The Little Companion Art Troupe took part in three of the four sections of the performance at the opening ceremony. They joined the many professionals performing at the beginning and end of the ceremony, and were the only background dancers to accompany Japanese singer Shinji Tanimura as he sang Star, and Italian Andrea Bocelli singing Nessun Dorma.
|Background dancers from Little Companion Art Troupe to accompany Japanese singer Shinji Tanimura as he sang Star||Italian singer Andrea Bocelli (R) hand in hand with a girl from Little Companion Art Troupe during the performance of opening ceremony for the Shanghai World Expo.|
Children went to the Children's Palace after class every afternoon for rehearsals that went on till late every evening, but still had to get up at six o'clock for school the next morning. The oldest member of the troupe is 14 years old and the youngest is six. Despite strenuous training, no one quit. "There were no understudies. If a child could not perform onstage after all that hard training, it would leave an indelible scar on their consciousness," Chen Baihua said. "In the face of such dedication, the least we could do was to take good care of the children," Chen added. The art troupe arranged for more than 20 teachers to care for them and supervise their nutrition.
Among the young dancers is an American girl called Gillian, whose Chinese name is Li Xiaofeng. She is a pupil in class 5, grade 1 of the No. 1 Primary School attached to the Shanghai Normal University. She has been studying dance at the Children's Palace for four years. In the fourth part of the opening ceremony performance, three families of different ethnicities - Asian, Afro-Caribbean and Caucasian - appeared onstage. The three children joined hands, expressing human determination to unite and support one another and face future challenges. Li Xiaofeng played the child of the white family.
"I was very happy to be among Chinese friends, and wanted to study with them. I asked my mom if I could go to a Chinese school, and she agreed," Li Xiaofeng said in fluent Chinese. Although from a wealthy foreign family she rehearsed as diligently and as long as each of her Chinese peers.
'Dancing Has Taught Me Perseverance'
|Young dancers and the president of Little Companion Art Troupe Chen Baihua|
"Dancing has taught me perseverance," is the conclusion all the children in the Little Companion Art Troupe have reached. It is the catch-phrase of Chang Shuai, a Grade 3 student at Shanghai Qibao Senior High School, who was recently enrolled in Harvard University. "I joined the Little Companion Art Troupe to learn dance when I was a first grader, and have kept at it for 12 years," Chang said.
Ding Dishu, a Grade 1 student at Shanghai Shixi Middle School, also joined the Little Companion Art Troupe while in the first grade. She has taken part in performances at the SCO Summit Meeting and the Sino-British Cultural Year. She went to Russia as part of the bid to host the 2010 World Expo, and has also performed in Japan and Spain. Ding was chosen to welcome US President Barack Obama with a bouquet of flowers on behalf of the CWI Children's Palace when he arrived at Pudong International Airport on his state visit last November. The strenuous demands of rehearsals and performances have not affected Ding's excellent academic scores.
"An artistic career needs constant tempering. One has to work hard to make great achievements. Children in our troupe have a demanding rehearsal schedule. They perform at major international events and also at local community activities. As they also have a heavy academic workload they need to maintain a balance between dancing and classroom study, and above all to persevere in both," Chen Baihua explained. The children were nonetheless firing on all pistons at rehearsals for the Shanghai Expo opening ceremony. Some did their homework during breaks between classes, and others during rehearsal breaks or at 11 pm when rehearsals ended.
In addition to perseverance, the children have also learned to help one another and use initiative, and in the process have developed a strong sense of collectivism. Wherever they rehearse, they make sure they leave their dressing rooms tidy and that desks and chairs are in their proper place. The older children act as monitors in the work of distributing bread and fruits and gathering up costumes.
Yao Jing, executive vice-president of the art troupe, feels that all the children in the troupe have a sense of responsibility and consideration for others. She gave one example when the children were rehearsing the background dance to Nessun Dorma. As the Cultural Center was still under construction, the staircase behind the curtain consisted of little more than exposed steel rods. As more than 40 children had to leave, one-by-one, from behind the curtain, some of the older children grasped the steel bars to form a protective wall while others helped the younger ones climb the stairs. The care and responsibility they showed moved their teachers to tears.