Tag Archives: China

Beijing Dance / LDTX Studios

A morning at Beijing Dance / LDTX Studios

It’s the first rainy day since my arrival in Beijing. I am met, somewhat sodden, at Dawanglu station by a young Chinese woman named Jade. Clutching our umbrellas, exchange our thoughts about London, the city we’ve both left recently, and Beijing, where we’re both newly living. Jade walks me to the Beijing Dance / LDTX Studio, where rehearsals are just beginning for the day.

Looking up briefly from leading the rehearsal, Willy Tsao smiles and welcomes me with a warm hello before returning his focus to the dozen or so dancers in the room. In Beijing for just a couple of days, Tsao has invited me (at this point, a complete stranger) to watch the group’s morning rehearsal before an early lunch at their studio complex.


Born and raised in Hong Kong, Tsao is a major figure in contemporary dance across China. In addition to his directorial role at the helm of LDTX, he’s the founder and artistic director of Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company, managing director of Guangdong Modern Dance Company, and founder of the Guangdong Dance Festival (November) and Beijing Dance Festival (July). He splits his time between the three cities, leading rehearsals with each company whenever he visits, and joining each company on national and international tours. Tsao has just featured in TimeOut Beijing‘s 10th anniversary edition (October 2014) as one of the ten people who will define the next decade in this rapidly developing city. He’s made a huge impact on the Chinese dance scene already, and shows no sign of slowing down. I certainly agree with TimeOut – Tsao will continue to shape the performing arts scene of contemporary China, within and outside the country.

Seventeen dancers fill the space facing Tsao who sits at the front, one hand beating out a rhythm on a drum as he talks them through their movements. Under his instruction, they stretch lithely, moving with an acute awareness of their bodies. I watch without fully understanding; I understand on a physical level – it’s that Artaudian ‘evidence in the realm of pure flesh’ thing again – but less so on the level of reason. I don’t speak enough Chinese.

Jade, ever more welcoming, brings me a glass of water and sits close beside me to translate. Through her, I hear Tsao’s instructions to his dancers:

“The centre should be your focus, should lead all the movement…”

“…don’t think about poses, reaching to a point in space, but leading from the Tan T’ien.”

“Open up the space around you.”

“Always think about the next step, think about rhythm…”

Tsao’s constant return to the Tan T’ien – the sea of qi or energy centre, in Chinese medicine and martial arts like T’ai Chi – is a major indication of his unique approach to contemporary dance. Tsao’s dancers have trained at a range of different institutions in China and internationally, so have relatively varied backgrounds and levels of experience. Many have trained in contemporary or modern dance, some have a stronger knowledge of ballet. They are all strong, precise, graceful dancers, but he wants them to leave their training behind.

Training has conditioned their bodies, given them the strength and awareness necessary for their careers, but that’s just the base from which Tsao and his dancers work. Tsao trains his dancers to focus on moving from their Tan T’ien, and allow the extraneous details to fall away. He doesn’t expect their movements to be identical – he puts little emphasis on perfection and far more upon impetus. It’s all about movement quality that originates in the Tan T’ien.

However unfamiliar this may seem to a western-trained dancer, this focus on the centre, the body’s core of power and movement, seems to me the most logical step for contemporary dance. What’s important is the essence of the movement and the feeling it generates. The intricacies of movement are not imposed by the choreography but radiate from the individual dancer. Their movement is clean and pure. A breath of fresh air, which is a rarity in smoggy Beijing.

Unlike many other dance companies around the world, Tsao’s companies employ dancers full-time as paid professionals, which enables dancers to maintain full fitness and develop their skills rather than having to supplement their performances with other part-time or short-term jobs. This policy was the only clear option for Tsao – how else could one maintain a professional-level performance group, long term? He is devoted to his dancers, to their talent, to their development.

This devotion to his dancers shines through in the rehearsal. He and the group share a special, almost familial bond. There are several moments in which Tsao shares a joke with one or two of the long-standing company dancers, playfully making light of the mistakes they make or mimicking the faces they pull during exercises. Everyone is in on the joke, everyone is involved – even the one or two young dancers who are here for just a few weeks as trials. He is supportive of them, encouraging and praising their hard work.

Over lunch, Tsao engages me in deep and fascinating conversation. He seems so completely in tune with modern China I can’t help thinking that he’s poised to shape its future. He’s certainly shaping the outside view of contemporary China – touring shows to events and festivals worldwide, he’s giving the world a vivid glimpse of the vitality of contemporary Chinese arts.

