ArtsCross Memories – Dancers

Zhao Zhibo (dancer, Beijing): Danscross 2009, ArtsCross 2011-2019
Gabriel Ciulli (dancer, London): ArtsCross 2019
Wang Zihan (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009, 2011 and 2014
Lara Fournier (dancer, London): ArtsCross 2019
Ma Jiaolong (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2012 and 2014
Olivia Grassot (dancer, London): ArtsCross 2019
Wang Yabin (dancer, choreographer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009 and 2019
Wu Shuai (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009, 2012 and 2014
Wu Weifeng (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009
Yi-Chi Lee (dancer, Taipei): ArtsCross 2011, 2012 and 2013

Zhao Zhibo (dancer, Beijing): Danscross 2009, ArtsCross 2011-2019

It isn’t easy to talk about my story with the ArtsCross project shortly because I have never been separated from this project in the past 10 years, and until today, it indeed has been a continuing journey.

I am Zhao Zhibo, have studied at BDA since I was age 10. Six years for secondary education, four years for a BA degree, and two years for an MFA degree. Soon this year, I will become 39, which means I have been spending both my life and career at BDA for almost 30 years. Now, I am undertaking a Ph.D. programme at Middlesex University, where ResCen is based. In 2009, ResCen and BDA began the Danscross/ArtsCross project.

Do you see the connection in my career from here? Yes, the ArtsCross project bridges my Ph.D. study.

Despite my many years of experience dancing internationally, ArtsCross opened the door to a different dance experience and expanded my artistry and dancing knowledge. In 2009, as a dancer with the BDA dance company, I was chosen by the UK choreographers Shobana Jeyasingh and Kerry Nicholls and the Chinese choreographer Zhao Ming to participate in their creations. During the research process, my BDA colleagues and I encountered some unforeseen difficulties, such as language and translation barriers and the unfamiliarity with improvisation. Such experiences can be seen from the records of Paul Rae, Avatâra Ayuso, Janet O’Shea, Emilyn Claid, Katherine Mezur, Mu Yu, Tong Yan, etc., in the Danscross 2009 blog.

Zhao Zhibo (middle), Emily Wilcox (right), in the rehearsal of Detritus,
Choreography by Shobana Jeyasingh (left)
Photo by Guo Tuantuan

The UK choreographers Shobana Jeyasingh and Kerry Nicholls both use improvisation widely, whether in their daily training sessions or rehearsals. Now I understand that it is the most common form of cooperation between choreographers and dancers and the most common process of creating a new dance work. However, in 2009, improvisation and its use in the co-creation process is unfamiliar for us. As a result, I realised that being unfamiliar with improvisation would make it difficult to communicate between choreographers and dancers in the international choreography process. Simultaneously, I also gained a wealth of cross-cultural experience from the project, which aroused my keen interest in dance improvisation.

Zhao Zhibo (right), and Kerry Nicholls (middle), Danscross Beijing 2009
Photo by Guo Tuantuan

In the five years that followed, I became the only dancer who participated in every edition of ArtsCross among all diverse backgrounds. The collaboration with international choreographers and dancers through the project made me more and more fascinated by improvisation. I started to attach great importance to improvisation and looked around for courses on improvisation. However, there are very few books on improvisation in mainland China, and the lack of such knowledge has led to few professional courses related to improvisation at BDA.

In the following ArtsCross in Taipei, London, and Beijing, I worked with Avatâra Ayuso, Annie Lok, Tsai Huichen, Francesco D’astic, Wu Yisan, Wong Jyh Shyong, Dam Van Huynh, Zhang Xiao Mei, and Guo Lei. Paying attention to improvisation caused some changes in my body and my dancing during these years. Professor Wang Yunyu described these changes in me as “an increased maturity of her dancing” and “a greater movement dynamic” (Wang 2016, p. 301).

Zhao Zhibo in ArtsCross
Photos by Andrew Lang, Liu Haidong

After returning to Beijing from London in 2013, my ambition at that time was to translate a dance improvisation book to help myself and other dancers in China understand more about it. I contacted my friend, Emily Wilcox, the head interpreter in Danscross 2009. With her assistance, I got the copyright of the American book The Moment of Movement: Dance Improvisation (Blom and Tarin Chaplin, 1988). Besides, with the great support from my BDA teachers, Professor Guo lei, Professor Xu Rui, and Professor Zhao Tiechun, the book’s Mandarin version was published in 2016, which is the first book to explicitly consider the development of dance improvisation to be made accessible in Mainland China.

