Dancing to a different tune

By Shi Yingying (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-30 07:57
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Dancing to a different tune

Experimental dancer Li Ke tells Shi Yingying about the ups and downs of her unconventional style.

The rebellious Li Ke, with her slender body, buzz cut, Bambi-like eyes and symbolic tattoo that stretches along her spine, is far from a conventional dancer.

The 31-year-old performer, who started dancing when she was just six and is trained in folk and modern dance, has recently set out to create her own experimental style of dance. Catching the attention of pavilions at the Expo 2010 Shanghai, she's helped create performances for pavilions that want to feature innovative and provocative performances.

"Painters use their brushes to create pictures and musicians use their instruments to express their emotions. For me, my body is the only way to send out a message," said Li. "It doesn't matter if its traditional or contemporary dance, they're just different mediums for my body to convey a message."

Born in Yunnan, Li first met her dance teacher when her mother brought her along to pick up her older sister from dance class. Li became an independent dancer who would go on to collaborate with esteemed artists from around the world.

The only time she gave up dance was during her rebellious phase before going to university.

"I gained 11 kilograms during the six months when I quit dance. I was just so sick of folk dancing - a style of dance where one has to dance in an exact way," she said.

But it only took Li six months to find a new style of dance while at university - modern dance.

"It was only natural for me to return to dance and it wasn't so I could stay fit," said Li. "It's more like when you wake up in the morning and need to wash your face and brush your teeth - I need dance."

After she realized the mysteriousness of modern dance still had limitations for dancers, Li began working to create new styles that she refers to as "conceptual work" and "environmental theater".

Human Animal, Li's experimental work that was showcased in the UK Pavilion earlier in July featured performers from Edinburgh's Janis Claxton Dance.

"Eight dancers were locked in a cage and behaved like animals. Though it sounds interesting, there was lots of work for the dancers and choreographer," said Li.

She said that when the performers acted as animals the reaction from the audience was interesting to watch. "It became a 'who's watching who' experiment," she said.

From the UK Pavilion's Human Animal to the Ireland Pavilion's modern dance performance Dialogue, where Li collaborated with Irish artist Fearghus O'Conchuir, her influence on performances in the Expo Garden will continue until September when she performs in a play at the Germany Pavilion.

"As a representative of a new generation of dancers, I work often with foreign artists," she said. "It's because of my openness that it's very easy for us to collaborate."

On the current situation of China's contemporary dance, Li said she worries about its future. "Most of my works can't be shown in my home country due to the sensitive subjects they encompass," she said. "I think it's pathetic that the art someone creates is not supported by their homeland. I can only perform overseas."

(China Daily 07/30/2010 page37)


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