The Jupiter String Quartet performed at the Krannert Center on Thursdays February 7 with performer Chungliang Al Huang, Tai Ji master.
When I found out that we had to see the Jupiter String Quartet, I did not know much about what type of music that the group would perform because I have never heard of the group. I first thought the performance was going to boring because I was only expecting the band and one performer in the show. After seeing the performance, I discovered that it was fascinating to watch. The passion the group put into each song performed and it was relaxing. I like that they added more than one dancer because it brought more value to the song and dance. I liked the combination of the music with group dance because they incorporated the entire group. I also liked it when they started coming together the musical instrument faded slowly, but it went with the concept of the performance. The most interesting part of the concert was music and tango performance. It was good to see the dancer speed up their fool of dance. The tango was also an unexpected part of the performance. Towards the end the music stopped, and we all thought the performance was over, but they surprised us with a tango performance. If I were the director, I would not change anything because everything flowed together and the elegance of the music with the Tai Chi performance, music with formal group dancing and music with group movement was an excellent addition to the performance flow and quality of music with movement.
It’s been almost 2 years since I stopped doing Kung Fu. I took a kick to the head during my last promotion test. I was still able to finish the test and promote, but that kick left me with a concussion. That concussion, which still gives me headaches to this day, threw 10 years of hard work out the window.
I’m not the type of person to do something for 10 years without loving it. Throughout high school, I couldn’t join a lot of the clubs or sports I was curious about because I was so dedicated to my training. I absolutely love Kung Fu. There’s something about it that makes me smile even after a long day. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s very rewarding, and watching someone who has been training for decades is one of the most awesome, beautiful, and terrifying things I’ve seen.
So, when I heard about the performance to go along with the Jupiter String Quartet performance I saw this past Thursday, I’m sure you can imagine my excitement.
The school where I learned Kung Fu taught both Kung Fu and Tai Chi. The two are very similar, and a good amount of my Kung Fu education incorporated ideas from Tai Chi. Our promotion tests were the same as well, so I got to watch Tai Chi students and masters alike demonstrating various techniques.
So, seeing that a Tai Chi master would be performing alongside the Jupiter String Quartet was very exciting for me.
After watching a video of him performing in class, I couldn’t wait to see what he could do. Everything he did was just so clean! It was just so well done, so smooth, so good! I looked up even more videos of him to see what else he could do, and I just fell in love with how smooth and clean and beautiful his movements were!
I was filled with anticipation as I approached Foellinger Great Hall. I couldn’t wait to go inside.
I knew that Jupiter String Quartet would be playing. I had also heard some of their music in class beforehand and was very pleased. I love that classical style music, and music like that compliments Tai Chi very well. So, I was expecting great music to beautifully compliment some spectacular Tai Chi. I had also heard that there would be other dancers, and while I didn’t really pay them too much thought beforehand, I figured that they would probably be good too. Great music, great martial arts, all in all, I knew it was going to be a great night.
I entered the hall, unable to wait for the performance to start.
First, the strings came out. Their music was beautiful, intense, and all around just so good. I was very pleased, but I was still waiting for Master Huang to show up. I started to wonder how long the music part was going to last. I get that one of the primary focuses of the performance was to listen to the Jupiter String Quartet play, but I wanted to see some Tai Chi!
And then I saw one of the doors to the side open. Master Huang stepped onto the stage, and began to perform. I leaned forward in my chair, trying to get as close as possible, focusing on every little movement he made. I soaked in as much as I could from him, trying to learn as much as possible, experience as much as possible how he moved. Every part of his body flowed so perfectly! Every motion he made completely blended, no mistakes, every part of his body under his total control in a way almost nobody can do. It was awesome, and the music was absolutely perfect for such a performance. The lights in the back flashed different colors, the tempo and intensity of the song went up and down, all to perfectly compliment the Tai Chi Master’s movements.
