snow and health

It snowed on Sunday in Beijing. A lot. Some have said it was because scientists seeded the clouds. What would happen if they seeded choreographers or — why not — the public? Would there be a mass of dancing in the street? There already is movement in Beijing. The flow and disruption of traffic, yes, but I’m also thinking of the couple of women I saw dancing in the so-called Long Corridor or open gallery at the Temple of Heaven. Or the three middle-aged women (again) who were practicing with shiny curved faux swords today in Jingshan, a gem of a park (once you get away from the tour groups clogging the entrance) just behind the Forbidden City. I have seen men moving. Older men, too. One had his leg fully stretched — ouch! but impressively so — against a round pillar in the Long Corridor. Elsewhere another, less limber gentleman was repeatedly executing a little kick movement on a path. Exercise? Maybe. But you could also regard it as this man’s dance on that particular day.

Apparently Joanthan’s dancers refer to themselves as Iron Men. They think their tough, and I’m sure they are. But everyone has aches and pains. So, a few dancers from within the whole group have been hurt or are ill. One of them told me there’s a clinic at the BDA, but the joke is that anyone who goes there leaves it sicker than when they walked in. No comment. But I’m curious how China’s health care system works, and how much dancers are taught about injury prevention and what treatments are on offer.

On Sunday there was a press briefing in the glass studio behind the main studio building at BDA. It was cold in there, enough to make me feel sorry for the dancers who were visible as they tried warming up behind the production shots of each dance that had been blown up to banner size. The snow had been falling since late the previous night, and it kept falling through many speeches and comments. Several of the Chinese said the weather boded well for Danscross. Maybe the season’s first snowfall (and on November 1, too) can be especially transformative. There were some lofty-sounding comments, like that of Danscfross choreographer Zhao Ming. ‘The deepest meaning of this project,’ he said, ‘is that it’s an opportunity for the rest of the world to find itself in China, and China to find itself in the rest of the world.’ Following on from that, but on a more practical level, an unidentified (to me, at any rate) guest asked if there would indeed be any possibility for Dancross to be seen elsewhere outside of China. Apparently there will indeed be a chance next autumn at the Linbury Studio Theatre in Covent Garden. Good. More would be nice, either in the UK or elsewhere.

I’ve not met them all, but I know that some members of the BDA Dance Company are famous. One is Wang Yabin, who has another career as an actress on a TV soap opera. She told me she’s quite happy if her television fan-base is also lured into the theatre to see her dance. Another is Liu Yan, an award-winning dancer who now uses a wheelchair following an accident while she was rehearsing for the Beijing Olympic Games. I believe she is now commonly referred to as ’an Olympic hero.’ At the press briefing she spoke about the significance of Danscross for her. She is dancing in Zhang Yungfeng’s The brightest light in the darkest night. (I’ve not seen a bit of it.) The piece is the first she’s been a part of since the accident. It was moving and, yes, inspiring to hear her speak of re-entering the studio ‘and not wanting to look in the mirror. Now, after my injury, I’ve become much more aware of all the people involved in putting on a dance performance. They’re the foundation upon which it’s built.’ I didn’t go, but that evening members of the Danscross project were filmed before what was described to me as rent-a-crown audience of dance students for a Chinese talk show. A keyboard player was on hand to provide mood music: if the host said something amusing his quip was capped by a tinkling bit of music; similarly, when Liu Yan talked about herself pre- and post-accident (complete with clips of her dancing with full use of her body, and of the ambulance rushing her to the hospital) the instrumentalist laid on sentimental sounds. Again, I wasn’t there, but was this publicity or exploitation? However it’s viewed, in the bigger picture this TV event was perhaps as much a part of the Danscross process as anything else. At BDA that morning Liu Yan had said that gradually, working on Zhang Yungfeng’s dance, the joy had seeped back into her dancing. It’ll do that sometimes.

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