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Until recently, Beijing’s TAO Dance Theater was a modern dance company that won kudos abroad but was largely overlooked at home.
That’s going to change with this weekend’s performance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing when TAO Dance Theater performs for the first time in a mainstream theater in mainland China.
The appearance is part of 12 days of “Chinese Dance Masterpieces” at the NCPA that will also include performances by the Beijing Modern Dance Company, Zhang Xiaoxiong’s Modern Dance, the Xin Art Lab and the Hong Kong Dance Company.
The high-profile program shows growing interest in modern dance in China. TAO Dance Theater had previously only performed in smaller venues in China, such as the Beijing Oriental Pioneer Theater, which specializes in avant-garde performances and seats only 320 people.
For Tao Ye, the company’s founder and principal dancer, the performances on Saturday and Sunday will be the first time his abstract dances titled simply “2” and “4” will be seen in China.
Mr. Tao said he isn’t certain the dances — performed by androgynous performers with shaved heads — will be received enthusiastically. After a New York performance last year,the New York Times said the group’s performances had “theatrical force and authority,” although some audience members walked out before the performance was over.
“I don’t think I can get excited,” about the audience reaction in Beijing, Mr. Tao said through an interpreter. “But it might not be too bad either. It’s an undefined anticipation.”
Mr. Tao, 27 years old, graduated from the Chongqing Dance School and started his dance career with the Shanghai Army Song & Dance Ensemble in 2001. He founded his own company in 2008, when he was 22.
The fact that the NCPA has decided to host a production from this seven-dancer, all-Chinese company represents a change in thinking about modern dance, said producer and manager Alison Friedman of Ping Pong Productions.
“In China, modern dance is a dirty word” for many, she said.
Chinese audiences tend to prefer traditional Chinese folk dances and classical ballet to more experimental works. Modern dance only started growing in popularity in the late 1980s after an American dance festival launched a modern-dance training program in Guangzhou.
Before making its return to mainland China, TAO Dance Theater performed in more than 20 countries, selling out two performances as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in New York and drawing standing ovations in Amsterdam, Ms. Friedman said. The company has also performed at the Sydney Opera House, and has performances scheduled for Canada, Israel, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
In Asia, TAO Dance Theater has performed at the Singapore Arts Festival and the Busan International Dance Festival in South Korea, and the troupe has been invited to perform in Taipei in March 2014.
The company’s success outside China is part of the irony, said Ms. Friedman, who will give a pre-performance talk at the NCPA on Saturday.
“There’s a Chinese saying, ‘Qiang nei kai hua qiang wai xiang,’ which means a flower that blooms inside the walls is only fragrant – or recognized – outside the wall.”