I sat on the edge of my seat throughout all of the Tai Chi performances, by far my favorite part of the show. Whether Master Huang was alone, had the dancers performing along with him, or had everyone doing Tai Chi together, my eyes were glued to the action. At one point, when he and the 4 dancers were doing their performance, the 4 dancers fell back and Master Huang took the front of the stage. He did a short sequence that reminded me so much of the crane style – one of my specialties when I was still doing Kung Fu was a Tiger-Crane form – and afterwards I had goose bumps all over my body for several minutes! I would’ve paid good money to see that crane sequence alone – it was so good! All of it was so good!
I will admit there was a moment during the show when I was a little disappointed. On the stage I had seen two areas for the string quartet to play: one in the foreground, and one in the back corner. I had thought that the back corner was reserved for a special finale demonstration, one that would absolutely blow me away. And while the dance that actually happened was quite good, and both dancers were obviously very skilled, it left me feeling rather disappointed that it didn’t involve any Tai Chi. If it were me directing I would’ve saved that for a grand Tai Chi finale, maybe telling some grand, wordless story that you come up with as you watch, but that’s just me. I would’ve shifted the primary focus to be on Chungliang Al Huang throughout the performance, and ended with something truly spectacular from him, but I understand that there were other parts to the performance that deserved to be highlighted (grumble).
All in all, that performance showed me what Tai Chi could really be. Promotion tests in Kung Fu, as I said, always included several Tai Chi performances. However, in my younger days, the Tai Chi performances were something I despised. As a young 10-year-old training to be a Kung Fu master, I will admit that it was a little disappointing to go from an intense, fast, exciting double-broadsword demonstration to people slowly moving around with paper fans in their hands for 10 minutes. However, as a 19-year-old with much more patience and a decade of training, I was finally able to fully appreciate such a masterful display. Master Huang really showed me the meaning of what my old instructor used to say to his students. Putting in time leads to putting in effort. Putting in effort means making accomplishments. Making accomplishments means gaining skill. The perfection and beauty of Master Huang’s movements was a testament to the time and effort he had put in, and all of the accomplishments and skills that had come from them.
The Jupiter String Quartet, joined by Chungliang Al Huang, provide a unique interpretation of late 19th and early 20th century classics.
Written by Janarth Dheenadhayalan
I was intrigued to see how the Jupiter String Quartet and Chungliang Al Huang would incorporate dance with the likes of Stravinsky, Debussy, and Piazzolla. While I was familiar with all of the pieces that were on the rep, I was uncertain of how the performance would change my perception of these pieces.
It seemed like this would be a first for many of the people who were attending this performance. The classical music world is often thought of as tradition bound, so deviating from the norms is considered risky. An atmosphere of curiosity and wonder filled the atrium as people drifted into the waiting area.
Everyone sat in eager anticipation for the performance that followed. And my goodness, it was stunning.
The Schafer was easily my favorite part of the performance. I particularly enjoyed seeing Huang establish a motif and then “pass it on” to one of the other performers. In this way, it feels like Huang’s dance interpretation of Schafer culminated in a performance that simultaneously adheres to the strict rules of classical music while simultaneously providing a unique dimension that is otherwise absent from everyday performances.
Huang strayed from and returned to the tonic. This cycle of movement allowed me to stay grounded in the performance and observe precisely how each theme developed and matured through the climax of the piece.
The Piazzolla that followed was an interesting change of pace. It felt much simpler and easier to understand than the Stravinsky and Schafer. I believe that including this at the end allows the listener to relax and focus on something that is inherently simpler, yet also incredibly nuanced.
And of course, the wonderful encore that ensued placed an emphasis on the musicians in a way that I did not expect. One by one, each musician joined the dancers on stage mimicking the movement that Huang would do to signal the end of one piece and the beginning of the next. To me, this signifies the closure of the performance as a whole, and the start of something new.
People were bustling with joy after the performance. Everyone was raving about this unique interpretation of music and the blending of East Asian performance pieces and European music.
After the performance I looked through the program and noticed that the audience was not supposed to clap between pieces. The performance as a while was to be seen as one piece, which is why there was no intermission. This is a mistake that I will try to not repeat in the future.
Overall, I thought the performance was incredible. I was originally hesitant because I typically do not understand dance at the same level that I understand classical music. However, Huang’s interpretation allowed for everyone in the audience to get something out of the performance.