Magazine article Dance Magazine

The Other Great Wall of China

Magazine article Dance Magazine

The Other Great Wall of China

Article excerpt

I WAS SITTING recently in the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing, listening to the lyrics from Pink Floyd's rock opera, The Wall, blare through the speakers: "We don't need to education! We don't need to thought control!" Fifteen years ago, just blocks from my seat tanks in Tiananmen Square rolled over students who were demanding more freedom. I expected armed troops to burst in at any moment. But this was no student protest. This was Rear Light, the latest work by the government-approved Beijing Modern Dance Company, and the only bursts I heard were applause. This month, the troupe launches its 10-city United States debut tour with the rock-inspired opus.

Founded in 1995, BMDC is one of only two official modern dance companies in China. Students returning from abroad started the country's first modern dance troupes in the 1920s, but the art's development was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, when authorities deemed it a foreign import associated with American imperialism. The practice of modern dance was prohibited until 1980.

Hong Kong businessman and choreographer Willy Tsao took over as artistic director of BMDC in 1999. "Although I choreograph," he explains, "my goal was never to make a Willy Tsao Dance Company. The purpose is to develop choreographers, and all members have a chance to present their own works either on tour or at our theater in Beijing."

These include deputy, artistic director Li Hanzhong and his wife, company dancer Ma Bo, who created Rear Light. The work opens with all 15 dancers clad in trench coats moving mechanically on, or collapsing off, bleachers that take up the bulk of the stage. Frenetic dancers in glittery, fairy-like costumes interrupt smaller group episodes. One section brings audience members onstage, and leaves them there. The glitter dancers grow in number until the final section, when the performers don more brightly colored costumes. …

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