Chinese modern dance is enjoying a renaissance thanks to the energy of choreographers and performers who find in it a feeling of liberty rare in an art form often used as a propaganda tool.
With modern dance, we promote a sense of freedom, of expression and individualism which is still not considered the mainstream in China, Willy Tsao, known as the father of modern Chinese dance, told AFP.
For China s communist rulers, dance has always been a powerful propaganda tool to educate the masses with Red ballets that blend classical and traditional art.
The famous Red Detachment of Women, a ballet from the 1960s about a peasant girl s rise through the ranks of the Communist Party, is still part of the repertoire of the National Ballet of China.
But such revolutionary aesthetics, extremely codified and kitsch, are a world away from the choreography showcased at the second Festival of Contemporary Dance in Beijing, which ended Sunday.
The event was launched by Hong Kong-born Tsao, nearing 50 and today head of three dance companies in China, who hopes to see a new generation emerge to perform for a global audience.
Forty groups came from across China to present their shows, from Harbin in the far northeast neighboring Siberia to southern Guangxi province bordering Vietnam.
Among the new stars taking part, Tao Ye, 23, danced with two of the most famous Chinese companies before stepping out last year to create his own company, Tao Dance Theatre.
There are few opportunities for a dancer in China
My experience as a dancer is not enough for my imagination, I decided I needed a broader space to develop it, he said.
At the festival, held in a small avant-garde theatre in Beijing which was packed every evening, he presented Sketch, which he performed with two other dancers.
The dancers are contorted, play with the lights to the rhythm of a classical piano but with movements like those of the avant-garde Japanese dance form Butoh.
The history of modern dance in China is short. This kind of festival is a very good opportunity for young choreographers like me, but also for people who like modern dance, he said.
In China we don t have so many platforms like this. For us it looks like a gala, a party, it s very interesting.
While US-trained Tsao began teaching at Beijing Dance Academy in the late 1980s, the discipline is still a long way from enjoying the level of support extended to ballet.
There are few opportunities for a dancer in China, said Tao, adding that China has only four major dance companies.
In Europe, in some small countries like Belgium you ve got more than 100 companies. China is so big, it s a pity we only have four companies. So I want to participate in the development (of modern dance).
The authorities have started showing increased interest in more independent modern Chinese dance, and various groups are starting to receive more government funding to tour abroad but Tsao said this should not have a negative impact on the freedom of dancers and choreographers.
We have to be very careful, when negotiating with the government to get any money, because when you take money from people you have to do something for your boss, he said.
I think we want to be our own boss at the moment.