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Dancing to her own beat

Chen Nan
Updated: Mar 16,2015 10:18 AM     China Daily

Genesis, a dance work Wang Yabin (center) choreographed in collaboration with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.[Photo/China Daily]

Every year since 2009, dancer-choreographer Wang Yabin, 32, has gathered dancers from around the world to take part in her annual production, Yabin and Her Friends.

It is work that she finds hugely fulfilling and allows her to collaborate with inspirational artists from different places.

In 2014, she invited the former star of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish, to be part of the program. Roxas-Dobrish and Wang choreographed a 60-minute dance work, Dream in Three Episodes. Wang was inspired by the 56-year-old American, who shows no sign of slowing down in the dance floor, and the collaboration prompted her to reflect on what was next in her own life. In addition, it made her ask what a career might look like for a modern, Chinese female independent dancer-choreographer who has to juggle cultural expectations, motherhood and her own artistic ambitions.

Genesis, a dance work Wang Yabin (center) choreographed in collaboration with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.[Photo/China Daily]

With these ideas lingering in her mind, Wang received a letter from Tamara Rojo, a former prize-winning ballerina and now artistic director of the English National Ballet, who invited Wang to be one of three female choreographers of a new female-themed dance project for the 2016 English National Ballet program.

“To get involved in such a program at that point of my life, is it coincidence or destiny? I said ‘yes’ immediately,” Wang tells China Daily.

Titled She Said, the dance work, which will open at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London in April 2016, is a work by Wang and choreographers Aszure Barton from Canada and Colombian-Belgian Annabelle Lopez.

Wang, from Tianjin, started learning traditional Chinese folk dance at the age of 6. She is a graduate of the Beijing Dance Academy and is best known for a dance sequence in Zhang Yimou’s 2004 movie House of Flying Daggers and her performances at CCTV’s Spring Festival galas.

She could have gotten a stable job in a national singing and dancing troupe, but Wang prefers to challenge herself by working independently.

“In the past, Chinese women used to be subordinate to men and just focused on family life. But now, modern Chinese women can be very feminine and as tough as men at the same time. Our roles in society have drastically changed. I want to display the rich inner world of today’s Chinese women to global audiences,” Wang says.

“What’s more, my future motherhood will change my roles as dancer and choreographer,” she says.

For Rojo, 40, who was a principal dancer and was appointed artistic director of English National Ballet in 2012, presenting a program dedicated to female choreography was part of her vision even before she got the job.

She Said is an important moment in English National Ballet’s history. I really believe that we need more women’s voices on the stage,” says Rojo.

In terms of choosing the three artists, Rojo says that she has been following the three female choreographers’ careers for a while. For Wang, Rojo was especially impressed by Genesis, one of the dance productions of Yabin and Her Friends, which saw the cooperation between Wang and renowned Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in 2013.

Wang flew to London to discuss She Said with Rojo in June while she was touring Genesis in nine countries in Europe in 2014. She was surprised to find that all the team members of She Said project will be women, from set and costume designers to music composers.

She also shared her seventh production of Yabin and Her Friends in 2015 with Rojo, which will also be another woman-themed dance work.

Adapted from a Chinese novel written by Bi Feiyu, titled Qing Yi, or Moon Opera, Wang will premier the new work at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing this October. It is about how a female Peking Opera singer lives and struggles between the roles she plays in drama and in real life as well as between the physical and spiritual worlds.

The novel was adapted into a popular Chinese TV series with the same title in 2003, co-starring Chinese actress Xu Fan and late actor Fu Biao.

Wang obtained the authorization to adapt the novel into a modern dance drama after she was introduced to the author because of the role she played in Blind Massage, a TV series adapted from the novel by the same author in 2012.

According to Rojo, the English National Ballet has performed in China in 2012 and will return to the country in April and May this year by presenting repertoires, including Swan Lake and Coppelia, to the Chinese audience at the NCPA, Guangzhou Opera House and the Tianjin Grand Theatre.

“The English National Ballet has developed a very good relationship with their counterparts in China. I also want to bring She Said to Chinese audiences in 2016,” she says.