Vail dance: Portrait of a choreographer
Vail, CO Colorado
Beijing Dance/LDTX’s artist in residence, Sang Jijia, uses painting to work out choreography before collaborating with the dancers. For Jijia, painting is another way to dance.
“It can help me carry out something that is impossible to be finished by the human body,” Jijia says.
Both brush strokes and body movements invoke the feeling of touch and contain the Qi (pronounced chee), Jijia says, the circulating life energy that in Chinese philosophy is thought to be inherent in all things. Even though painting can bring him unexpected inspiration to create dance, it will not give him the actual steps to choreograph, Jijia says. For this he needs to start the rehearsal process, to watch the dancers, feel their bodies and the different temperaments of every individual dancers.
“To choreograph movement or rhythm, I have to deal with my dancers,” Jijia says. “Seeing them, I will know in what ways and what kind of actions I should explore and complete the work.”
Beijing Dance/LDTX, an acronym for Lei Dong Tian Xia, literally translated as “thunder rumbles under heaven,” is a contemporary dance troupe. Themes are edgy, and at times, comment on political and social situations in China. But unlike most dance companies, Beijing Dance isn’t the product of just one choreographer’s vision.
Almost all of the 13 dancers who form the troupe – including primary choreographers Deputy Artistic Director Li Hanzhong and Resident Artist Jijia – are involved in the choreography process. The company allows freedom for the dancer and the choreographer to do their own work without predetermined themes and goals. The dancers and choreographers turn out something of their own personal value, free and independent of the company, yet using the company resources.
“We don’t have a company style,” says Willy Tsao, the troupe’s founder and artistic director. “I see my company as a vehicle or a platform for the artist to do their own expression. We want each individual to sound their own voice, to express their own ways of using the body.”
Some dancers are interested in telling a story with the body. Others are interested in the relationship with movement, and some dancers, Tsao says, just want to explore their emotions through dance.
“It’s all OK,” he says. “We want them to go their own separate ways and offer as much variety to the audience.”
Vail International Dance Festival Director Damian Woetzel would describe the troupe’s style as brave.
“They are pioneers of dance in China, and they know no fear,” Woetzel says. “LDTX tries everything, there are no apparent rules. They are bold and brave dancers who have created a place for their art form in their country.”
Wednesday marks the world premier of LDTX’s “Solitude in Numbers.” Choreographed by Jijia, the piece explores the theme of loneliness – a feeling Jijia knows quite well.
An ethnic Tibetan born in Gansu, Jijia left his original home at the age of 13 when instructors plucked him from Gansu Province to study folk dance at Minzu University, a school for ethnic minorities in Beijing. He spoke no Chinese.
“Loneliness has always accompanied me,” Jijia says. “I suspect this is because I left my hometown and my parents when I was young and have drifted from place to place since then.”
“Solitude in Numbers” goes beyond the notion of traditional loneliness and brings to light an epidemic of loneliness Jijia says is unfolding all across the world. Despite the growing population and the close-quarters living experienced in urban areas, authentic relationships are hard to find.
“In my work, I am concerned with loneliness and the challenge to engage in genuine dialogue with others,” he says. “It is sad. Every day we seem to talk a huge amount, but few of us are willing to truly understand others and few of us would like to open our hearts for an equal dialogue. Sometimes we just speak nonsense.”
Loneliness is a heavy and worthy theme to tackle, but Jijia is not aiming to inspire cultural shifts or change, that sort of purpose is “too big for me,” he says.
“For me, the most exciting part of dance is that it provides me the opportunity to explore the possibilities of human, both physical and mental,” he says. “Hopefully, that, in itself, will inspire.”
There is no escaping the irony that LDTX’s choreographer and artist in residence is from Tibet. Woetzel says it’s a testament of the arts to transcend boundaries and to inspire peace.
“Sang Jijia’s career is a statement on the power of arts to make boundaries irrelevant,” Woetzel says. “He is a brilliant choreographer and dancer who now works around the world, and it’s a thrill to welcome him to Vail to give us a world premiere dance.”
Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail.