Staging a comeback

By Lei Lei (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-26 09:18
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Staging a comeback
Coca-Cola has selected Liu Yan as torchbearer for the
2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games last December. Jiang Dong

Former prima ballerina Liu Yan was paralyzed while preparing for her solo performance at the Olympics Opening Ceremony. She is now, once more, in the limelight. Lei Lei reports

Liu Yan was scheduled to perform the solo dance, Silk Road, for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, but was instead lying paralyzed in hospital.

Two weeks before the performance, at the National Stadium in Beijing, the 27 year old made a leap onto a malfunctioning moving stage and fell down a steel shaft that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

But that nightmare did not mark the end of her association with the Olympics. Last month, Coca-Cola selected her as torchbearer for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

"Missing the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was an accident and being selected as a torchbearer for the 2010 Winter Games is a surprise," Liu said, as she carried the Olympic flame for 400m in Montreal, on Dec 10.

"I'm very happy to be linked with the Olympics again. After the accident, I feel both dancing and sports are important to my future life."

Considered China's leading classical dancer, she was invited to be the only solo performer at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony.

She landed on her back in the tragic accident and was rushed to hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery for six hours.

They found that Liu's vertebra was severely injured and she was unlikely to walk or dance again.

Recalling that moment, Liu admits it was very hard to accept.

Staging a comeback

Liu Yan was one of China's leading dancers before she was paralyzed in an accident in preparing for the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. Shao Xing

"At first I didn't realize the injury was so severe until I read some mobile phone messages my friends sent me," Liu says. "They all said something like 'we will all be with you' and 'we will support you forever'. Only then did I realize that something had gone terribly wrong.

"When I got to know the truth, I couldn't accept those honest words, and instead sought encouragement like 'you will stand and even dance again'."

Standing up again was Liu's only goal at that time.

"The biggest disappointment for me is that my doctors have given up hope," Liu said during an interview a year ago. "They think I will stay in a wheelchair for life, but I'll never give up. I'm still hopeful."

But doctors say the chance of such a breakthrough is slim since the nerves that connect her vertebrae are severely damaged.

She has now learned to accept the reality, but refuses to surrender to it.

"When I realized I couldn't escape this reality [of being wheelchair bound], I decided to face it and shoulder it," Liu says on her blog at Sina.com.

"Although I'm still working and dancing, it is really different."

Liu first started dancing at the age of 9, and at 18, enrolled at Beijing Dance Academy, earning praise for her sensitive interpretations of classical Chinese dance-dramas. At 23, she took the nation's top dance honor, the Lotus prize, for an original dance, depicting the life of a girl who loses her true love in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

All this meant she was the top choice as solo dancer at the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

"Liu is a perfect dancer. July 27, 2008 (the day Liu fell) was not fair to her," says renowned choreographer Zhang Jigang and vice-director of the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony. "Liu will always be the solo dancer of the Opening Ceremony in our hearts."

"She was the most talented dancer," Zhao Ming, one of China's leading the choreographers, says of Liu. "She had the perfect waist and the most flexible legs."

After months of rehabilitation, Liu was invited to watch a dance drama. At first she refused but finally decided to take a first step back into dancing.

"I couldn't hold back my tears when I saw the dancers stride on to the stage," Liu says. "But now I can stay calm when I watch a dance performance."

But Liu was not satisfied with just being a spectator. Some 15 months after the accident, the dancer was back on stage.

Last Nov 6, Liu joined the performance of Dancecross at the Beijing Poly Theater. In a beautiful red dress, she sat in a wheelchair and performed with her upper body.

"At the beginning I dared not look at myself in a mirror, but now I can dance again. I feel very happy," Liu says.

Liu is pursuing a doctorate degree at the Graduate School of China Academy of Art and will take the exam in March.

"The time for preparation is limited," Liu says. "I'm going to focus on my studies after my return from Montreal."

According to her blog, she will hold classes once a week at Beijing Dance Academy from March 6. She will also offer a course on the history of dance, movement and gestures.

"I believe I will be very happy with students. I will be very happy while teaching them," she says on her blog.