SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE REVIEW: Sa Dingding

Hemispheres is the world music programme of the Sydney Opera House, bringing to Sydney a wide range of artists from all corners of the world – among them such legends as Cesaria Evora and Salif Keita, but also young artists like tonight's Sa Dingding
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE REVIEW: Sa Dingding
Hemispheres is the world music programme of the Sydney Opera House, bringing to Sydney a wide range of artists from all corners of the world – among them such legends as Cesaria Evora and Salif Keita, but also young artists like tonight's Sa Dingding. Already a star in her native China, Sa Dingding has only released one album so far and is still considered more of an insider's tip among Western audiences. However, this has started to change, and rightly so. Born to a Han-Chinese father and a Mongolian mother, Sa Dingding delves into the richness of China's ethnic-minority cultures to deliver a musical and visual experience that is difficult to match. While Western audiences can have trouble understanding traditional Chinese music, Sa Dingding has created a perfect match between traditional Chinese melodies and driving Western-style beats. From the beautiful multi-ethnic costumes to the expressive stage lighting and the martial arts and dance elements of this stylish show, perfection was the word that leapt to mind. Sa Dingding's beautifully modulated voice had no difficulty with tough cadences and was a joy to listen to. Yet while perfection can sometimes create an almost cold, too-technical atmosphere, the title of Sa Dingding' album, "Alive", perfectly describes her style – full of energy and life, fuelled by Chinese culture, Western influences and her interest in Buddhism and Yoga. The many Asian people in the audience would have understood a lot more of the lyrics than I did – yet not many would have understood everything, because this versatile singer, dancer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist not only sings in Mandarin, but also in Tibetan, Sanskrit and in her own invented language which she compares to the "language" of babies before they learn how to speak – they do not form words, but simply express their emotions, and by doing so touch our hearts. Sa Dingding is not only an incredible singer with a range that makes you think the glass will surely start to shatter if she goes any higher, but also a very expressive and graceful dancer. When she bends like a willow during a song written for her grandmother with whom she lived in the Mongolian steppe as a child, you start seeing this wide land in your mind, and you can hear the wind blowing through the grass in the melody she wrote for the accompanying matouqin (Chinese horse-head fiddle). No wonder the audience couldn't get enough – after a first encore, a song from her next album, Sa Dingding was called out yet another time. As she explained through an interpreter, she didn't have any more songs prepared, so she simply improvised – and beautifully so. "She's awesome" and "She's really good" were just some of the comments I caught from among the audience after the concert ended, and my attempts at buying her album were cut short by the big crowd of people standing around the sales table where a sign promised that the artist would sign her CDs after the performance. The concert wasn't completely sold out, but it should have been – Sa Dingding sure knows how to put on a show, and how to do so with heart and soul. We can only hope that she will make good on her promise to come back soon. Venue: Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall Date: Sunday March 8, 8pm www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Elisabeth Meister

Wednesday 11 March, 2009

About the author

Elisabeth Meister is a Sydney-based translator and writer.