After encouraging me to visit again soon, and the promise I’ll be welcome at any and all of the three companies’ future performances, Tsao returns to the centre of his influence – he’s only in Beijing for two days, so rehearsals take priority. The dancer’s unrelenting energy is eclipsed only by Tsao’s zeal for his creations.

Interview: Chinese Times UK

IMG_2139This is an interview I did in July about the Beijing Student Forum 2013, which was published in the Chinese Times, in Chinese of course.

1. Why were you interested in the UK-China forum and Generation UK Campaign?

I was interested in the UK-China Student Forum in May this year because I have a deep-seated curiosity about other cultures and a desire to meet people from different ways of life to my own. I have lived, worked and studied overseas for two of the past five years, during which I relished familiarizing myself with the culture of my host countries. My experiences in the past have inspired and enthused me to broaden my horizons and learn more about the globalised world around me and my place in it.

2. Who were the business leaders and Chinese policy advisors you met on the forum? What was the conversation with them that impressed you most?

When we met Chinese politician Zhang Xiaojing, his discussion of the Chinese economy helped me get greater insight into the economic climate of Beijing. I was deeply interested and hoped to learn more through my own future research.

We also met two British entrepreneurs based in Beijing. Dominic Johnson-Hill established successful t-shirt business Plastered 8, and Joe Oliver runs the company We Impact, which works to make new businesses environmentally sustainable. Through conversations with Joe and Dominic, I got a sense of what it would be like to start a business there and I gained a greater confidence in my future. As a graduate the future is uncertain for me, but, through these inspirational discussions, I gained the confidence to believe that through hard work and a creative approach, many opportunities will arise in future. This was one of the most important lessons I learnt during my week in Beijing.

3. How did you find your Chinese counterparts at the forum? What were the differences would you say between the British young people and them?

One of the most important things I took away from UK-China Student Forum is my relationship with a large and diverse group of students. Not only did we build academic and diplomatic relationships, we all became very good friends before the week was out. The Student Forum itself encouraged discussion and exchange of ideas across two vastly different cultures. Every member of the group, whether Chinese or British (sixteen students in total), had a different experience of education. However it was surprising how similar our thoughts were on the difficulties facing students wanting to pursue international education. Many of the students involved commented on how similar we all were, despite our expectations that we would be so different.

4. Do you have any previous experience about China or Chinese people that you would like to share

The primary misconception that many of the British students held is that Chinese students are wealthy. This notion arises from the view of international students in UK Universities: many overseas students are believed to be very wealthy because they are paying higher tuition fees than home students in the UK. However, I discovered that this notion is wrong in most cases. Chinese students studying abroad are often funded at great expense to their families at home, which places great responsibility on the student not to disappoint the hopes of the family. I think all sixteen of the students present would call for greater funding opportunities for students who want to undertake study abroad, wherever their home institution.

5. Do you plan to apply for or have you applied for scholarship or internship in China under the UK Generation Campaign scheme? If yes, what would you expect your journey in China to be like?

As yet I have not applied for an internship under the Generation UK scheme, but have recently begun enquiring about details of the opportunities available. I certainly plan to apply for such an internship, with the help of British Council China. My experience of British Council China during and since the 2013 Student Forum, reassures me that, whatever opportunity I undertake, I will be supported and well cared for by the British Council throughout any time I spend in China.

6. What would you hope to gain from the study or internship in China, and how it would benefit your future career?

As with any prolonged international experience, I would hope to gain an insight into Chinese culture and lifestyle, meet a diverse range of people and learn some of the local language. I believe that any long-term work I could do in China would help me understand the workings of an increasingly globalised world and make me a strong competitor for any international career.

7. How do UK young people view the emerging markets such as China?

From my experience, the majority of young people in the UK are uninformed about China and other emerging markets. Young Britons are primarily aware of China’s economic strengths, but few are aware of the opportunities that abound in China. In my view, work and study placements in China could be the ideal chance for young people to enter the international job market.

8. What would you suggest China to improve in order to attract more talented young people to come for study or work?

I would suggest that more partnerships are organised between UK universities and Chinese institutions offering study or work placements. Study and work placements would benefit from the greater promotion and advertisement such a partnership scheme would bring.

The opportunities available could be more successful in attracting young people by offering financial support of some kind. This may come in the form of supplying accommodation or waiving tuition fees, or providing support with medical insurance, visa fees and other living costs during studentships and internships.

