Westphal College Welcomes BeijingDance/LDTX for the US Premiere of 'Arc'
January 27, 2020
The Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is delighted to welcome BeijingDance/LDTX to Mandell Theater on February 14 and 15 for the first stop of their multi-city tour to mark the US Premiere of Arc, choreography by resident artist and dancer turned choreographer ADIYA. BeijingDance/LDTX is one of the most established and largest contemporary dance companies in China, and is dedicated to the development of modern dance in China. Preview BeijingDance/LDTX's performance of Arc here and purchase your tickets at drexelperformingarts.com.
Q&A with BeijingDance/LDTX Artistic Director, Willy TSAO
As the first registered contemporary dance company in China, was enthusiasm for what you are wishing to achieve artistically immediate, or has it been a process to build an audience for modern dance in China?
In China, just as in other countries, similar situations prevail as contemporary dance audience development is a long and on-going journey. It can often be rewarding in terms of cultural development, and yet can also sometimes be frustrating.
Given the huge population in China, we can always expect to get good feedback. Modern dance in China is considered to be an elite form of art that is harder for the general population to understand. In the past decade, there has definitely been a growth in audience in first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. There are also audiences growing and many young performing groups emerging in second- and lower-tiered cities. A modern dance alliance started by BeijingDance/LDTX in 2016, The China Dance Stations, was formed to help and support these small groups. There are now 42 of the member dance stations/independent groups in each of the 42 cities participating in The China Dance Stations network.
How does BeijingDance/LDTX fit into the dance landscape in China?
In 2005, the Chinese central government announced a new policy that allowed the private sector to enter the realm of the performing arts. Before 2005 all performing arts groups in China were directly supported and run by the government and as a result were quite restricted in the works that could be created and performed. BeijingDance/LDTX was the first independent performing arts company registered. It does not receive any regular government support, hence we are free to create works that would not need to follow the Communist party line (although all companies and performances are required to follow several general program performance rules that include a restriction on nudity and no promotion of independence).
BeijingDance/LDTX has 14 full-time dancers, and is one of the largest professional contemporary dance companies in China. We create four new productions every year, as well as organize important contemporary dance exchange platforms such as the Beijing Dance Festival, which attracts a lot of attention among the young people across China as well as dance circles overseas.
What is your thought process when creating or selecting new work for BeijingDance/LDTX?
BeijingDance/LDTX has the resources to produce four major productions a year. I invite those choreographers who have the sincerity to create, to hand in their proposals to me. I receive many proposals, and I try to make room for every choreographer to create work for the company. I do not pre-set to a particular style for BeijingDance/LDTX. In fact, I prefer to invite choreographers who create work that is challenging and vastly unique, different from pieces produced before by the company.
The choreographers are all aware and respect the sensitivities so there really is an open land where the sky is the limit. Young people in China today are actually less concerned about politics per say, and prefer to convey through their dance more about their immediate living conditions and happenings.
As for my own creations, I’m well aware of the limitation of the forms and contents to be presented in the performance, but to me, contemporary dance is an abstract form of art so it does not need to be so obvious, speaking directly to the audience. The audience with a similar passion and mindset will understand my work.
How is work being selected to tour overseas, and why did you choose ARC as a work to bring to the United States?
The work must be easily transportable, and of course of the highest artistic standard. I want to show work choreographed by the local Chinese dancers, as I believe their creations can truly reflect the thinking and feeling of local artists in present day China.
Arc is choreographed by a young up-and-coming artist, ADIYA, who is from Inner Mongolia, China. His work is very dynamic, and represents a new generation of Chinese artists.
What is the inspiration behind Arc?
ADIYA’s Arc was inspired by Tibetan sand paintings (Tibetan: dkyil’khor) where lamas use colorful sand to create an intricate mandala - graphic symbol of the universe. The process would take place over a long period, from hours to days or even weeks. When the mandala was completed, the lamas would ritualistically dismantle it, letting the sand to go back to its original form, thus symbolizing the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life. In Arc, the music, the dancers, the formation of dancers, come together similar to the sand and creates its own unique version of a mandala.
