Dance forum looks at new steps to take

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BDA Dance Forum, an annual three-day event, was first launched by the Beijing Dance Academy in 2019. This year, the event has been expanded to a month, bringing together more than 300 performers, scholars and educators from around the world, under the theme of "Dance Culture: Inheritance and Development".

From Nov 1 to 30, about 20 forums are taking place both at the Beijing Dance Academy and online. A gala will close out the festival.

On Nov 1, the event opened with a main forum held at the school with guests, including Feng Shuangbai, president of the China Dancers Association, Anthony Bowne, principal of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, and celebrated dancer-choreographer Yang Liping, giving key speeches.

Major issues, such as the training of young dance talent, the development of Chinese dance education, and dance culture along the Silk Road, are among those being discussed during the forums.

Gao Du, director of Academic Committee of Beijing Dance Academy, shared his views on training and supporting young dancers.

He mentioned in his speech the Achievement Exhibition of the 13th "Taoli Cup" National Dancing Education Performance of China, which was held by the Beijing Dance Academy in August.

This featured 250 programs staged at Beijing's theaters under six sections divided by dancing styles, including classic Chinese dance, Chinese folk dance, ballet, and contemporary dance. Students from 64 schools around the country participated in the event.

"For decades, the Taoli Cup event has offered young students a platform to display themselves and many of today's star dancers came from that event," says Gao.

Gao also invited his longtime friend, dancer-choreographer Yang, who gave a speech on Nov 1 as well.

"We have known each other for about 40 years and many of her works feature dancers who graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy," says Gao, referring to Yang, one of the most famous dancers in the country.

Yang says: "I had a workshop with students of the Beijing Dance Academy yesterday and I want to invite more young people to perform in my works. They will learn things that they cannot get from the classroom and will grow by performing onstage."

A Yunnan native and a member of the Bai ethnic group, Yang joined the Xishuangbanna Song and Dance Ensemble in 1971 as a dancer when she was 13.

She rose to fame and became known as the "peacock princess" after her 1986 award-winning dance piece, Spirit of the Peacock, a work inspired by the lithe and graceful hand movements seen in the bird-related dance of the ethnic Bai people in Yunnan province.

She left her hometown and performed at grand theaters and festivals in China and overseas, as well as winning a number of awards. In 2003, she decided to return to villages in Yunnan to study local dances and folk songs, which she calls "going back to her roots".

As an artistic director, choreographer and leading dancer, Yang gathered folk artists from Yunnan, such as singers, dancers and instrumentalists, to perform in the theatrical production Dynamic Yunnan, which has been staged more than 7,000 times. Later, she choreographed more than 10 stage productions, including Tibetan Myth, Under Siege and The Rite of Spring.

"My hometown has been inspiring to me, as have the young dancers who participate in my works," says Yang. "For young dancers, I want to let them know that dancing is intuitive and comes from the heart. You live your life, grow every day and put those feelings into your movements."

Yang has released three dance films: Yutu and Chang'e, The Tiger's Roar and Spring Ox Picture, based on the animals of the Chinese zodiac, which she calls "creative" compared to her other works.

She has already wrapped up the shooting of her new piece, which is dedicated to 2024 and celebrates the upcoming Year of the Dragon, and now she is working on the postproduction.

Gao Jinrong, 89 years old, former head of Gansu art school (now part of the Lanzhou University of Arts and Science), who is a scholar of Dunhuang dance, gave a speech about the teaching of a dance genre that draws inspiration from the iconic Flying Apsaras found in the murals of the Mogao Caves — a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Dunhuang, Gansu province.

"We have been doing research on the murals, which feature dance elements. From the hand gestures and costumes to facial expressions, the research has provided lots of inspiration for choreographers," says Gao Jinrong, who was involved in compiling teaching materials for dance before her retirement from the art school.

"Ancient Chinese culture presented us with unlimited inspiration. I hope that more students and teachers of dance schools will come to Dunhuang and find inspiration," she says.

Nussipzhanova Bibigul, rector of the Kazakh National Academy of Choreography, gave a speech at the opening event on Nov 1, under the title Heritage of the Silk Road: Inter-cultural Dialogue on Traditional Dance Art and Choreographic Education.

"Since 2016, we have enjoyed cooperation with the Beijing Dance Academy. We co-launched master classes, competitions and projects for promoting communication between students and teachers from the two schools," she says.

Xu Rui, president of Beijing Dance Academy, says: "The pandemic has presented great challenge to us, and now we are finally able to get together, meet up and communicate, which excites all of us."

The event is also part of the ongoing celebration of the 70th anniversary of the dance school.

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