Can the sun take a rest? Yes. Can the moon take a rest? Yes. Can women take a rest? No. If the women rest, the fireplace will die.
So go the lines of a song popular among the Bai ethnic group of Southwest China's Yunnan province, who believe the flames in the family fireplace kept burning around the year will bring everlasting prosperity.
Celebrated Bai dancer/choreographer Yang Liping, 52, not only sings the song in her acclaimed show Dynamic Yunnan, but also lives the lyrics in her personal life.
In 2003, Dynamic Yunnan took the nation's dance scene by storm and in 2007, Yang followed up this success with the drama-cum-show Riddle of Tibet which won wide acclaim for her unique interpretation of Tibetan culture and Buddhism. Last year, she created Sounds from Yunnan, a feast for not just the eyes but also the ears.
"We've showcased the best ethnic dancers of Yunnan province in Dynamic Yunnan, but it's far from enough. I think two hours is too short a time to display the best of Yunnan's folk and ethnic art. Last year, Jiang Mingchu - who wrote the song for Dynamic Yunnan - musician Wan Li and I talked about doing a show to highlight the sounds you can hear only in Yunnan," Yang says.
They include those produced by the most primitive percussion instruments such as bowls, bamboos, bells and drums; the natural sounds of wind, rain and the vibration of a butterfly's wings as well as the sounds of everyday rural life such as women winnowing grain.
"While Sounds from Yunnan featured more original dances and music, Dynamic Yunnan focuses on the traditional," Yang says.
Yang traveled throughout the province seeking inspiration for Dynamic Yunnan. But what she ended up collecting were not repertoires of folk dances but talented dancers, all of whom appear in the show.
"Folk dance is rooted in the culture of the ethnic groups and passed down from one generation to the next. Around 70 percent of the dancers in Dynamic Yunnan are villagers. Professional dancers can never be as authentic," Yang says.
Many of these performers, such as Xia Ga from the Hani ethnic group, also appeared in Sounds from Yunnan.
Yang found him when she visited a Hani village in Jianshui county in 2001. The then 19-year-old cowherd had never learned dance but "had a good sense of rhythm".
In Dynamic Yunnan, he performs the tobacco dance, which is popular among the young men and women of the Nisupo, a branch of the Yi ethnic group, and is used to express love. The Nisupo dance to the rhythmic sounds produced by tapping tobacco boxes. As they sing, the young men and women dance, touching each other with their feet. Once they find their chosen one, they imitate the mating of animals and insects through dance.
"Many ethnic communities in Yunnan can do the tobacco or other such dances, but Xia Ga's performance was exceptional," Yang says.
His innovative Drunken Drums piece in Sounds from Yunnan built up to a rousing crescendo and also won much praise.
Xia Ga followed through his successful debut in Dynamic Yunnan with a sharpening of his sense of movement and rhythm. In 2005, his solo drum dance won a prize at The Lotus Awards - China's National Dance Competition.
Dubbed "Peacock Princess," Yang is known for her peacock dance. The peacock is a Dai totem and appears in may of the group's dances. But Yang's award-winning solo Spirit of Peacock in a national contest in 1986 gave people a totally fresh perspective and earned her overnight fame. She captures the vitality and elegance of the beautiful bird, with her slim fingers and slender figure imitating the peacock's plumes and lithe body.
Yang says she identifies with the dancers in her shows as she shares the same roots. Some 40 years ago, Yang was a village girl growing up in Eryuan county, Dali. As the oldest of four children in a poor family, she learned to help her parents take care of the family at a young age. She would herd sheep in the mornings, and busy herself with needlework and embroidery in the evenings.
Singing and dancing come naturally to the Bai and young Yang was no exception. She enjoyed dancing and often performed at weddings and feasts.
"When I was very young, my grandmother told me that singing and dancing is the way we live and express ourselves. People sing while working and dance around the bonfire to offer sacrifices. Dance is not about a performance, instead, it is life itself," Yang says.
In 1971, Yang, then 13, was the youngest of eight girls recruited by a local troupe in Xishuangbanna. In 1979, she performed in the dance drama Princess of Peacock which earned her a first prize in a provincial contest and also led to her joining the Central Song and Dance Company of Nationalities.
Yang is a unique personality on the nation's dance scene as all her dances draw on her ethnic roots. She has never received academic training; dancing is in her blood.
In Sounds from Yunnan, Yang appears in three of the numbers. In the opening, she plays a pregnant woman giving birth to the accompaniment of the strong rhythmic beats of drums.
Yang says Bai people beat drums to give energy to the woman giving birth. "Today, women give birth in hospital but in ancient times, having a baby was dangerous business. Although I am not a mother myself, I understand perfectly how the drum beats can help a mother through labor," she says.
Very few dancers keep active on stage in their 40s, let alone their 50s. Has Yang ever thought of leaving the stage?
"No, not yet. I dance from my heart. That's not so demanding physically. Pina Bausch kept dancing till her death at 68. I will not leave the stage until I become too old and ugly to look at," she laughs.
Sounds from Yunnan will run at Poly Theater on Feb 3, 4 and 5.