Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15th...

I’ve been thinking a lot about how different these 4 months are going to be from most study abroad experiences in, say, Europe.  I don't really have the ability to travel all over the continent, taking wild weekend trips wherever I so choose. The main goal (not necessarily my MAIN goal, but a very big one) and necessity here is to learn the language.  I suppose it is possible to get around and navigate without it, but the pleasure is lessened if you aren’t able to share your experiences or interact with local Chinese (or if you literally can't find where you want to go because no one can understand you).

I find it quite hard to be patient. I know that I have to spend a lot of time studying and building up my vocabulary, but I just want so badly to be able to have a full conversation with the people I meet who don’t speak English.  Last weekend we all went out to see LDTX II perform.  I’m mainly working with the first company so this was my first encounter with these 16 dancers.  They are all college graduates, a few of Minzu Daxue, many of Beijing Dance Academy.  The reparatory was mixed with a few pieces choreographed by the 1st company dancers.  From what the director, Willy Tsao, insinuated to me, I was expecting a sort of amateur performance from dancers fresh from the classic Chinese folk dance world.  What we received was anything but this.  The dancers held such emotional power on stage and were quite well versed in “contemporary vocabulary”.  There was a huge range of music, theme, and emotion presented, which created a very satisfying and well-rounded program.  My frustration arose when we attended the question and answer segment with Willy and the dancers after the program.  I could understand a few words here and there, but was not able to piece anything together coherently.  I know that I can’t expect to be able to understand, but it’s so hard not to. My wonderful ethnic dance teacher Liu Liu did some translating for me, but it’s impossible to expect someone to translate an entire conversation.  I know it takes patience,…and I am trying to slowly develop it. Slowly… J

I also went to a reggae show last week with a few friends at a great music venue called  愚公移山 YuGong YiShan).  There is a lot of live music happening around here, it’s just a matter of finding it and translating the information! I thought of you, lovely roommate Ashley, because Peaches is coming to town in a few weeks. 

This weekend, LiuLiu took myself and 2 other girls to a performance at the Poly Theater.  It’s this incredibly grand theater downtown with a stage practically three times bigger than I have ever seen dance performed on.  It was the equivalent of a story ballet, but instead of ballet as the dance form, it was Chinese Folk Dance (Muslim based).  Because the arts (for the most part) are government controlled, the budget is gigantic.  You would not believe the elaborate costumes, set design, music, and lighting (cameras, unfortunately, prohibited).  The dancing was sort of a mix between Chinese Folk dancing and ballet inspired modern.  It was very Busby Berkeley-esque, with what seemed like hundreds of dancers creating mesmerizing patterns across the stage.  The dancers were very technically skilled, especially the principal male.  His movement seemed inspired by a mixture of ballet, acrobatics, martial arts, and Chinese folk dance.  He was incredibly strong and lithe, sprinting across the huge stage without making a sound.  The performance was full of drama and exaggerations, but was incredible to watch.  It reminded me of the value of the corps de ballet.  In my dancing I have been so focused on individual discovery and creating myself as a dancer, I often forget of the wonder that can be created in simplicity through symmetry and unison.  The performance ended with a long set of bows, directors in Chinese official soldier’s uniforms, and enormous bouquets of flowers lining the stage for photos and film opportunities.  It was quite a spectacle!

This coming weekend, we (the 5 other girls in my program and I) are all going to Xi’an!  We are leaving Thursday night, taking the 12 hour overnight train.  I think we arrive around 7am Friday Morning.  We haven’t made specific plans for Friday yet, but we might rent bikes and ride the wall surrounding the city (apparently a really beautiful ride). We’re staying in an international hostel Friday night (the equivelent of $7.50 US per night for a bed, free wi-fi, coffee in the morning and a beer a night), and will spend Saturday visiting the home of the Terracotta Warriors.  We will take the Saturday night train back to Beijing and arrive sometime early Sunday morning.  I’m sure the weekend will have all sorts of other exciting things to share later J

Ah yes, as far as dance developments…I still don’t have a set schedule and probably won’t for the next 4 months.  Whenever I feel that I can skip class, I head down to take class with LDTX (unfortunately not as often as I would like).  There are a few studios around that offer open classes so I’ve been trying to get a good schedule worked out with those locals (again, the language barrier is very difficult), and I have a studio at Minzu that is open to me a few days a week.  I’ve started to give myself class, which takes quite a bit if discipline…but it’s working out alright J.  Along with these open classes, next weekend, a new-ish company, Tao Body Theater, is beginning weekend workshops.  They are offering a set of 3 classes, 1 per weekend, rolling for the next few months.      

Here is a bit of their mission…

         Creation is one of humanity’s most basic abilities. In the face of boredom, creation shakes us; when we lose direction creation points out a new path. In the process of creating, we somehow overcome the barriers that contain us in everyday life, and we overcome ourselves.
         Tao Body Theater was founded in March, 2008, in Beijing and is currently composed of three independent artists. Although three individuals, we are brought together by a shared longing. Art is humanity’s creation! What we long for is to use “the body” to create. Each body has its unique secrets, and through rigorous, sincere, and exploratory corporal research, we hope to stretch the boundaries of the flesh, and in this process of excavation to discover the body’s unknown possibilities.
         This exploration of the body and its possibilities has, for us, a kind of sacredness, because in the process of using the body to create, we have found our own faith. In our pursuit of the corporeal, our spirit becomes free.
         Tao Body Theater has always devoted itself to the exploration of “body education.” Tao Body Theater has been invited to teach at the Central University of Nationalities, Beijing Language University, Shaanxi Normal University, Yan’an University, Henny Jurriens
Stichting, etc. Tao Dance Studio has also offered open classes and workshops at Beijing Nine Theaters, Fanxing Theater Village, Contemporary MOMA Art Center, etc.

Course Type
1: Concepts Class
         Participants: Participants of all ages and professions          welcome.
         Content: Through the use of games, we will open up and          excavate the possibilities of the body, allowing each          participant to experience freedom and creativity.
2: Theater/Performance Class
         Participants: All theater/performance hobbyists and          professionals with some physical creative ability and
         expressive ability are welcome to attend.
         Content: Liberation of natural instincts, voice and          body training, use of words to guide improvisation.
3: Body Technique Class
         Participants: Choreographers, performers and students          with a foundation in professional dance training.
         Content: Development of bodily technique in muscle and          joint movement fluidity.

And the best part about it? These classes are free! This group of dancers is really trying to create a community in Beijing of like-minded dancers. I am incredibly excited to become a part of it. And many thanks to Emily Wilcox for letting me know about this wonderful opportunity! She is a PHD candidate at UC Berkeley who spent last semester doing research at Minzu Daxue.  She happened to know Dan Smyer Yu (my program director) and Sarabeth Burman (the program directory of LDTX). What a small and wonderfully interconnected world.

I’m also going to start working on putting together a piece with LiuLiu (my ethnic dance teacher). She is trained in all the ethnic minority dances of China but is absolutely in love with modern dance.  She wants to create a sort of “East meets West” piece.  We are in the very beginning stages, but I’m sure I will have more to share soon!

If any of you happen to be in Shanhai for the World Expo, look me up! I will be there for 6 nights and performing on the 18th and 19th with Beijing Dance/LDTX. 

Take care all J


  1. im famous!!! im in rachael's blog!!! unless you have another ashley roommate...and im so excited that you get to dance soon...we all miss you, keep a peaceful eye throughout your hardships...newho running out the date peas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Sounds like you've had some wonderful experiences already! Another beautiful blog post! Can't wait to hear more... Take care, Rach!! Much love! :)