This Toronto-based Chinese dance company is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, but the name itself has a glorious history. In the eighth century, during the Tang dynasty, the Pear Garden Academy was established as China’s first professional music and dance ensemble. Toronto’s Little Pear Garden began as a showcase for authentic Peking opera, but has morphed into the quintessential Canadian hybrid.
Since taking over the company in 2007, choreographer Emily Cheung has introduced a movement vocabulary that merges East with West. She embraces Peking opera, Chinese martial arts, Chinese folk dance, ballet and Western contemporary dance in equal measure. The lavish anniversary show, Venom of Love, features a multicultural cast and creative team, as well as Cheung’s unique take on a much-beloved Chinese myth.
In the traditional story, the demon White Snake falls in love with a scholar and transforms herself into a human woman. In Chinese folklore, demons and humans cannot be together, and the White Snake saves the scholar from the anger of the gods by sacrificing herself. Says Cheung: “It’s always the demons who are punished. My story is told from the demon’s point of view. The scholar is the one who transforms and sacrifices himself for love.”
Venom of Love is at Toronto’s Fleck Dance Theatre May 16 and 17 (harbourfrontcentre.com).