by Sun Jingchen, Luo Xiongyan, Zi Huayun
The Development of Modern Dance in China

Development of the modern Chinese dance has followed a long and tortuous road. As has been mentioned previously in this book, modern dance pioneers like Wu Xiaobang, Dai Ailian and jia Zuoguang had intensive professional training in western modern dances. In their dancing, they not only retain the spirit of freedom and innovation, but more importantly, they pursue the national character of China and the trends of the time and combine that with what they were taught. Dance Classics of the Chinese Nation in the 20th Century represented by great works such as "March of the Volunteers", "Song of the Guerrillas", "Fire of Hunger", as well as Wu Xiaobang's motto "to dance to the rhythm of the times" should be considered treasures of the Chinese Modern Dance.

Broadly speaking, in the process of the development of Chinese modern and contemporary dances, it seems that all forms of dances without specific national characteristics and classical patterns could be included in Chinese Modern Dance. However, the dance works that were previously mentioned in this book and were characterized by their realism and the ways they reflected social and historical affairs are excluded from the category of Chinese modern dance. The reason is that, strictly speaking, there exists a big difference in both the concept and the forms of expression between them and "modern dance" under the system of Western modernism.

At the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, Wu Xiaobang set up the "Tianma Dance Art Studio" to promote his own teaching system which originated from modern dance. His works of this period include "The Great Ambuscade", "Three Variations of Plum Blossom", "Wild Geese Landing On the Sand", which abide by a traditional Cultural spirit. Also, we have "Shepherd Boy Learning Chinese Characters", "Soccer Dance" and "Butterfly", which were based on modern life. His principles of art remained the same, however, and the above mentioned works couldn't compete with the dances he created during the Anti-Japanese War in terms of their influence. Later, the pursuit of modern dance in China faded with the closing of the "Tianma Dance Art Studio".

Chinese modern dance began to create a new development trend at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s with the deepening of China's reform and opening-up. Among the first batch of what the people called modern dances were "Hope", "Silent Song", "Goodbye, Mom", "The Wedding at the Execution Ground", and "Unbreakable String". These works were all innovative and had a great impact on audiences. However, except for "Hope", the others still used the specific and concrete expression method to reflect a specific character in a specific event. Obviously, that is not modern dance in a strict sense. Thereafter, Hujialu from Shanghai presented his series of "The Call of Ideals", "The Rope Wave", "The Sinking Blood", "Capriccio of Playing Chess", "The Other Shore" and "Monologue". From these works and their expression forms, it can be seen that the director was drawing closer to the concept of "modern dance".

It was in the recent ten years that China directly brought in "authentic" Western modern dance and started new explorations into this field. Guangzhou, the pioneer of Chinese reform and Beijing, the political capital and cultural center became the bases for modern dance.

In 1987, the first experimental modern dance class opened in Guangdong Province; in 1991, the Beijing Dance Institute officially launched the modern dance teaching and research office. Many well-known western modern dance experts were invited to China successively to give systematic training in shape and choreography. They were Sarah Stackhouse, Ruby Shang, Douglas Nielson, Claudia Gittleman, Lucas Hoving, Birgit Akesson, Ren Lu Wang and Chang Ching, etc., from the United States, Britain, Sweden, Canada, and Australia. Perhaps more than any, Chinese modern dancer Guo Mingda who received a Master's Degree in Art in the United States in the 1940s, and Cao Chengyuan from the Hong Kong Contemporary Dance Troupe have played a great role in promoting Chinese modern dance.

Contemporary young modern dancers entered this field with curiosity and fidelity for Western modern dance. Since professional dance education in China formed a comprehensive system, dance training has reached a very high level. Those rookie dancers in the experimental modern dance class have passed rounds of strict tests with their solid skills in ballet and Chinese dance. Together with intensive modern dance training, the results surprised both the teachers and the students.

Soon after, young Chinese modern dancers began to emerge on the world stage with their unique style. The pioneers were Qin Liming and Qiao Yang from the Guangdong Modern Dance Class. They clinched the gold medal of the pas de deux at the Fourth Paris International Modern Dance Contest in 1990 with the dances "Passing Voice" (choreographed by Cao Chengyuan) and "Impression of Taiji". Later in 1994 and 1996, gold medals at the sixth and seventh Paris international modern dance contests were again snatched by Chinese Xing Liang and SangJijia. Aside from performing works by Cao Chengyuan, both of them presented "The Light" and "Dangling" created by themselves.

Compared with Chinese traditional dance and ballet, modern dance puts more emphasis on self-expression. Its moves are freer and more general. In addition, because modern dance encourages improvisation from the dancers, compared with ballet and other dance styles, young Chinese modern dancers can at an earlier age become skilled choreographers and performers. Their talent has been recognized and they have created many excellent modern dances.

The following are some of their representative works:

"Impression of Taiji" (pas de deux), "The Light" (solo) and "Dangling" (solo), which won awards at international dance contests; "The Tide" (group dance, choreographed and directed by Wang Mei); "Beauty of the Autumn Water" (group dance, choreographed and directed by Zhang Shouhe); "Bamboo and Basket" (collective creation); and "Sleepless Night" (directed and performed by Shen Wei). Some of these dances were presented at the 1991 Dance Festival in the United States and were highly commended by experts in world modern dance circles. To their surprise, Chinese artists began to rapidly enter modern dance circles with their works of international standard and the charm of the orient (Fig.3-37)

In 1992, the Guangdong Experimental Modern Dance Troupe was established. Beijing is also preparing to establish a modern dance troupe. With the expansion of Cultural exchanges in the world, people's tastes for cultural products have become more varied. Chinese audiences, especially the young, have shown great interest in modern dance. Undoubtedly, the creation of modern dance with Chinese characteristics still needs further development in many areas. In this process, emphasis should be put on revealing our national character and the spirit of our times. In an opening China, modern dance has a bright future.

(Zi Huayun)

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