Any experience could not replace the experience I gained from ArtsCross. It provided me with a platform and helped me to reflect and ask myself questions. The more I know about improvisation, the more I understand how important it is to Chinese dancers. In 2011, I first put forward that Chinese dancers lack improvisation knowledge and it can be seen from the experience of Danscross 2009 (Zhao, 2011). Later in 2014, I point out that Chinese dancers and dance students need to learn improvisation (Zhao, 2014a). The same year, my autobiography The Thirty Years Old Dancer was published (Zhao, 2014b), which involves my ArtsCross project experience. As the headteacher of BDA’s first international cooperative BA dual degree programme, between BDA and Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand, I was in charge of the curriculum design and guided students to understand improvisation.

As you may understand now, the ArtsCross project led me to fall in love with improvisation; it also served as a bridge to my Ph.D. study. My research is to establish an improvisation course in the BDA curriculum.

So, I am on the road, and the journey with ArtsCross is not over yet to be continued…

Zhao Zhibo
National First-Rank Dance Artist, China
Dancer, Resident Dance Company, Beijing Dance Academy
PhD Candidate, Middlesex University, London

Blom, L. A. and Tarin Chaplin, L. (1988) The moment of movement:dance improvisation. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Wang, Y. (2016) ‘Analysing body centre weight use by dancers in ArtsCross/Danscross’, Choreographic Practices, 7(2), pp. 291–303. doi: 10.1386/chor.7.2.291_1.
赵知博: 《舞动无界的反思》,北京舞蹈学院学报2011年增刊第88-92页。
Zhao, Z. B. (2011) ‘Reflection on ArtsCross/Danscross project’, Journal of Beijing Dance Academy, 11(S1), pp. 88-92.

赵知博: 《即兴课程的探索与建设》,北京舞蹈学院学报2014年增刊第119-121页。
Zhao, Z. B. (2014a) ‘Researching and developing dance improvisation course’, Journal of Beijing Dance Academy, 14(S2), pp. 119-121.

赵知博著:《舞者三十》, 黑龙江教育出版社,2014。
Zhao, Z. B. (2014b) The Thirty Years Old Dancer, Harbin: Heilongjiang Education Press.

布洛姆 卓别林 (美)著 赵知博译:《动作的瞬间;舞蹈即兴》,北京日报出版社,2016。
Blom, L. A. and Tarin Chaplin, L. (2016) The Moment of Movement:Dance Improvisation. Translated from English by Z. B. Zhao. Beijing: Beijing Daily Press.

Gabriel Ciulli (dancer, London): ArtsCross 2019

It has been a huge pleasure to be involved in this year’s ArtsCross Project ‘Beyond the Clouds’ (2019), held at the Beijing Dance Academy. After three weeks of creation and rehearsals, culminating in two performances, I wanted to share my experience of the project which, as well as being really enjoyable, was incredibly valuable to me as a young dancer and proved very eye- opening. I was fortunate in having been selected to work with both a UK-based choreographer and a Beijing-based choreographer, with two distinct approaches and different stylistic contexts for me to adapt to.

With Erion Kruja, we began with a dual focus of improvising as a group and creating a series of choreographed lifts and falls.

In the improvisations, we practised finding connections and new coordinations of the body through particular attention to the use of our hands and eyes. This proved to be a really useful starting point and introduced the importance of our awareness as a group. The work was very physical, requiring a real technical understanding, and I enjoyed practising the mechanics of the lifts and movement before learning any material or sequences. With Tian Lu, the process started with us listening to the music that she had mixed for the piece herself, combining different covers of the same Chinese folk-song. In comparison to Erion’s piece, where I was able to straight away start getting to grips with the physicality and sensation of a new way of moving, we were instead encouraged first to listen to the mood, expression and structure of the music, moving on to work on a rolling-walking motif which directly linked to the imagery of the lyrics and formed the foundation for all of the material in the piece.

I noticed that both choreographers started with specific choreographic images; floating and falling into darkness in Erion’s piece, and the phasing moon in Tian Lu’s. It was really useful to have clear images to work with right from the beginning as it centred the process for us as dancers, necessitating our working as a group to achieve the desired effect, or ‘complete’ the image. Both choreographers were also very musical in their approach, and the music was central to the creation of both pieces. With Tian, the phrasing was incredibly important and shaped the sections of movement so that we were having to continuously be alive to the different layers of the music. Many of her corrections demanded matching the intensity of the music with our movement. Erion set his choreography to counts which solidified the timing of the movement and lifts for us, and anchored the improvised aspects of the choreography. He had created his own score for the first half of the piece and I really enjoyed how he evolved and developed the music along with the choreography; sudden dynamic changes in the movement were easier to feel when highlighted by new sounds or rhythms in the music.

