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The Last Leaf on Earth

What would happen if there was only one leaf left on our planet? What would be the fate of the last remaining leaf? How fragile is our life compared to the power of nature?

These are just some of the questions at the heart of Yuxi Jiang’s new choreography entitled The Last Leaf on Earth. Based on an ancient Chinese folk dance, it is devised for Scottish and Chinese performers with costumes designed by Natalia Zhang. The lead dancer is Jorja Follina and live music by Toraigh Watson. The Shadow dances are performed by Wangxiu Cheng, Yan Hong, Qing Ji, Ziyun Li, Yujiao Miao, Huting Shi, Qiaoqiao Xia, Ziwei Yang, Ziqing Yin, Qianru Lin, Zingyuan Ma, Qinyuan Wang and Ziuan Li.

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What does the last leaf look like? Could that be the ginkgo leaf, uniquely shaped as the traditional Chinese classical dance fan, that is in the spotlight in this urgent piece. The ginkgo tree was one of the only species that survived the 1945 nuclear bomb blast in Hiroshima, although sadly it is now threatened with extinction. Native to China, the ginkgo tree and its seeds are also safeguarded in the collection of the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh – another reason to raise the awareness of this survivor as a symbol of peace, environmental and nuclear justice in our city.

How did Yuxi embark on this journey of exploring the delicate balance between chaos and order, blending contemporary expression with traditional dance culture?

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Well, we believe that the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland has contributed along the way.

Firstly, by casting Yuxi in the role of the climate refugee Bride, named after the daughter of Beira, Scotland’s old mother deity. Bride starred in our two new climate change choreographies for the stage and screen, entitled To Begin the Dance Once More and Dances with Ouds and Fiddles. Launched as part of our Pomegranates Premieres night, they both creatively reenact the mother and daughter origin stories of our planet Earth. The female creation myths visibly inscribed in the water cycles dominating the landscape around us – from the floodplains of the Nile in Egypt to the sea lochs of Scotland.

Catch the edited recording of the world premiere of Dances with Ouds and Fiddles and keep an eye for To Begin the Dance Once More on a film festival near you.

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Secondly, alongside our festival partners at Hidden Door, Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland co-commissioned The New Leaf on Earth. As part of the new choreographic process, we enabled Yuxi to start her research by reviving Wish Upon a Falling Star – an award-winning solo based on Chinese folk dance which she performed for the first time in Scotland as part of our Pomegranates Triple Bill. It provided not only a powerful start to our Pomegranates festival weekend but also a “fascinating opening to the night” of the triple bill receiving the four-star critical acclaim of WJ Quinn at The Quinntessential Review,Β who went on to say:

Yuxi Jiang is a spry, and capable dancer, her choreography dynamic and eye-catching. There’s more than a little theatre to this performance, a sense of a character on a journey. Indeed she made full use of the compact stage in the Netherbow Theatre, as she progressed to a whirling, sweeping conclusion. It will be truly fascinating to see how this work contributes to the larger show being developed.

Likewise, we are looking forward to seeing how Yuxi’s choreography will take roots in the dark forest environment of the Hidden Door Festival. How would we feel at witnessing the last leaf falling and what could we do to restore our fragile connection with the natural world?

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The Last Leaf on Earth runs on a loop 31 May – 4 June 2023 daily at 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm at the Hidden Door festival hub known as the Complex on Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh as part of their performance strand called Environments, set in a series of ex-office building spaces transformed into mountains, wastelands, forests and gardens, as well as the sea bed and the centre of the Earth. Further details on the Hidden Door Festival website here

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Images by Wangxiu Cheng. Courtesy the artist.

Words by Iliyana Nedkova