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Nightingale a lavish treat for cheap

A multicultural fable told in dance


Once upon a time, there was a basically good guy who got so distracted by flashy organized prettiness, he forgot to appreciate plain, original worth. Sound familiar? During the holiday frenzy, many of us do the same. Now that it's a new year, and we're all ready to rediscover old-fashioned virtues (like thrift), the Kennedy Center Imagination Celebration offers an inexpensive treat that promises enchantment for all ages.

Arriving Sunday, Jan. 11, for one performance only, The Nightingale is a traveling production of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale adapted from an Asian fable. The story begins when the emperor of China reads about an exquisite creature in his vast estates, a living bird that sings a song more beautiful than any of the emperor's possessions. He sends his pompous, bumbling court to bring the nightingale to him; a lowly servant (the narrator) helps them persuade the bird. Enthralled, the sovereign wants to keep the nightingale with him always, and the nightingale agrees because of his tears, "the jewels that gladden a singer's heart."

Then, the emperor of Japan sends a gift: a mechanical nightingale glittering with jewels. The fickle courtiers prefer the fancy expensive toy with its predictable song, and the real nightingale sadly goes back to her forest. Eventually, the ornate machine breaks, and the emperor faces Death, alone and despairing, until the true nightingale returns to save him.

In this production of The Nightingale, the birds' songs are represented by dance. The only character who speaks at all is the wise and humble servant, narrating with word and song; other cast members use movement to tell the story. Dana Tai Soon Burgess conceptualized and choreographed this cool twist on an English translation of a Dutch retelling of a Chinese tale. As the founder of Moving Forward, a nonprofit arts organization based in Washington D.C. that uses dance as a medium for enhancing social and cultural understanding, Burgess is internationally known for his synthesis of East/West aesthetics and technique.

Award-winning director/playwright Mary Hall Surface brings her own magic to the script and production. Author of more than 20 plays for family audiences, Mary Hall Surface has collaborated before with Nightingale's eclectic composer David Maddox. Sound designer, musician, and composer, Maddox has a wildly diverse range, and all of the music in The Nightingale is his original composition.

Sunday's production of The Nightingale promises to be more than just a play, a dance and a fable -- it'll be accessible art for everyone. Tickets are only $9.50, and include a celebration in the lobby of the Pikes Peak Center. Beginning at 1:30 p.m., The Colorado Springs Chinese Cultural Institute will be anticipating the Year of the Monkey with Chinese paper-cutting and calligraphy demonstrations. Mali Hsu of the Institute ( says that children and adults can have their own names painted in Chinese before going in to see The Nightingale. CSCCI will also offer tickets to their upcoming New Year's Celebration (see upcoming issues of the Independent for more on this).

This world's realities, sorrows and joys are far away from the emperor of China in his porcelain palace, until he learns from a nightingale the meaning of compassion and true freedom. Come and see in the dance story The Nightingale what it means to be wise, joyful and true. And if anyone asks, say that a little bird told you.

-- J.N. Nail

capsule The Kennedy Center presents Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale

Sunday, Jan. 11, 2:30 p.m. (lobby open at 1:30 p.m. with art activities)

Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.

Tickets $9.50

Call 520-7469 for more information

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