Let's dance! The pick of the shows as Beijing Dance Festival returns

Summer's biggest, most diverse celebration of dance is back

Seasons (Image: Mak)
Summer can be a bleak time for arts in Beijing, but from July 26 to 31, the city's biggest dance event returns. Now in its eleventh year, the Beijing Dance Festival (BDF) is unique because it provides a genuine platform for the talented amateur or the emerging choreographer, who rarely have a voice.

The brainchild of visionary Willy Tsao, often called the father of China's modern dance scene, this festival gives a week of workshops and dance camps (July 19 to 25) before BDF's three-tiered performance system starts on July 26.

For the next six days, mornings are for masterclasses and early afternoons are for the Youth Dance Marathon, which features 10-to-15-minute pieces from young artists seeking a stage. At 5pm starts Springboard, for emerging artists, with an international presence from Italy, Israel, Japan, Spain, France and China, and at 8pm is Focus, for the heavyweights.

China has a world-renowned dance training programme and dancers in international demand, but choreography is still struggling, which is why this festival is so crucial. But not only is BDF building for the future, they're putting on a really good show. As usual, the flagship company Beijing Dance/LDTX's Enigma opens the festival but is still in rehearsal (so no pictures), but here are our picks of the other highlights.

The Beijing Dance Festival is at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center from July 26 to 31, at various times and days. Focus tickets are 80-300RMB, and Springboard 160RMB. Head to beijingdancefestival.com for full details.
Colors

Colors

Bulareyaung Dance Company, Taitung City

Created in the aftermath of Typhoon Nepartak (2016), Colors is the product of choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, known as Bula, who waited out his studio repairs by rehearsing at Taiwan's East Shore. He began incorporating the survival and optimism stories that give such hope after natural disasters, and even worked in the blue and white canvas used for the area's ubiquitous leaky roofs. An ethnic Paiwani, Bula also uses elements of his indigenous culture to tell his fascinating stories. 

8pm, Jul 27.

Image: Wasan

Point One

Point One

Guangdong Modern Dance Company, Guangzhou

Established in 1992, GMDC was Mainland China's first professional dance company and, over the years, has gone from strength to strength. For Point One, choreographers Li Pianpian and Tan Yuanbo ask audiences not to look for a story but to concentrate on the traces of energy that interacting bodies leave behind, and on body language in its purest form. 

8pm, Jul 28.

Image: Li Yuewei 李乐为

Under One Sky

Under One Sky

Dance Company Theater Osnabrück, Germany

Unusually for a choreographer, Mauro de Candia emphasises music over movement. To him, music is the real inspiration, be it recalling memories or crossing borders. Humans are complex, and Under One Sky uses the work of three composers to show this complexity. The company has a strong reputation, having worked with the likes of Marco Goecke and Edward Clug. 

8pm, Jul 29.

Image: Jörg Landsberg

Season(s)

Season(s)

City Contemporary Dance Company, Hong Kong, and Expressions Dance Company, Australia

Choreographers Dominic Wong, Natalie Weir and Kristina Chan present Season(s), a two-year international project across two countries. The triple bill includes Summer (Chan), which explores heat and survival in Earth’s rising temperatures, Day after Day (Wong), which looks at life’s ever-shifting cycle of departures and reunions within the big city, and 4Seasons (Weir), which features 20 dancers from CCDC and EDC portraying the characteristics of the seasons through dance, all set to Max Richter’s rework of Vivaldi’s famous violin concerto of the same name. 

8pm, Jul 30.

Image: Mak

Ice Tree

Ice Tree

Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, Israel

This headline act usually visits Beijing on their own world tours; here they’re anchoring the BDF. Collaborators since 1992, Pinto and Pollak have worked with chairs before, but this time the furniture is the star, as the company plays out a dance version of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist tragi-comedy Chairs. The story tells of an elderly couple frantically putting out chairs, welcoming invisible guests, and waiting for the Old Man, who, although this is never stated, is probably going to explain the meaning of life in what is probably a post-apocalyptic world. 

8pm, Jul 31.

Image: Avshalom Pollak

Springboard

Springboard

The Focus programme is for longer, higher-profile shows, but for diversity, Springboard's daily triple bill is your best bet. Shows include X-zero Dance Theatre's After Dark (Jul 27), which choreographer Zhang Xi adapted from Haruki Murakami's short novel of the same name. Here Zhang portrays the desperate side of urban life as seen nightly between 11pm and 6am. 

In Inverted Tree (Jul 28), Japanese choreographer Hisashi Watanabe utilises his self-taught acrobatics background to elevate the art from performance to philosophy, as he explores the agility and capabilities of the human body. 

Pez Esfinge (Jul 29) reflects Spanish choreographer Elías Aguirre's study of submarines and the movement of fish, while ErGao's Limb Clock: Dim Sum Hour (Jul 30) explores southern Chinese family culture and childhood memories embodied by dim sum. 

Finally, Street Corner (Jul 31) shows youthful idealism in a world that desperately needs it, presented by Ningxia’s Kabala Dance Theater, who integrate drama, experimental music and installation arts.

Image: Bozzo

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