The naming of this work is also inspired by the process of creating the Tibetan sand paintings. The lamas create the mandala approaching it from four sides; the dots/the sand then slowly connect and form four arcs. Once the dots and the arcs are all connected and “complete”, a circle is then formed. This circle could be treated as a metaphor for life, and each of the arcs could be interpreted as a different stage in life. Everyone has his or her own arcs, and within these arcs, people come and go and what is to happen next remains unknown.
What do you want audiences’ to take away from the performances in the United States?
I hope the audience enjoys high caliber dancing by our amazing Chinese dancers. I also hope they recognize that there has been vast changes in China today, and that they would get a feel for today’s China.
BeijingDance/LDTX would like to thank their community partners: Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Pasion y Arte, and Intercultural Journeys.
Willy TSAO is an influential figure in China’s contemporary dance development as a choreographer, educator, curator, manager, and director. Born and educated in Hong Kong, TSAO received his modern dance training in the US. He received his MBA degree from University of Hong Kong. TSAO was named an Honorary Fellow in 2000, and received an Honorary Doctorate in 2015 from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
As a contemporary dance pioneer in China and Hong Kong, TSAO founded the first and only professional modern dance company, City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), in Hong Kong in 1979 and has been its artistic director for thirty years from 1989 to 2019; and in 2019, he founded FLSH, a group to further promote the inter-exchange between Hong Kong and mainland modern dance. In China, he was a teacher and advisor to establishing the first proper modern dance education program in China at the Guangdong Dance School from 1987 to 1992. He was named artistic director of China’s first professional contemporary dance company, Guangdong Experimental Modern Dance Group, when it was founded by the Guangdong Provincial Government in 1992 and held the post until 1998. In 2004, TSAO was invited by the Guangdong Cultural Bureau to resume as artistic director of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company until 2016. In Beijing, TSAO co-founded China’s first officially registered private professional modern dance company, BeijingDance/LDTX, and had served as its artistic director since establishment. At the end of 2016, TSAO further built up a network – China Dance Station, joined by private independent dance organizations in each of the cities, with aim to share resources and intelligence; as of end of 2019, there are 42 cities joining the China Dance Station alliance.
Committed to nurturing and developing Chinese contemporary dance groups and artists, TSAO established two contemporary dance exchange platforms – the Guangdong Modern Dance Festival and the Beijing Dance Festival. The annual Beijing Dance Festival was set up in 2008 with TSAO as artistic director. It began as a one-week festivity and has since 2012 expanded to become a two-weeks. The Beijing Dance Festival has become one of the biggest celebrations of dance in Beijing and among cities in China with more than 300 dance artists, over 200 dance students, and more than 5000 audience attendance coming from cities throughout China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, as well as across the world from North & Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. TSAO holds several public posts in China. In 2015, he was appointed as council member of the China Dancers Association. In 2016, he was appointed as vice chairman of the Guangdong Provincial Dancers Association. TSAO also frequently gives lectures and holds workshops in universities and dance groups across China.
TSAO’s contribution to dance has been widely recognized. He was awarded “Dancer of Year Award” from the Hong Kong Artists’ Guild in 1988, “Ten Outstanding Young Persons” Award in 1990, "Badge of Honor” from HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 1993, "Louis Cartier Award of Excellence - Outstanding Choreographer” in 1998, “Bronze Bauhinia Star” by the Hong Kong SAR Government in 1999, Distinguished Achievement Award in 2014 and Life Achievement Award in 2017 by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council for his immense and invaluable achievement and contributions to Hong Kong dance. TSAO was invited by the Dance Committee of the International Theater Institute, a partner of the UNESCO) to be the Message Author for Asia-Pacific and delivered the message on the International Dance Day 2018.
Since the 1980’s, TSAO has created more than 60 major works. They include: Bird Songs, China Wind-China Fire,365 Ways of Doing and undoing orientalism, Wandering in the Cosmos, One Table N Chairs, Sexing Three Millenniums, Dao: Extraodinair, Conqueror, Warrior Lanling and In Search of Grand View Garden. And his choreographies have been presented in Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Korea, United States as well as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Taipei.