Both pieces were physically challenging. The repeated, slow rolling up and down at the start of Tian’s piece, and the lifts in Erion’s required a lot of control and stamina. Erion often brought our attention to the placement of our pelvis and use of plié when improvising, which helped me to transfer this understanding to lifting; the shifting of attention to my lower body helped me coordinate better to absorb weight through the body, and lift or catch more smoothly and easily. Being aware of how I used my legs, and finding a lower centre of gravity, also freed my back and upper body to move so I could find more breath and relaxation to work more efficiently.

With Tian, we were tasked with the challenge of lifting our partners in a less conventional way to give the illusion that they were gliding rather than lifted through the space. She wanted us to walk with the girls as if completely independent from them, which required greater upper body strength as we couldn’t reposition ourselves to help facilitate the lift.

The difficulty of this deceptively simple lift was compounded by the addition of a very particular, more counterintuitive use of breath, and a sudden change of pace into slow motion while keeping the girls suspended in the air. The tricky negotiation between the mechanics of the travelling lifts, and the particular effect desired by the choreographer, was something that took a while to master, but being able to communicate effectively and build an understanding with my partner who spoke great English really helped.

Another aspect of Tian’s piece I found challenging was a traditional folk-dancing walk which became the main motif for the middle section of the piece. The swing of the hips coordinated with the rise and fall of the steps felt really alien to me. It was initially frustrating to feel so behind the other dancers, who were more familiar with the movement style, in picking up this step, but once I had worked out the full shape of the movement – the arc of the back and head in particular – I was able to find the sensation in my own body more easily. It was finding the freedom within the specificity of the stylised movements which was often the main challenge for me during the rehearsal period.

With Erion, we practiced finding an easiness and awareness in the body, and throughout the piece there was a sense of freedom to much of the movement. The idiosyncratic moves and improvised moments within the choreography meant that our individual ways of moving or responding were very much part of the creation process, and not at odds with the specificity of Erion’s movement. Interestingly, Erion would often rework a section if we didn’t perform it fully enough in rehearsal, because the impact of much of the choreography depended on our cumulative energy and dynamic. In this way, specific movement qualities were intrinsic to the creating or structuring of each section.

Tian often emphasised the importance of the emotional content of our movements. She wanted us to communicate a sense of longing and love for something far away. She also explained that while our shapes and movements were simple and repetitive, our dancing had to have an emotional depth which surpassed this.

At first I struggled with this way of looking at the work. It seemed difficult to just add an abstract emotional layer to the slow continuous movements on the floor. Erion’s movement, which demanded a fullness and intensity, felt naturally expressive; we could see its expressivity in the way he performed it when demonstrating or generating material. However, in Tian’s piece finding an emotional depth felt slightly impinged by the challenging, controlled nature of lots of the movement, and one couldn’t rely on the more minimalist movement to ‘tell the story’ of the piece. Furthermore, the repetitive structure meant I didn’t really have an idea how the emotional narrative was supposed to develop. While Tian often corrected the emotional impact and effectiveness of what we were doing, it was largely up to us to try and figure out how we could achieve what she was after dramatically within the confines of the choreography.

Imagery was often used by both choreographers to guide the movement. We were told to imagine stalking prey, gazing at the moon, walking in the air. This imagery translated into how we focused our eyes, and the picturing of something that held our attention, in turn focused the movement. Working on this element of the choreography is something I hadn’t had the opportunity to do so comprehensively previous to this project, and I really valued developing this skill. I noticed that the other dancers – perhaps due to their training in a variety of stylised Chinese classical and folk techniques – had a really clear and precise use of their eyes and upper lines.

Through watching and dancing alongside them I could see how the use of the eyes was key to unlocking the expressivity of Tian’s piece and the intensity of Erion’s, and it really helped me to think of the choreography of the eyes facilitating the expression rather than thinking of abstract emotional elements. Because much of Tian’s piece often used slow gradual movements and rotations, the detail of the eyes and controlling their trajectory became central to my experience of the piece and my understanding of how I performed each section, and I think working in such a meticulous and controlled way with Tian, one with which I was less familiar, enriched my ability to perform Erion’s work also.

I really enjoyed how the choreographers shared their vision and process with us, frequently discussing their ideas and decisions. Erion’s emphasis on the contrasts, rhythmicity and character of his movement introduced me to new ways of engaging with material and thinking choreographically. He encouraged a playfulness in the way we interacted with the choreography which was really refreshing, and being challenged to embody a character when improvising, to explore spacial possibilities or find an internal flow or groove, really broadened my understanding of his style of movement.

Erion Kruja in rehearsal

I was also inspired by Tian’s sensitivity to detail and how she would often clarify her artistic choices or corrections in rehearsal by referring to other contexts like painting – or sometimes even traditional Chinese food! Rather than just following black-and-white instructions, we could engage and respond with her ideas in a more considered and personal way, and I felt really lucky to have a window into the way dance fitted into what was for me a totally new culture.

