the White Snake legend, however, Two “White Snake” Pantomimes also looks to Chinese opera, a multidisciplinary tradition where performers do not distinguish strictly between “dancing” and “acting.” In my music, therefore, I do not envision dance so much as I imagine the gestural movement of the dancers as they play out the drama in mime.
“Borrowing an Umbrella by the West Lake” narrates the first meeting of the lovers during a storm, which allows the heroine Lady White to borrow the hero Xu Xian’s umbrella as a pretext for a subsequent meeting. “Trouble Stirs at the Dragon-Boat Festival” unfolds amid the din of a popular festival, where Xu Xian encounters a Daoist priest, whose insistence that he is in the grips of a demonic possession gives him the first sign that Lady White may not be who she seems.
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