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Breath of fresh air
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For modern dance devotees the end of November should be the highlight of the year and they will be heading to Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA), where the Martha Graham Dance Company (MGDC) starts a four-day run tomorrow.


We've already had Maurice Bejart, Paul Taylor, Pina Pausch, Jiri Kylian and Lin Hwai-min. Now finally, Martha Graham's company arrives, although the legendary artist herself died 17 years ago at the age of 96.

Indeed, MGDC topped the invitation list before the NCPA formally opened last December. NCPA's programming department approached Janet Eilber, MGDC's artistic director 18 months ago.

"The e-mail arrived just as we were discussing how the MGDC might reach out to audiences in China," says Eilber, who had been a leading dancer in Graham's company for many years and was appointed the artistic director eight years ago.

"There is huge interest and curiosity about China in the (United) States right now. The new economic partnership began this interest and then, of course, the Olympics. And we had a strong feeling that this curiosity was going both ways - that Chinese audiences might also be interested and open to learning more about American culture.

"We were sure that the masterworks of Martha Graham would connect with the new Chinese audience and, even more, would give them an insight into 20th Century American culture since it is deeply embedded in Martha's works."

Eilber soon accepted the invitation and began collaborating closely with Aaron Wu, the project manager of NCPA's programming department.

"We finally settled on two programs of 10 repertoires that not only have a selection of the greatest Graham dances but are also grouped thematically to give the audience extra context and ways to understand the works," she says.

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