Working with Tian, I was extremely lucky to have such a brilliant translator to assist me, and her simultaneous interpreting meant I had immediate access to the discussions taking place and could ask questions much more directly. I often had to ask for further clarifications of what was being asked for so that I could try and move with equal clarity, which was important in such an exposing choreography.

With Tian, we were often encouraged to make suggestions, but at the start of the process I felt I needed longer to fully understand the direction in which the piece was moving before putting forward ideas. The other dancers, who were more familiar with the choreographer and spoke the same language, often guided the development of sections of material, however I found I could also effectively show my ideas in the way I performed the movement and responded to the choreographer’s suggestions.

I noticed that the other dancers were more used to spending time discussing how to solve problems that arose or their thoughts about the piece, and Tian’s process was really conducive to this. Having set the vocabulary and structure of the piece early on, lots of the rehearsal time was used to deliberate as a group. With Erion however, the physicality and complexity of what we were doing required a more active approach and a readiness of us as dancers. Not all the dancers were as comfortable with this approach early on, and coming from the UK I was fortunate to already have some familiarity with Erion’s work and style so knew what to expect. We had to be more actively open to trying out new lifts or movement ideas and finding solutions to problems by negotiating with the other bodies in the space. While this involved often cutting or evolving the material, I enjoyed the sense that the piece was a work in progress and constantly changing, because it meant that my skills as a dancer were constantly being challenged and that I learnt a lot about the choreographic process.

Both pieces were ambitious in their choreography and vision so it was exciting to see how each work developed from the rehearsal studio to the stage. It was fantastic to have such a state-of-the- art theatre at our disposal, one which enabled us to realise the performative potential of both pieces.

Performing ‘Falling’ by Erion Kruja

The lighting was an important part of Erion’s piece, and working with such complex cues was a new experience for me, adding another dimension to the piece and to how we worked together as an ensemble on stage. Our ability as a group to communicate with each other during the performance was really important as was the trust and understanding we had developed over the three weeks dancing together.

Performing ‘Longing’ by Tian Lu

The lighting in Tian’s piece created an atmosphere which really enhanced the dramatic aspect of the choreography for me. It became easier to imagine looking up at the moon when caught by the light and gazing out into the dark auditorium, and by reacting to the environment on stage I could be more naturally expressive. I thought it really interesting that having seen us run the piece on stage, Tian then decided to give us greater freedom in the opening section, and develop the movement in more individual ways. By letting go of some of the more rigid choreographic specificity, we could find greater variety and emotional impact in the way we danced expressively, and to me this suggested that to some extent the interpretive problem was also a choreographic one.

Performing ‘Longing’ by Tian Lu

For me, this project, by bringing together dance artists from around the world, really brought into focus the nature of collaboration which is at the heart of the creative process, and consequently has reshaped the way I think about my role as a dancer and performer. With Erion, his process demanded us finding a structure or technique within the creative autonomy the piece facilitated, whereas with Tian the challenge was finding an expressive autonomy in the rigorous structure and specificity of the choreography. Rather than these being two diametrically opposed approaches, I feel I have been given a unique opportunity to experience them both as two equally important facets of creating and performing dance.

Wang Zihan (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009, 2011 and 2014

Looking back on the ArtsCross project now, it was an enjoyable process for me. I participated in the Danscross Beijing 2009 and ArtsCross Taipei 2011. The whole creation process was like playing a game and a game that I had never played before. However, as a dancer, complex emotions could be described during the rehearsal process – anxiety, excitement, distress intertwined and continued. In total, the creative environment and the various limitations and challenges in the project are something that undoubtedly have meaning for me.

Wang Zihan (third from right) in Beijing Man, 2009
Choreography by Jonathan Lunn and Carolyn Choa
Photo by Liu Haidong

I am a professional dancer. I graduated from Beijing Dance Academy with a major in Chinese Classical Dance Performance in 2002 and then joined the Resident Dance Company of Beijing Dance Academy. As a dancer, I often work with different choreographers and dancers. However, I personally think that the most attractive project of the ArtsCross is to “emancipate the mind”!

What attracted me to this project was the way it worked, and this way of working also subtly affected my own way of working. In the Chinese context, it is a shared understanding that the choreographer first develops the choreography structure, then chooses music, and then works with dancers. In addition, during the rehearsal process, choreographers also often use “this is not good” or “that is not allowed”. However, in the creative process of ArtsCross, this kind of method disappeared. In the rehearsal, the process was completed based on the requirements of putting the idea first, and then the dancers and the choreographer working together on the possibilities and findings.

