The "Ballet of the East" - The Flower Drum Lantern
The flower drum lantern is a traditional folk dance enjoying a long history. Originating in the Song Dynasty, the art form got extremely popular in the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty. It's much favored by local people and the mass audience alike due to its natural and elegant dance, strong drum and gong beats, lyrical lantern songs and lively short dramas.
The flower drum lantern shows are usually performed in rural areas, especially at temple fairs and spring fairs, between the end of autumn harvest and spring plowing of the following year. Male performers of the show are called "drum racks" and female performers "orchid flowers". The show generally includes four parts - dancing, singing, short dramas, and drum and gong performance. The centerpiece is dancing. Currently there are three performing styles of the flower drum lantern show: 1) the style of Yingshang area characterized by slow rhythms, rigorously choreographed dancing movements, and simple and rustic charm; 2) the style of Fengtai area, which is focused on characters' heart-felt feelings and graceful postures; 3) the style of Huaiyuan area best known for its swift and robust movements and elegant appeal.
The dances of the flower drum lantern are created by artists, who draw comparisons between real life and performance based on their life experiences. Their feelings and ideas are fully reflected in the language of dance. Drawing on the inspiration from warbling birds in tree branches, they created the dance entitled "the Phoenix Nodding Its Head Thrice"; and taking a cue from poplar and willow trees in spring breeze, they created the dance entitled "the Phoenix in the Swinging Willow Branch". The graceful dance postures are all from real life.
The drum and gong performance in the flower drum lantern show is quite unique. It goes very well with the dance and involves high skills. In the original form of the flower drum lantern show, lantern songs and dances alternated with each other, forming a striking feature of the show. The drum flower lantern show involves a large vocabulary, extreme difficulty, and complicated coordination among singing, dancing as well as drum and gong performance, which is quite rare even in the folk dances throughout the world.
The flower drum lantern is a "living fossil" of the Han Chinese singing and dancing art, which vividly records the body language and developing process of the Han culture.