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Art Critique

The Dancing Crane

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By Attila Soos, USA

The Dancing Crane

I saw this tree at a recent exhibit. There were many great trees in that show, but the tree that struck me the most was this one. It was tall, possibly over four feet, and it made me come back to it over and over again. Some of the other trees had more impressive trunks, better foliage, amazing deadwood, but this one had something that none of the others possessed.

This tree has grace. So much of it, that it can be used as the definition of grace. A quality that is difficult to capture with words. One has to rather feel it instead of trying to define it.

I have often seen different kind of grace in bonsai. The graceful crown of the Japanese maple. The vivid, fresh green of the spring foliage. Those are qualities originating from youthfulness and rejuvenation. But this tree has grace developed from the harsh realities of life: from struggle between life and death. It’s the grace of old age.

The struggle for survival usually develops a rugged, masculine quality. That’s what California junipers are about. Lots of deadwood, massive, contorted trunks. The result is a tough, masculine tree.

This one is different. It is very old, hundreds of years old, but with swift and fluid motions. Like a crane. The artist named it the Dancing Crane.

The artist, Uyen Truong, told me that he got this tree only 5 years ago and just wanted to bring out the qualities he saw in the raw material. Usually very few trees have a name here in the U.S., but this one was very unique and so it deserved one. I don’t like names too much, but I think that none could be more fitting than Dancing Crane.

I was curious about other peoples’ opinion on this bonsai. I asked a few Japanese teachers what would they do with it if it were theirs. The responses were very similar: they would have reduced the tree to half of its size. They would have grafted the foliage lower, much lower if possible. The result would be a much stockier tree, with the focus on the lower trunk.

I think that kind of change would rob the tree from what makes it so unique: its slick and lighthearted fluidity.

I did see the need to improve the foliage though. And Uyen himself admitted that the branches need much more horizontal definition. This tree has only been in training for a few years, very short time to develop a mature crown. He gave me the initial sketch drawn for future development. Although the sketch shows the trunk planted at a different angle, it gives us a good idea about how the foliage should look like.

A future possibility.

So, the bonsai experts had mixed opinions about this tree. Some even mentioned that the artist must have a "weird taste" in bonsai. On the other hand, the regular visitors, not being into bonsai, really admired it.

I was totally charmed by it. I believe that within a few years of refinement, it could be a showstopper in any major exhibition around the world.

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