Another point that has always felt meaningful to me from the project is the different understanding of Wu Jie (‘Unbounded’ in Chinese). The word is very fashionable at the moment, and people believe that art forms and the roles that people play can be crossed. However, this word is like a double-edged sword. When people use the idea, it could be very successful or an inferior product. I personally think that the ArtsCross belongs to the former, which can be seen from the following two points:
1. It crossed the ‘boundary’ of understanding of dance art between China and the West. This project truly achieved the integration of Chinese and western dance technologies and enhanced the mutual understanding between Chinese and Western dance art,
2. It crossed the ‘boundary’ between the roles of choreographer and dancer in the creative process. This project diluted the utilitarian nature of dance creation and performance, emphasizing how the choreographers and dancers inspire each other and gain creativity so that every different role gains new experience and reflection.

I feel really happy to recall everything about the project. I hope that the ArtsCross project can continue moving forward and attracting more outstanding people who love dance art – gathering them together to get crazy and have fun.

Wang Zihan
National First-Rank Dance Artist, China
Dancer, Resident Dance Company, Beijing Dance Academy

Lara Fournier (dancer, London): ArtsCross 2019

I was absolutely amazed and delighted by the kindness and reliability of the environment I was invited to enter. As a first experience in Asia, the diversity of the people engaged in that project and the visions I was confronted with not only wholly nourished my creative approach to movements but also led me to understand cultural identities. I felt that I had a voice to listen to as well as mine to give and be received.

Lara Fournier (second from the left) in the rehearsal of Fad[in]g Code
Choreography by Amir Kolben
Photo by Rita Alexandra Guerreiro Duarte and Vladimir Spicka
Lara Fournier (middle) in the rehearsal of Cumulus
Choreography by Joy Alpuerto Ritter
Photo by Rita Alexandra Guerreiro Duarte and Vladimir Spicka

Three weeks went by quickly, not only because of the rehearsals and creative aspects but also because, humanly, it filled me up with just a glimpse of what the Beijing atmosphere had to offer to me. Therefore, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity and I keep many precious memories from it. It impacted my dance vocabulary in a way I wasn’t expecting and of course, performing on that stage was the apotheosis of an intense but fulfilling, beyond words, experience.

Ma Jiaolong (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2012, 2014

The ArtsCross project has helped me realise the importance of a dancer’s improvisation ability and helped me gain a new understanding of movement possibilities.

I am a dancer specialised in Chinese Classical dance. I remember that in ArtsCross Beijing 2012, choreographers selected dancers through a dancer selection session. The first thing we did in the selection was to imitate movements from a dancer. For most Chinese dancers, it is very easy to imitate movements. The second thing was improvisation, which is hard for Chinese dancers. I didn’t know how to improvise at the time. So, I remember that I just listened to music and danced intuitively.

Ma Jiaolong (right) in Say to him
Choreography by Liu Yan and Chen Maoyuan
Photo by Liu Haidong

The working experience with the British choreographer Rachel Lopez impressed me deeply. She didn’t let dancers practise the movements repeatedly every day, and she asked dancers to spend a lot of time improvising. At first, I thought this process was boring, but I was surprised to see two Taiwanese dancers enjoying this process. Through working with Rachel for a few weeks, I felt the differences mentally and physically. When I watched the video and saw my improvisation, I thought that the movements were authentic and stronger than those I first designed. This process made me interested in improvisation.

Ma Jiaolong in Beijing bucket Blues
Choreography by Rachel Lopez de la Nieta and Ben Ash
Photo by Wang Ning

In 2014, on the fifth anniversary of ArtsCross, I participated in the re-rehearsal of the British choreographer Kerry Nicholls’ work, Cleave. We first imitated and completed movements by watching videos, which is not difficult for us. However, after several video rehearsals and communications with the choreographer, I found that I completed movements but failed to achieve the goal of choreographer’s requirements, including the tension and contraction of the limbs, the accuracy of the movements, and the control and uncontrol between the balance and imbalance. This experience made me start to think about playing with different strengths and speeds in dancing.

Ma Jiaolong in Cleave
Choreography by Kerry Nicholls
Photo by Liu Haidong

The dance training I have received when I was young was all for the purpose of imitating the teacher and becoming like others, which made me fundamentally unable to surpass the person I imitated. Now, by combining some Chinese Classical dance training and improvisation, I practise and improve my own movement characteristics every week.

I believe Chinese dancers need to find some different ways and gain different experiences based on their existing excellent training. The ArtsCross project opened a window for me in my dancing career. I hope it can also open a window for more Chinese dancers.

