Dancer--choreographer Li Xiang debuts his new work, The Walker, in the reality show, Dance Smash, which won him wide acclaim.[Photo provided to China Daily]
Art form steps into the spotlight as appreciation of its beauty spreads, Chen Nan reports.
The stage is set. Quietness descends. The lights blaze. Anticipation grips the audience. A dancer in a silky red robe, casts a spell while his muscles ripple as he seems to glide across the stage. Li Xiang, 27, combines strength and grace with a deftness that enraptures viewers of the reality show Dance Smash, created by Hunan Satellite TV and first broadcast on Oct 5.
He spent five days choreographing his dance, entitled The Walker(Xingzhe), which in just 88 seconds elaborates on the story of a lonely but determined dancer.
When his routine ends, the sound of silence is deafening before the audience, in a delayed reaction, get to grips with what they have witnessed and respond with thunderous and appreciative applause.
Zhang Aimadi (front) and Jia Haoyue, both 22, winners of the Under 21 Latin championships in the UK in 2018, dance in the show.[Photo provided to China Daily]
Li beams a smile and the relief is evident. His aim has been met-to charm and win over more people with the power of the art form.
"My initial purpose in joining the show was to display my dancing and share my love for the art to a much wider audience than attend the theater. The TV show is a short cut for me to learn how the viewers would react to my choreography and performance," says Li, who graduated with a major in traditional Chinese dance from the College of Military Culture of the PLA's National Defense University (formerly the People's Liberation Army Academy of Art) in 2012.
He initially rejected the offer of an appearance on the show, thinking that it was simply a talent show for young people. Li was already established and had won a slew of top awards in national dance competitions. He actually had a fan base after performing solo in a dance piece on the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, the country's most-watched TV show, earlier this year.
But the invitations continued for months before he relented and agreed to accept the opportunity. He realized that Chinese audiences prefer watching TV or online coverage instead of going out to theaters to appreciate dance. He knew a wider audience awaited.
[Photo provided to China Daily]
"After the show, I received more than 10,000 messages on my Sina Weibo account, which really surprised me. I had never received so many comments before," says Li, who was born in Jilin province. He took up dancing at the tender age of 4 when he was instantly hooked on watching farmers dance yangge, a popular rural folk dance in Northeast China. He begged his parents to register him on a dance course. Four years later, he headed out on the professional dance route.
"Many people told me in their messages that they will buy tickets to watch dance in theaters from now on, just like they buy tickets to watch movies and pop concerts."
The messages showed that fans could relate to the emotions expressed through his sublime movements. A 33-year-old mother wrote that she would share the reality show with her son, who is learning dance, and that she was both impressed and encouraged by Li, "who is a determined dancer" and a role model for her son.
After the reality show's premiere, invitations flooded in but he decided to shun commercial performances and concentrate on choreographing new works.
"I spent years of hard training and have been open to different dance genres, which enriched and helped me control my body while dancing," he says as he points out the value of dance has been under-appreciated.
"What disappointed me most is that many Chinese dancers have been considered just as a backdrop, performing behind pop stars. For a long time, their artistic value has been underestimated.
"I hope this reality show will be a new start to improve this situation."
Li is one among the 50 groups of dancers selected from more than 6,000 participants, according to Hong Xiao, director of the dance show, which Hunan Satellite TV has been working on for a year to create.
[Photo provided to China Daily]
Unlike other dance competition reality shows, the 12-episode show gathers together professional dancers who are either working with national troupes and companies or working independently like Li. Some of them are award winners like Li and they "put aside their past glory to start anew" for the sake of the art to display themselves in the program.
The show covers a wide range of genres, including traditional, contemporary, street dance and ballet.
Hong is full of admiration for the dancers and their professionalism, saying: "The hard work and passion that goes into each performance is awe-inspiring. Many of these dancers shine on the international stage, and they deserve to be seen by more people back in China."
Zhang Aimadi and Jia Haoyue, who joined the show, are dancers who have achieved international acclaim. Both 22, the two were winners of the Under 21 Latin championships in Blackpool in 2018. This is one of the most prestigious dance competitions in the world, held in Blackpool, the United Kingdom. Zhang and Jia were the first Chinese dancers to win in their category.
In the show, they performed a lighthearted piece, See What to Eat, which starts with a kiss. They both started to learn dance as children and became dance partners in 2014.
"Latin dance has great diversity and rapid movements. Though it's rooted in Western culture, we want to prove that Chinese dancers can create a particularly unique style and translate the language of dance across the world," says Jia.
"Dancing allows us to express our emotions. And it should invoke emotions, just like art is supposed to do," adds Zhang.
Choreographer Shen Wei, one of the show's judges, says: "The timing is perfect for Chinese professional dancers to display themselves on TV, as the country is attaching more and more importance to the art form now."
[Photo provided to China Daily]
The acclaimed choreographer worked on the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He choreographed the breathtakingly beautiful dance piece, Scroll, in which dancers performed on a constant changing LED scroll of Chinese ink-and-wash paintings, depicting the evolution of China since ancient times, giving the audience a visual feast that served up colorful Chinese culture through dance.
Shen notes that the show Dance Smashis helping to inform audiences about distinctive features and the strength of each dance type. It "educates the audience in what makes a particular dance style unique" as the dances are arranged by different genres, and separately illustrated by dancers and then discussed by experts after each dance.
"The show is a refreshing reminder of all that makes dance beautiful," says Shen, who was born into an artistic family in Central China's Hunan province in 1968. His father worked in a local opera troupe and he grew up practicing Chinese traditional painting, calligraphy and contemporary dance. He moved to New York in 1995 on a scholarship from the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab and founded his own company Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2000, which has visited 138 cities in 33 countries. He frequently travels to New York, Paris and cities in China to promote his different projects of dance, exhibitions and workshops.
"Some of the dancers in the show are very talented. Their performance stimulates the viewers' imagination," Shen says. "What they need is more openings to a wider range of genres rather than their own specialty dance type and to explore their physical possibilities."
Shen's dream for the future is that China can have its own hit dance company.
He explains: "Many countries are known for their dance companies, for example, the famous Mariinsky Theater in St Petersburg. I hope that China will have a great dance company, which can represent the country's culture."