Category Archives: Dance

Closer Look: Jin Xing, China’s first transgender woman


I was born in China. It is in China I must be reborn as a woman.

Jin Xing was the first transgender person to undergo sex reassignment surgery in China with government approval, and the first whose sex change was officially recognized by the Chinese government.

As a boy, Jin had an affinity for dancing and soon became a ballet dancer. At nine, Jin began performing in a prestigious troupe that was part of the People’s Liberation Army – ballet has long been considered a valuable propaganda tool – and serving as a soldier. By the age of 17 Jin was the number one male dancer in China, and had risen through the ranks to become a sergeant.

At the age of 19, she started set off to start from scratch as a dancer in New York. Jin, a major celebrity in China, was nobody in New York in the nineties. But that didn’t stop her. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Jose Limon. News of her successes in New York reached Beijing, and she was promoted to colonel even though she was not serving. Her career took her to Rome, where she learned Italian, and she toured Europe before deciding that sex reassignment was the right thing for her.

Jin Xing training as a PLA solder, age 9 | image from hollywoodreporter

When I was six years old, I thought I should be a woman. I myself knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what was wrong or what was mistaken.


Jin Xing in New York in the 1990s | image from hollywoodreporter

During her years in New York, Jin began to explore gender and sexuality. She considered the possibility she was homosexual. But at that time, homosexuality was still illegal in China, and considered a mental disorder. Similarly, very few Chinese people had undergone any kind of sex reassignment and none had been recognised by the state. This was a new idea to Jin, but America had opened her eyes to new things:

I discovered words — transsexual, transgender. I said, ‘OK, I belong to that small island.’ Then I started researching.

Jin underwent three surgeries in 1995, aged 28. She emerged from the last surgery, which lasted 16 hours, to tell her father: “Your son has become your daughter.” In reply, he told Jin: “Twenty years ago, I looked at you and wondered, I have a son but he looks like a girl. So 28 years later, you’ve found yourself. Congratulations.”

Since her sex change, Jin has started a dance company in Shanghai, adopted three children, married, and begun presenting her own hugely popular television talk show, The Jin Xing Show, on the basis which she had gained the nickname “Poison Tongue”. She’s often billed as the Chinese Oprah. But she is so much more than that.

With her celebrity status, Jin Xing has brought attention to LGBTQ+ issues and the difficulties faced by the LGBTQ+ community, who struggle against social stigma and legal discrimination. She is loved as a beacon of hope by young people across China.

I don’t want to change the world… I just want to be myself.

Read on

Meet the Oprah of China, Who Happens to Be Transgender, THR

Jin Xing: China’s sex-change pioneer, CNN

Behind the Spotlights of Transgender China, Whats On Weibo

The Chinese New Year: Nutcracker, China style

National Ballet of China’s The Chinese New Year, a Chinese adaptation of the Christmas classic The Nutcracker, is without a doubt the most extravagant celebration of the national holiday that anyone could hope for. Using the original Tchaikovsky score, this version was choreographed in 2010.


One wonders how Petipa and Tchaikovsky would feel about The Dance of the Toffee Hawthorns or the Peg-Top, among others, but overall The Chinese New Year is an admirable ode to both a western ballet classic and to Chinese culture. Mostly, it is a fun way to spend a cold evening in the run up to Spring Festival.


N.B. This is just a 100 word extract from a longer review published by Bachtrack. Please click here to read the full review in English.

Please click on the images to enlarge. All images © Shi Ren


National Ballet of China: Preserving the Romance of Giselle (Chinese translation)

Unlike some contemporary Giselle being performed in the West, National Ballet of China’s version harks back to the delicacy and romance of the 1841 original. The choreography performed at Beijing’s NCPA last Friday was strikingly beautiful, wonderfully capturing the profound emotion of the piece.

© Shi Ren

This performance resonated profoundly; National Ballet of China set the bar extremely high with their Giselle. Feng Ying’s adapted choreography preserves the beauty of the original while adding revealing touches of humour and emotion to several of the characters’ relationships. The overall performance was incredibly touching, technically impressive and incredibly memorable.