Ma Jiaolong
Dancer, The Resident Dance Company of Beijing Dance Academy, China
Teacher, Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance, Goldsmiths, University of London

Olivia Grassot (dancer, London): ArtsCross 2019

In 2019, I participated in the ArtsCross project. There I realised why dance was so important to me. Just after graduation, I felt ready to enter the professional world but I didn’t really know why I chose dance. The ArtsCross project made me understand what dance really was for me and what it can bring to us.

Olivia Grassot (right) in the rehearsal of The Floating Spirit, Beijing Dance Academy
Choreography by Cheng Yi-wen (left)
Photo by Rita Alexandra Guerreiro Duarte and Vladimir Spicka

Always excited by the will and the feeling to be on stage, dancing felt like a dream.
During my time in China with ArtsCross, dancing felt like a reality, a language of the body, an expression of the heart, a place of sharing ideas and emotions. This intercultural exchange project offered us a safe place to communicate, to share, to experiment, to laugh and to interrogate ourselves through the body and between different cultures. Because of the language barrier, it was a challenge to exchange through words, although it was a really fun experience. However words weren’t always needed to share our creativity and ideas. Sometimes, It was only necessary to observe the expression, to listen to the surrounding and to feel the energy. It felt human.

Olivia Grassot (right) in the rehearsal of Alliterations
Choreography by Lin Wen-Chung
Photo by Rita Alexandra Guerreiro Duarte and Vladimir Spicka

ArtsCross made me travel, grow, share and enjoy. I had the chance to initiate myself into a new culture. We were very well welcomed. I felt affirmed and I felt blessed to experience this new adventure. There I fell in love, I don’t know yet with what or who. But I know someday I will need to go back and deepen my experience there.

I thus realized that dance is for me a collective strength where curiosity, experimentation, emotions and observation are the keys to human exchange and the pleasure of the body language. I would like to thanks the whole team that participated in realising this amazing life experience. I want to say that I miss very much all the beautiful people I met during this travel. It is hard sometimes to say goodbye to people that shared this experience and participated in my personal growth. Nonetheless it can only turn into exceptional memories.

Wang Yabin (dancer, choreographer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009 and 2019

I am writing to offer thoughts about the personal experiences that came from my participation in Danscross/ArtsCross. Till now, I have joined this project twice – in 2009 and 2019. I am recognised as China’s leading dancer and have received many awards, which are all national class golden dance prizes. As an artist, I am interested in the performing arts such as dance, drama, live shows, and other creative worlds. Danscross/ArtsCross is not only a performance platform but also a creative project. That was a good chance to learn more from beautiful artists.

Wang Yabin (middle) in the rehearsal of Cleave
Choreography by Kerry Nicholls, 2009
Photo by Emilyn Claid

In 2009, I joined the project as a dancer. I got some opportunities to think about how to create and build up a piece by body language; and show one’s thinking through a dance piece. There were some rules for the creation in the project. For Example, every piece would be created in 2 weeks with 6 dancers. There are also some choreographers from different cultural backgrounds. All processes let me know that the creative world is so wonderful, and the creative world is where I want to go. Meanwhile, I began to choreograph and set up Yabin&Her Friends platform.

In 2019, as a choreographer, I was invited by Danscross/ArtsCross again. During this decade, I have created more than 10 different full-length performances on Yabin&Her Friends platform, including the work Genesis that I produced with choreography commissioned from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. In addition, I was commissioned to choreograph She Said by English National Ballet, Wondrous Women by American Dance Festival and so on, working with great artists such as Tamara Rojo, Jocelyn Pook and Kimie Nakano. Working in a ballet context was very new for me. Such experiences enriched my personal understanding. All dance works were performed at beautiful theatres and festivals in Europe, the USA, and China. Time and experience will make people grow. When I appeared in Danscross/ArtsCross after 10 years in 2019, my role is a dancer but a choreographer.

Wang Yabin (left), and Rudzani Moleya (right) in the rehearsal of Delete Data, 2019
Choreography by Wang Yabin
Photo by Rita Alexandra Guerreiro Duarte and Vladimir Spicka

It is my honour to share my feelings about Danscross/ArtsCross. It is a wonderful journey! I am very happy to have had these important experiences to be able to write this letter to tell others about this significant project.

The performance of Deleta Data can be seen here:

Wang Yabin
National First-Rank Dance Artist, China
Dancer, Resident Dance Company, Beijing Dance Academy
Artistic Director, Yabin Dance Studio

Wu Shuai (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009, 2012 and 2014

The ArtsCross project has touched me over the years. It has been more than 10 years since I first participated in Danscross Beijing in 2009. After that, I joined ArtsCross London 2013 and ArtsCross Beijing 2014. I found that my body channel, the frequency band that can receive signals, has been expanded and reached 5G (haha!). I have improved and opened up, this is what ArtsCross has brought to me.

