I did not know what to expect when I walked into Theatre Impérial last night to see the show I heard so much about called Pearl that had previously been presented in New York at Lincoln Center last August. I had been told about amazing dancing, video projections, and real water on stage. These elements are no doubt a huge part of the production, but what struck me the most is its storytelling quality.
Pearl Buck had colourful life being brought up in China and later moving to the United States for college. She went on to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938, the first woman to receive both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. Her life and stories grew to have an influence on both Chinese and Western cultures because of her unique personal perspective and experience.
Pearl’s life takes shape on stage through the performance of five dancers who portray her at five different times in her life. This approach helps the younger audience connect to the show because the youngest dancer portraying Pearl must have been only ten or eleven years old. The internationally renowned Margie Gillis portrayed the oldest Pearl. The five ages of Pearl also go hand in hand with the five symbolic stages (Spring, River, Flower, Moon and Night) found in the influential Chinese poem written by Zhanf Ruoxu, which was used as an inspiration for the show. Seeing the physical transformation of the main character enhances the storytelling aspect of the performance and makes her appear almost real. With the elaborate video projections and special effects created by Mirada, a great set design by Micheal Cotton and original music by Jun Miyake, it is easy for the audience to forget they are watching a show. It was almost has if everyone in the hall had been instantly teleported to China.
Daniel Ezralow, who has worked with Cirque du Soleil, choreographed the impressive dances that involve lifts, props, circus tricks and a running river on stage. Some of the most visually striking moments include the opening the scene where the dancers interpret boats and actually seem to be rocking forward and back, the many occasions when Pearl interacts with the river, and when the entire cast is on stage at once dancing with elaborate costumes. Daniel Ezralow’s choreography is filled with emotion and at the end of the performance the audience is filled with hope and a sense of being part of something larger. The international cast of dancers and production team underlines this key message as well.
Pearl was created in a way to make art accessible to everyone. One does not have to be a dance aficionado to fall in love with this show. Guaranteed: there is something for everyone in this production.
Pearl will continue its run in Montreal until June 18th at the Theatre Impérial (1430 Bleury) at 8 p.m. $50-110. The show moves on to Toronto in July. Tickets HERE.