9. UK and China both see increasing unemployment in recent years. Does it worry you and what would you expect the government to do to solve the problem, especially for college graduates and young people?

As a graduand my future is uncertain. I am one of many UK students looking overseas for work, internships or study opportunities as an alternative to finding work in a difficult job market in my home country. I believe that searching for work and study opportunities overseas could solve the problem of unemployment, both on a small and larger scale. As individual citizens, we should not restrict ourselves to working and studying in only our home nation, as we are highly likely to gain a broader range of skills and experiences by working or studying overseas. I believe that governments should encourage work and study partnership opportunities, to enable the international exchange of skills and knowledge.

British Council Student Forum 2013

At the university lake!When I set off from London on my way to the 2013 Student Forum in Beijing I didn’t know what to expect. I had a Chinese visa in my passport and a few pages of information about the itinerary of the week; it all seemed very formal and businesslike, and I wasn’t sure I even owned the right clothing for this type of event! Nonetheless, I left the UK with an open mind, hoping I’d meet some like-minded students, and by the time we left the airport in Beijing, all eight of the British students had begun to get along. Despite the jetlag, we managed to have a wonderful afternoon sightseeing in Beijing with Rob and Adon, who were determined to keep us awake! Looking out over the Forbidden City, through the smog, I felt very intrigued by Beijing and all it’s intricacies, and really wanted to learn more about the city. Our evening meal with Jazreel was the first taste of genuine Chinese food I had ever had, and gave me a wonderful first impression of delicious Chinese cuisine. Jazreel welcomed us warmly to Beijing and made me feel very comfortable; any lingering anxiety was replaced by my excitement about meeting the Chinese students and working together with the group for the rest of the week.

The Student Forum was really successful in putting British and Chinese students in dialogue with one another. The eight students from each country came together in a situation that facilitated discussion and exchange, while enabling a strong friendship to build in the group as a whole. A scavenger hunt in the Hutongs of Beijing on our first day together got us working in our teams and helped us get to know one another. I feel I learnt a lot about China and Chinese culture that morning, constantly asking questions of my peers and answering their questions in turn. That evening, after working on our presentations, the whole group went to Tiananmen Square to watch the flag being lowered. The crowds of Chinese people there astounded me. Only then did I realise the vast size of China; scores of Chinese tourists from all over the country must come to Beijing everyday to see this spectacle. Eating Jajang noodles together in a small restaurant and walking around the area, the group was very amiable and curious to get to know one another. Opportunities for sightseeing and socialising with our Chinese counterparts throughout the week, accumulating in a trip to the Great Wall, was one of the most important things about the experience. I came away from the week with a strong relationship with a large and diverse group of students. Not only did we build academic and diplomatic relationships, we all became very good friends before the week was out.

The Student Forum itself was held at Peking University on Tuesday 7th May, our seconds day in Beijing. In three groups, we presented our ideas about International education; the use of technology in education; and the future of education. This encouraged discussion and exchange of ideas across two vastly different cultures. Every group member had a different experience of education. However it was surprising how similar our thoughts were on the difficulties facing students wanting to pursue international education. We came up with various innovative ways of solving the problems we put forward, which I hope will help the British Council’s work in international education. For example, one of the major challenges to a student hoping to study overseas is a lack of financial support. In the UK, student loans often do not cover a year abroad, and in China, students must rely on their parents to pay the high international fees. We suggested that university institutions could provide information to students about alternative funding opportunities, such as corporate sponsorship or support from educational charities. This might encourage a greater number of students to undertake international study, a valuable part of education. Our education has a big influence over our future, and I believe a global outlook and international perspective is one of the greatest skills a graduate can possess.

On day three, we met a Chinese economist and two British entrepreneurs who have established businesses in Beijing. I got a greater insight into the economic climate of Beijing and a sense of what it would be like to start a business there. For me, the highlight of the fourth day was the evening reception, where I met British people living and working in Beijing, and Chinese people who have studied or worked in the UK in the past. I spoke about my experiences, impressions and highlights of the week. This event allowed us to reflect on the benefits of our experiences and to network with and gain contacts among those people present. Over these two days I gained a greater confidence in my future. Though the future is increasingly uncertain and job prospects are unsure, I gained the confidence to rely on the unexpected opportunities life presents. The British Council say that, “to keep the UK competitive our brightest and best people need to leave the country.” My week in Beijing with the British Council has confirmed my desire to live, study and work overseas in future.