Wu Shuai (left) in the rehearsal of Mask, London
Choreography by Guo Lei (middle)
Photo by Andrew Lang

There are three main points I would like to share in this memory. It opened up my dancing mind, it gave me a new understanding and experience of my dancing body and also of the process of collaboration between choreographers and dancers.

ArtsCross has a butterfly effect on me and my career. It started from a small point, slowly expanded, continued, and then progressed very steadily. In the ArtsCross 2013, the piece Mask was created. After that, we created a series of works, Nuo-Mask, Nuo-Emotion, and an Award-winning documentary Nuo-Fate, which were all derivative creations after the original London Mask. In addition, I have grown from a dancer to a choreographer and then the deputy head of the BDA Dance Company.

Documentary: Nuo–Fate

The creative process of Chinese dance is different from that of Western choreographers. ArtsCross provided me with the strong experience of working with western choreographers, which made me deeply feel that dancers and choreographers influence each other in the creative process. These factors include many things, such as training backgrounds, aesthetics, and questioning each other about how many signals can the dancing body receive and accept, just as the BDA President, Professor Guo, always asks in rehearsal: “Are we on the same page?”

ArtsCross as a whole is a process that cannot be replicated. For dancers and choreographers, it is an opportunity that cannot be replicated; For many people in the Chinese dance industry, it is a learning process that cannot be replicated. And the butterfly effect can be seen around us, such as my colleague, Zhao Zhibo who is now teaching improvisation at Beijing Dance Academy and is a PhD student at Middlesex University.

I enjoy all the processes in the studio in the project. Although my experience in Danscross Beijing 2009 was a bit painful as the western choreographers and Chinese dancers did not understand each other, the misunderstandings were solved and the dancers and choreographers were integrated. I valued that process very much. Therefore, all of these have led me to think that the stage’s performance moments are not so important to me compared to the creative process.

What’s interesting is that I met with the Chinese – USA based Choreographer, Shen Wei, this afternoon, and we had a very good conversation. Shen Wei said that the works he brought back to China were created ten years ago because the audience or the public could not understand and accept his latest creations. I think this is because the Chinese public is getting more and more curious about the process of creating works. Although performance on stage is very important, sometimes, or today, the audience’s interest lies in knowing the original intention and creation process. At this point, the ArtsCross project puts more emphasis on the creative process, thereby increasing everyone’s interest. There are many good works in the project that should be retained as classic works and performed by the BDA dance company.

Finally, I hope that the ArtsCross project can continue to develop and influence more people.

Wu Shuai
National First-Rank Dance Artist, China
Deputy Director, Resident Dance Company, Beijing Dance Academy

Wu Weifeng (dancer, Beijing): ArtsCross 2009

The year 2009 was the first year of ArtsCross, at that time called Danscross 2009. 2009 was also a great turning point in my entire personal career development. Especially after Danscross, my role in the career development shifted from a dancer to a choreographer, and I left the BDA dance academy.

Danscross 2009 had a significant impact on me because that was my first and last time I had such a deeply intertwined rehearsal with western choreographers. As we all know, in the training of Chinese dance, the whole system is solidified and has specific standards and requirements for being a dancer and a choreographer. These not only enable dancers and choreographers to share the same understanding and aesthetics of a work, but also make everyone understand these behaviour standards and unspoken rules in this system. However, I felt lost in Danscross 2009.

The project took me to a strange unfamiliar place, which made me to experience an advanced and adventurous journey of exploration in in my dancing career. I believe that dancing itself is an experiential process, and dance is a very experiential art that requires practitioners who need to be closely attentive and immersed in everything that happens in a moment or a period of time.

Wu Weifeng (right) in the rehearsal of Cleave
Choreography by Kerry Nicholls (left)
Photo by Guo Tuantuan

I received professional dance training when I was 10, and I am 41 this year. During these years, dancing has been my profession and a way of life. In my experience, Danscross 2009 is very special and has left me with a lifetime memory. This unique experience made me feel that the dancing experience I have in the project is different from what I experienced before and after the project. The project allows me to compare everything I have experienced in my career. To be honest, the experience I had not only shocked me but also made me feel there is huge difference in understanding dance and how we work in dance between Chinese choreographers and Western choreographers.

I would like to say something first with my perspective as a dancer:

1. The only one
The experience of Danscross 2009 is the only experience I have in my artistic life that I worked with western choreographers deeply, 8 hours every day for a while. I want to especially emphasise this kind of deep experiential experience because it is an immersive experience. After the project, I had worked with other western choreographers and teachers, however, they are all kind of a flat experience obtained through seeing, touching in a short time. It definitely not a three-dimensional immersive participation experience.

