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The return of the internationally renowned Twelve Girls band to Los Angeles was as classy as it was classical as it was magical. Lucky 13 indeed.
East met West at the Wilshire Theater on October 30. The scene outside was chaotic as swarms of diehard Chinese music enthusiasts scrambled and quite literally fought each other for the few tickets remaining. Inside, a sold-out crowd of over 2000 awaited anxiously with binoculars ready, staring with anticipation at the rows of ancient instruments onstage which seemed to serve as a tease. Then it began. The girls marched onstage, all 13 of them (don't be fooled by the name of the band) in long flowing red dresses which showcased just the right amount of skin to be modern and sexy, yet still elegant and classical, much like their music.
The girls' professionally trained fingers strummed vivaciously to synthesized percussion beats and colorfully engineered backdrops, playing with an internal fire so intense that it seemed only a matter of time before their fingers would light up. With hips that swayed hypnotically to each enchanted note and limber arms that played with effortless grace, the girls entranced the audience with every harmonic beat. From indefatigable smiles to heads that bobbed with rhythmic passion, their synchrony was incredible; their energy hair-raising; and their impeccable technique, inspirational.
Hailing from the People's Republic of China, the ensemble is a multi-platinum-selling act all over Asia. Each girl is classically trained and multi-instrumental. Known for their unique fusion of traditional Chinese instruments with contemporary sounds and seductive performances, the Twelve Girls Band has become an international commercial phenomenon, bringing exotic instruments otherwise unknown outside of China to eager ears around the world. The group's 2004 U.S. album, Eastern Energy, made music history when it entered the Billboard 200 album chart at number 62, marking the highest debut by an Asian artist.
The initial half of the evening was weaved with performances that showcased the group's versatility, intertwining Chinese folk-inspired tunes with soul-touching renditions of modern pop classics and jazz beats. Opening with the more traditional melody of "Dunhuang," the girls quickly shifted gears with a memorable performance of the Simon and Garfunkel classic "El Condor Pasa." The ballad's emotional harmonies, the ageless sounds of the exotic instruments, and the girls' euphoric expressions combined to create an audio-visual experience that was so haunting it was heartrending. The girls then slowed the pace down with a more serene, more simply orchestrated track from their latest album Romantic Energy, River Shule. But it was not long before they picked it back up again with an energetic rendition of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" and an unforgettable medley which blended with careless effort such classical masterpieces as Mozart's Symphony No. 40 and Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
The latter half of the evening was devoted to showcasing the unique sounds of each individual instrument and spotlighting the talent of each girl. Included in the set was a poignantly haunting performance of "Whispering Earth," which introduced the mournfully beautiful sound of the duoxianqin, a one-string instrument dating back to the Jing Dynasty. During this part of the show, the girls performed in simpler arrangements which familiarized the audience with each instrument. The highlighted piece of the evening was without a doubt "Carnival," which began with the slow, tranquil whisper of the dizi and the xiao, then escalated with integrated solos of the yang qin (a squared-off hammered dulcimer), the erhu (a two-stringed violin), the pipa (a pear-shaped lute), and the guzheng (a half-tubed zither with 25 strings). From the spirited vigor of the xiao, to the intense strumming of pipa, to the commanding wail of the erhu, the arrangement was truly spectacular and highly infectious. The playful energy of the girls and the virtuoso and confidence with which they commanded their instruments were enough to send chills through one's spine.
The girls' performance leaves disbelievers with little to be said. Though the lighting crew seemed lost half the time, failing miserably to distinguish one girl from the remaining 12 when it came time to spotlight them individually during solos, the girls played on flawlessly with unwavering focus. Their dynamic presence, passionate routines, and technical aptitude are undeniable, proving once again that they are not just another pop sensation but a global vehicle of cultural music.
Date Posted: 11/17/2005