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More impressions of dance in Beijing

An impressive series of meetings has taken place so far, and we have visited and met representatives from Peking University, the Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Group as well as watched rehearsals of China Beijing City Contemporary Dance Company, Beijing Modern Dance Company and LDTX.

These visits have revealed an exciting mix of concepts, approaches and practices of dance, and I feel I am beginning to get a glimpse of the contemporary dance scene in China.

A preoccupation with Chinese tradition and history in dance-making is very noticeable. At most meetings the fusion of contemporary dance and traditional Chinese dance was thematised as a priority in dance-making at the moment, and there is a keenness to present this work that has a distinct Chinese identity in the West.

Not only in China, but I believe also in the West there is a rising interest in Chinese culture. Chinese medicine continues to flourish, practitioners of taijiquan and gongfu increase and Chinese philosophy permeates these practices. It seems to me that there is a sense of needing to find out more, around the globe, about who this rising power actually is that is very apparently and quickly taking over the reigns previously held by the West.

Western ballet has of course come to China through the Russian tradition, and children from young age practise it rigorously here. Chinese classical dance is introduced later in their curriculum, and the Beijing Dance Academy teaches a syllabus of a range of ethnic dance styles, next to a semester of taijiquan and bagua, as well as contemporary dance and ballroom dance.

The many graduates each year are equipped with an astounding technical ability, and some of these are being accepted into the contemporary dance companies of Beijing, where they seem to encounter a slightly different way of dance-making than they probably will have encountered thus far at BDA.

The one that stood out for me so far was LDTX (Lei Dong Tian Xia), which is run by Willy Tsao, who also runs several further companies. Crucially he seems to create a space and support network as well as platforms for young dancers to make their own work. I asked Willy about the thematics of these pieces, and whether he also notices a prevalent preoccupation with a fusion of traditional Chinese dance elements and contemporary dance. I was somehow very relieved to hear from him that no, these kids work on other stuff, they work on what preoccupies them, taking material and inspiration from their own lives. They work with what they have in terms of technique but explore a freedom that is being fostered in this framework that supports contemporary ways of making work. It is noticeable to me how particularly the word ‘freedom’ has been associated here several times with ‘contemporary dance’.

Censorship, Willy Tsao confirmed, still exists in China today and he seems to have had to pay many visits to the Cultural Bureau discussing his work. But due to live performance having a reasonably and relatively small impact in regard to Chinese mass culture, regulations have apparently softened.

 

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