N.B. This is just a 100 word extract from a longer review published by Bachtrack, followed by the full review in Chinese. Please click here to read the full review in English.




王启敏扮演的吉赛尔生动而甜美。在马晓东扮演的阿尔伯特身边,她闪闪发光,引人注目——他们组成了非常俏皮的一对儿。 在双人舞中,女孩儿敏捷而细腻,同样地,男孩儿以有力的支持和轻盈的脚步回应爱人。很多编舞的细节允许他们有足够的空间进行丰富的情感交流,但并不拖延故事的节奏。

© Shi Ren





© Shi Ren





Translated by: Kejia Peng and Xian Huang

Header image: © Shi Ren

Evolution: A dance where nobody’s watching

Dance is one of the major loves of my life. It is my therapy. It gives me focus and energy. It calms me down. It is always there when I need it. I can find the soothing power of movement within me wherever I have a little free space and time.

Thus I have long wanted to make a contribution to the dance scene in my local area. Living in London for 10 months in 2013-14, I wrote about dance week in, week out. I lived and breathed dance. But I lived and breathed dance vicariously. Yes, I watched wonderful live performances by some of the world’s major contemporary dance and ballet companies, I read articles, I wrote reviews, I met other writers and I met practitioners. But I did not dance. That’s where I was going wrong.

Beijing’s dance scene has taken me a while to get my teeth into. I spent months searching high and low for anything and everything beyond the National Ballet of China performances at the NCPA. I wanted to keep writing about dance but I needed to get involved, physically.

My first encounter was a little before my birthday last year. On the last Sunday of November and the first Sunday of December a pair of Contact Improvisation (CI) workshops, run by Irene Sposetti and facilitated by Beijing CI, took place at LDTX studios. It was something like 10 hours of dancing plus a live music jam session on the final evening. It utterly exhausted me. But there’s a reason it was my only birthday present from me – I needed it more than I ever had. It had a profound effect on my wellbeing.

The Beijing CI group run weekly Sunday night workshops in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, (6.30-8pm) followed by a free-form jam (8-9.30pm). I see it as a chance to get in touch with my body and focus on the connections between my inner and outer selves while I build relationships with dancers around me. Returning to CI workshops after a long dancing hiatus has flooded my soul with relief.

Most recently, though, I have become involved with Pojie Arts, a Beijing-based organisation that runs transformative and therapeutic dance workshops for people with disabilities. Introduced to Pojie’s co-founders by a mutual contact, we gathered in October to work together towards an event to be held early in December.

I’ve now worked with Pojie participants, founders and volunteers on three occasions. It has been the easiest imaginable creation process – the participants are energetic, intriguing movers while the Pojie facilitators are brimming with fantastic ideas. Needless to say, I am incredibly excited by this project, and so happy to know that our event will raise money to enable Pojie to continue their brilliant work. So, without further ado:


Evolution: a dance where nobody’s watching

Ever wanted to dance like nobody’s watching?

Transmigrant Flow has teamed up with Pojie Arts to hold a night of dance and merry-making. Pojie Arts runs transformative and therapeutic dance workshops for children and young people with disabilities. 

The night will showcase video and photos taken by Michelle Proskell, a participatory dance performance by Pojie’s volunteers and dancers, and a free-flowing, no lights dance party we’re calling Dance in the Dark. 

All proceeds will go toward enabling Pojie Arts to continue providing their beneficial workshops for free.

8pm Thurs December 10th 2015 at Modernista, 44 Baochao Hutong, Beijing

Tickets: 50rmb (on the door)

Please contact me for more information about the event.


Check out Beijing’s Contact Improvisation group  on Facebook

CI Workshops and classes take place at Capoeria Mandinga Beijing, a ten minute walk from Chaoyangmen Subway station  (exit A).