2. The end of my career as a dancer
I was already a National First-Rank Dance Artist that year, and I also performed with the BDA dance company all over the world, but we rarely had the opportunity to truly communicate with a local dance company or school. When we went to San Francisco to perform, we went to the San Francisco Ballet Company where the famous Chinese ballerina, Tan Yuanyuan was located. We took ballet classes and watched them perform, but these were not the same as the experience of Danscross. These experiences are superficial, not the immersive experience I said before, and these cannot make any internal changes of a dancer. Therefore, I decided not dancing as a dancer anymore. I want to be a choreographer.

Next, I would like to say something with my perspective as a choreographer:

1. Be a choreographer teacher
After Danscross 2009, I stopped dancing as a dancer. I decided to be a choreographer and a teacher who teaches choreography in Beijing. Since then, I always rethink and care about the students’ immersive experience in my teaching, and I hope they could learn more from the immersion experience I gained from Danscross. I told them, our training and style is not the ‘right’ one and the only one. I asked my students to learn with different experienced dancers and choreographers, especially who have international experiences. I hope that my students can understand the colourful dance world.

Sitting Wu Weifeng (middle) and other BDA dancers, interpreter Emily Wilcox, standing scholar Anita Donaldson, and choreographer John Utans

1. Using improvisation
In our dance teaching, we have always been accustomed to being in a safe state, and all the teaching goals are to have a safe, ‘stable’ state presentation on the stage. However, improvisation means a certain degree of danger and uncertainty, which is different from our creative and teaching goals. In most of the work of Chinese choreographers, the choreography process is step-by-step with a fixed pattern. The choreography process performed by these UK choreographers is completely different from what I understood about ‘choreography’. Improvisation is the main thing in their choreography, but we even never think about how important improvisation is, as a dancer or a choreographer.

In Danscross, as dancers, we were asked to improvise, which was impossible in our previous rehearsals. At the same time, choreography also gives dancers space to try something. I realised that the creative process is different. Besides, in the Danscross rehearsal, we did not need to be ‘stable’. For example, there were many situations where I cannot stand at all, because my weight is not in the centre of balance, and I needed to reconsider my strength and achieve and enjoy the weight out of balance.

I have talked a lot of my personal memories and thoughts. In total, Chinese dance training shows a unique industry chain, ecological chain, talent chain, and biological chain. However, Danscross 2009/ArtsCross project brings new vigour and vitality into this place.

I wish ArtsCross could be developed more, to influence more people!

Professor Wu Weifeng
National First-Rank Dance Artist
Deputy Director, Department of Dance, School of Music,
Capital Normal University

Yi-Chi Lee (dancer, Taipei): ArtsCross 2011, 2012 and 2013

I am Yi-Chi Lee and I studied at TNUA (Taipei National University of the Arts) from 2009-2016. I am currently in Germany, dancing with Staatsballett Berlin as a contemporary dancer.

ArtsCross 10th Anniversary! Looking back now, the ArtsCross project gave me, a 17 year-old dance student still at school, an extraordinary opportunity that I could not find elsewhere, to get in touch with the world and practise intercultural cooperation. It also truly stimulated me to think about and fulfil an ambition to become a professional dancer, and it led to me having the idea to come to Europe to meet with different artists from all over the world.

My first year of participation was an accidental opportunity. As I had no experience in the audition process, I usually used the summer vacation time to go back to school to participate in the summer camp. Then I learned that there was an audition for a three schools project, so I followed my classmates. We signed together and I took the number into the studio. Because I didn’t expect anything, I felt that I had no worries but just taking a free master workshop. In the end, it was very challenging, but I had a lot of fun. It also led me to continue my journey with the ArtsCross project. Three years gave me a collision of ideas and excitement.

Because I was experienced in such research and discussion-based projects during my student time, it now makes me familiar with entering a new creative process when the choreographer comes up with concepts for physical research. And it also helps me, step by step, to know how to express myself in a new group even in a short rehearsal period.

Taipei dancers Li Yi-Chi (middle), Huang Yu-Teng (left), and Tsou Ying-Lin (right), London
Photo by Andrew Lang
After the dancer selection session, London 2013
Photo by Andrew Lang

Now I am constantly looking into my training system, background, and also identity. As we go outside, we look inward more often. Looking back at this period of time from this moment, I am now really Leaving home: being elsewhere (the London 2013 theme) and I experience the Uncertain…waiting (the Taipei 2011 theme). But this difference of Light and Water (the Beijing 2012 theme) all became resources, leading to who I am today. And it’s still alive and continuing. I deeply appreciate this beautiful journey.

Uncertain…Waiting, Choreography by Bulareyaung Pagarlava:

Warriors, Choreography by Bulareyaung Pagarlava: