How many dance groups do you know, around the world, that are being traded in the stock market, as a commercial business? Such is the Yang Liping Dance Company Theater, which employs more than 400 people and rolls in $10 million a year with a profit of $2 million. Its main shareholder and chairman of the board is Yang Liping, a highly ambitious woman who serves as the group's choreographer and artistic director, and is now considered one of China's most important dance creators.
Sixty-one-year-old Liping, who was born in a rather remote town north of Yunnan, close to the Erhai Lake, never studied dance but participated in mostly amateur folk dance classes, and then danced in folklore dance groups in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. Her move from the provincial city to the big city of Beijing formed her multidisciplinary language that crosses time, history and boundaries while intertwining folklore, traditional and modern dance.
Liping's works are on an operatic scale - striking all the senses - with all the professionals involved in the productions including stage design artists, lighting, musicians and producers of all kinds. The work is made not only with rare skill and rich imagination but also with the advancement of national ethos. The performances manage to cross an important boundary between a populist show of tourist folklore and an event of sights that remains in your memory.
The mysterious code of music
Vaslav Nijinsky's version of The Rite of Spring celebrates over 100 years and is perhaps the most important choreography of the 20th century. When watching all the versions, there seems to be no 20th-century choreographer who can ignore this piece. Why do you feel the need to create your own version as well?
"The music by Igor Stravinsky is so great and complex that it is a challenge for any choreographer. In my case, the initiative was born out of a collaboration between the London Sadler's Wells Theatre and the Shanghai Arts Festival, who believed I was the right person to interpret this wonderful music. I always thought this music was like a mysterious code that Stravinsky left us and inspired us to interpret."
The Rite of Spring has a variety of versions. Some of the most memorable are: the abstract version by French choreographer Maurice Béjart from 1959; the expressionist version by German choreographer Pina Bausch from 1978; and the sensual version by French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj from 2001. According to Liping, the main inspiration came from the music. "It is the same rhythm breaking that is turning your back to the past, but also a move that not only excludes but is also binding," she explains. "I tried to connect two polar worlds; the West, and the music created specifically for the show and what is influenced by traditional Tibetan culture. The whole show plays with the polarity between Buddhism and the culture of excess, between life and death and humanity, and between the time that moves non-stop, and the cycle of life."
A dance that comes from nature
Liping's work has three parts - an oriental segment with Buddhist and Tibetan touches, music that was specially composed for the first and last parts and a part entirely devoted to Stravinsky's famous work. According to Liping, this was done because, in the original structure, the music did not allow enough time for the sacrifice. "The show begins in heaven, from which beings are sent into humanity - 13 female dancers, a male dancer, and a high priestess, with six sacred words in the background that the characters try to capture and keep to themselves, to be chosen to ascend to heaven and thus be part of the worship."
This time, Liping collaborated with the Academy Award winner Tim Yip (who won the Oscar for Best Art Direction on the set of Ang Lee's movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Yip created the costumes and décor. Beyond the golden ethnic outfits, behind the dancers appears a huge, round installation that changes color according to the music and dance, momentarily turning the stage into a lit paradise, a gloomy hell, or a maternal womb.
You started your dance career at the age of 13. Is there anything that hasn't changed over the years?
"What remains unchanged is my perspective on nature. My dance comes from nature," Liping explains. "As a child, I lived in the village - every day I saw flowers and trees and people who live surrounded by nature. I found that dance exists everywhere, whether it was branches shaking in the wind, flapping bird wings, people playing and chasing each other, or engaging in hunting. I watched, and at one point began to use my body to emulate and express these movements."
The respect that Liping has for nature and her approach to dance that resembles holiness can be seen on stage in every detail - from the first movement to the powerful ticking of a clock, to the mountainous big gold letters which are silently gathered by a monk, symbolizing the passing of time and the seasons.
Yang Liping - The Rite of Spring, July 16-19, 2020. The Israeli Opera, 19 Shaul HaMelech St, Tel Aviv, israel-opera.co.il