Room 801, JiQingLi Community (Above UBC Coffee), Northwest corner of Chaowai North Street and JiShiKou East Road.





Beijing Dance / LDTX premiere Yang Wei’s evocative Earth / Quake

Beijing Dance / LTDX premiered Earth / Quake, a contemporary dance work by well-known traditional Chinese choreographer Yang Wei at the People’s Liberation Army Theater last week to a noticeably mixed and highly enthusiastic crowd of foreigners and locals alike. This is the first time Yang has done a modern dance piece, announced good-humoured Artistic Director Willy Tsao before the show, ‘so even if you do not like it, you can appreciate the effort that she put into this trial’. The Beijing Dance / LDTX dancers could not have disappointed their audience had they tried.

© Yin Peng
© Yin Peng

Watching a piece by an Army choreographer is a pretty special experience. For Yang’s very first venture into the world of contemporary dance, she created a piece that explores the depths of imagination and fantasy. Countless metal chairs and a white bathtub hung from the ceiling above the dancers – the literal suspension of day-to-day reality. Jemmy Zhang’s costumes pushed the bounds of contemporary dance costuming with oversized formal wear hanging off the dancers in swathes at odd angles – Tang Ting Ting wore a  jacket as a skirt. She climbed into it, one leg and one arm in the two sleeves, and played with the range (or restriction) of movement this allowed.

The piece ultimately centred around a romance between the dreamer (Adiya) and a veiled beauty (Gong Xing Xing), who seemed to be protected by a horde of strangely clad beastly creatures.

Gong trailed lengths of white gauzy fabric everywhere she went, looking like the dreamer’s ultimate damsel in distress. Adiya darted about, hopelessly in love and helplessly unable to make any progress with her.

This post is a combination of 100 words from a longer review and additional thoughts thereafter. The official review was published by Bachtrack on 6th November 2015. Please click here to read the full review.

Homecoming: Tao Dance Theatre’s first show at Beijing’s NCPA

Tao Dance Theatre left their Beijing audience dumbfounded last Thursday evening with a performance of weight x 3 and 2 at the NCPA. Tao Dance Theatre quickly became internationally famous, but it took a little time before they gained recognition in China. So it is a big deal for Tao to be performing in China. Plus this is their first run at Beijing’s biggest venue.

Choreographer, Tao and his wife, Duan in '2' © Wang Xiaojing
Choreographer, Tao Ye and his wife, Duan Ni in ‘2’ © Wang Xiaojing

The expertly trained, fit Tao dancers have awesome stamina and astonishing athletic control. Each displayed brilliant flow within a rigid frame of quick rhythm and footwork. Duan Ni is particularly malleable, her lithe body twisting (seemingly comfortably) into unearthly shapes. She is outright inspirational.

2 opens in stillness – Duan Ni and Tao Ye (artistic director) lie spread eagle, face down on the ice-cap white floor, which looks lit from beneath. After a few minutes of stillness, the sound of white noise fades out and the audience get restless. A few people titter in nervous laughter, unsure of what to expect.

Then begin random fits of movement, appearing entirely uncontrolled. The randomness of broken toys. Tao’s hips rise. Duan’s arm flops over her back. One foot hooks across a bent leg, pulling it straight. Duan looks jointless. They stay low and grounded, leading with their hips and core and allowing the spine, shoulders and the limbs to catch up with the impulse, a ripple effect moving through the entire skeleton. Their movement rarely seems muscular, everything is propelled from the centre and remains effortless.

The pair (who got married recently, having got engaged on stage in New York together last year) can predict one another’s movements to the split-second. This is visibly more than simply being well-rehearsed. They know in their bones exactly what the other is doing, they are intimately aware of one another at every turn.

Tao and Duan in '2' &copy: Wang Xiaojing
Tao Ye and Duan Ni in ‘2’ © Wang Xiaojing

2 is far longer than your average contemporary dance piece. Plus, with only two dancers on stage that whole time, it begs intense concentration from the audience as well as the two dancers. There is little change of lighting, nothing to look at on stage but the brightly lit floor and two bodies, which spend much of the piece in stillness. The stretches of silence, particularly during the opening, might confuse even the most familiar audience member. This audience had likely never seen anything like Tao Dance Theatre before. I worried whether they would “get” the piece, but they exploded in applause – once they were sure the piece was over that is… there were several minutes during which

This is the second time I have seen Tao Dance Theatre in the flesh. (I was lucky enough to see the company perform at Sadler’s Wells, London, in June 2014. Read my review of Tao Dance Theatre’s 4 and 5 here. That was just weeks before I moved to China. Seeing Tao’s and got me all fired up about performing arts in China, and I that was where I just so happened to meet the woman who would put me in touch with Willy Tsao, Artistic Director of four contemporary dance companies based in Hong Kong and mainland China. Read more about Tsao and his company Beijing Dance / LDTX here.

N.B. This post is a combination of 100 words from a longer review and additional thoughts thereafter. I watched the show on October 29th, and the full review was published on 31st October 2015 by Bachtrack. Please click here to read the full review.

Highs and lows: San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Caprice’ programme

On the second night of San Francisco Ballet’s second visit to Beijing, the American ballet company treated their Chinese audience to a varied programme in four parts. Tomasson’s own Caprice opened the event, followed by Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush and Hans van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples, finally closing the evening with George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.

Tan Yuan Yuan and Luke Ingham in Tomasson’s ‘Caprice’ © Erik Tomasson

As Tomasson clearly expected, given his statement in the press release announcing this year’s China tour, the Chinese audiences were very enthusiastic for the show, being particularly excitable at every glimpse of Tan Yuan Yuan (Tan = family name), a Shanghainese ballerina who has been dancing with San Francisco Ballet for 20 years, since she was 18. Her return to the stage in China (the company first toured China in 2009) brought enthusiastic Beijingers out in hordes every night the company were in town.

Lauren Strongin, Hansuke Yamamoto, Koto Ishihara and Joseph Walsh in Wheeldon’s ‘Rush’ © Erik Tomasson

The fun and energy of Wheeldon’s Rush reminded of playground games as seven pairs in bright, colourful costumes rushed about the stage. (“British Bulldog?” I scribbled in the dark as this theme recurred.) The male dancers lined up along one edge of the stage, the ballerinas on the other, and they ran full pelt for their partner, crashing into minute duets in the middle before they lined up in preparation once again.

I adored Hans van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples, it’s quirky playfulness really struck a chord with me. The wacky colourful costumes looked wonderful on the two couples: Wan Ting Zhao and Tiit Helimets; Sofiane Sylve with Luke Ingham. Van Manen’s choreography established an interesting dynamic between the two pairs: where Zhao and Helimets were off-kilter and humorous, Sylve and Ingham were slower and more serious. It was almost like imagining a double date in dance form, each couple competing slightly with the other, while each partner pushed to impress their significant other.

The company closed the night with George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. I found this a pretty odd choice, placing a fairly static tutu ballet after the success of the two energetic ballets in the middle of the evening. That said, all four were neoclassical pieces, complementing one another reasonably well. (Despite it being the evening’s titular piece, I did not think much of Tomasson’s Caprice. It was a very nice piece but it did not excite me.) I am sure some audience members got more from the Balanchine and Tomasson pieces than I did – there was something for everyone in this programme.

The Beijing audience went wild for San Francisco Ballet, though I suspect many would have liked to see more of Tan Yuan Yuan – she featured only in Caprice – though I am pretty sure she was in need of some rest, having danced an entire night named in honour of her 20th Anniversary with San Francisco Ballet on 21st and with performances as Giselle on the two following nights to prepare for. I would certainly like to see more of San Francisco Ballet in the future, whether on a return trip to China, or at home in California.

N.B. This post is a combination 100 words from a longer review and additional thoughts about the October 22nd show thereafter. The review was published on 27th October 2015 by Bachtrack. Please click here to read the full review.