And last: replicative geometries.
Again looking backward, one notes in the Liu Sanjie Show a first truly large scale version of modernist beehiving or HONEYCOMBING as a template for image layout.
The above birdseye (crane-cam) take of the Zhuang women-performers in full costume is a fillout comment (on LED screen), a second angle, enabling the benched audience to see the actors in 3 dimensions: two over the lake itself, a third down upon it. Obviously it depersonalizes, even imprisons. But as benefit, the matrixing augments the sensation of the long horizon populated everywhere by many more such galaxies.
I have encountered several Chinese who regard this imaging as Fascist. But why so? Its genealogy flows back to the Russian Constructivists, Rodcheko and Popova, among others. So it is at least as Red as Black.
A more useful way of assimilating it is as an episode in the search for hidden frame or alignment with which to glue (back) together an ecumene seemingly gone forever. Or (elsewhere) indeed as a symbol of mass society, but as a hopeful one, however transitory the imagining may have been.
Just such a hopeful as well as empathetic use of honeycombed or enchainee choroegraphies occurs, by the way, in Zhang’s best received Actual Venue Shows, “Impressions of Lijiang” (2007). In this roadstop on his “impressions” journey, the atomized, anonymous walk-dancers are Naxi highland caravansieres, whose once yearly treck from E. Tibet into Yunnan or Burma delivered upland ponies in exchange for tea-brick, a staple of the Ghurka diet. The chama gudao, celebrated in the 2002 (?) film Delamu:
Then incorporated into “Impressions of Lijiang” in 2007.
In (literally) re-imagining this now long forgotten age of nomad/pilgrims (the Naxi are cultural cousins to the E. Tibetans and their largely pagan religious codes), he here reinvents the totality of Naxi life as it was lived by staging their movement as a conveyor belt of trudging hillcountry youth. Which then sets the stage for a truly moving Return, Feast, and Redeparture sequence.
Neither anonymity nor gruellingly strict geometries are in or of themselves the emblems of Authoritarian conformity. It all depends on the purpose of the show, and the angle of the camera.
Shall we blame it then on the Romans? Their purposes were indeed well conveyed by phalanx and testudo. But I don’t think anyone envisions Naxi caravaners or Zhuang festival dancers as ready for banner and eagle.