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Dancing queen's crowning glory
By Jules Quartly (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-02 09:31

Dancing queen's crowning glory

Wang Yuanyuan faces a new challenge of making contemporary dance a celebrated art form in China.

Wang Yuanyuan sits cross-legged on the floor in her black tracksuit, hair swept back, so focused she appears to be frowning at the dancers rehearsing in front of her. Then she unfolds her legs and moves them into the splits before stretching her arms in an arc above her head.

The Beijing Contemporary Dance Theater choreographer is easily identified as a former ballet dancer by her long, thin limbs and athletic grace. She keeps time and picks up the pace with a clap, swaying to the music as if she were the one dancing.

The rehearsal for her latest work in progress, Haze, appears to be going well. The corps of young dancers prances and tumble on the custom made spring-foam mats. Yuanyuan doesn't say much but you get the feeling that if something was wrong, she would.

A former principal ballerina, choreographer of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony last year and the Hong Kong handover celebrations in 1997, Yuanyuan is one of China's "three queens" of modern dance.

While Jin Xing has a controversial reputation and Gao Yan Jinzi is noted for her re-interpretations of classical Chinese culture, Yuanyuan has positioned herself as an artist who is comfortable with both Eastern and Western approaches, traditional and modern dance forms.

Last year, she co-founded Beijing Contemporary Dance Theater, which is funded by the Beijing Municipal Administration of Culture with the aim of putting modern Chinese culture on the world stage.

Her breakout work Stirred From a Dream debuted in 2007 and the company has scheduled a series of performances for this month, beginning April 8.

The piece is based on Peony Pavilion, a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) classic composed around the same time as William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Like the Bard's tale it tells of forbidden love, between the daughter of an official and a poor scholar.

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