NEW YORK—Gary Hao Xian Liu’s story is one of a young overseas Chinese rediscovering his roots through dance, and during the process finding a profound connection between art and moral elevation.
Growing up in Sydney, Liu had a strong desire to know more about his Chinese heritage. Eager to learn, he took up classical Chinese dance.
“I began to discover the inner meanings and just how expressive classical Chinese dance is; it made me like it more and more,” he said.
Now, Liu is a seasoned classical Chinese dancer. He started performing in practicum with Shen Yun back in 2007, and in 2008, he received an honorable mention in the junior male division of New Tang Dynasty Television’s International Classical Chinese Dance Competition.
Chinese dance is vast and profound, Liu said.
“There’s Classical Chinese dance, there’re dances that tell stories, ethnic dances, [and] folk dances; they each have their own feeling,” he described. “When we dance we try to portray those feelings. For example, Mongolian dance is a very proud and openhearted type of feeling. First I try to feel that feeling myself, and then I try to bring it to the audience.”
In one of the 2011 dance pieces, Liu played the role of Pigsy, a clumsy and comical character from the classic Journey of the West. Apart from having to wear a fat suit that makes it hard to dance, Liu also had to portray a personality that is very different from his.
“This kind of character really requires you to let go of yourself and portray the character,” he said. “That’s the thing about dance; you have to portray something else a lot of the time.”
“I definitely gained a lot from that role. Whatever roles I get in the future, I will be able to go into that character a lot easier.”
Moral Standard Central to Expression in Dance
Chinese dance is a lot about expressing oneself, Liu said, and having a good moral character helps him in dance.
“In Chinese culture it’s believed that what you are inside will show on the outside,” he said. “There’s a lot about cultivating your inner self, so that what you bring out is also beautiful and upright.
“I think it’s very important to have a high moral standard. … As a dancer, that’s what you express, that’s what people see. [The audience] can sense the field, a compassionate field. That’s what you emanate from the inside. It’s not just one simple dance movement, one technique, or one pose. Behind that is a lot of inner meaning. To bring out that inner meaning, you need to have those inner aspects.”
In order to cultivate that state of mind when dancing, Liu disciplines himself in daily life and tries to be compassionate and considerate of other people.
“In the past, the moral standards for Chinese people were a lot higher,” he said. “When I try to incorporate that in my life, it’s much easier for me to bring out that feeling in my dancing.”
One particular aspect that Liu and his fellow dancers emphasize is being selfless and working together as a group.
“Some people think if you get good at the arts you can show it off to other people. But the value of performing arts is that you’re really giving to the audience. Once you perform selflessly for the audience, they can feel that,” he explained.
Liu and his fellow dancers are often praised for the synchronization that they showcase dances of up to 20 people. It is possible because the dancers are mindful of how the group looks as a whole and don’t try to stand out one from the other. Liu recounted that he and his fellow dancers practice and rehearse together for hours every day; they would go through a dance numerous times until everyone’s movements, including how the finger tips move, are the same.
“It gets to the point where everyone just knows. It’s an intangible kind of feeling where everyone is in unison,” he said. “In the beginning, you might be counting the beats and thinking this move or that move, but as time goes on, it’s more like a feeling that everyone is together. You don’t have to rely on that method anymore.”
“That’s only possible if you let go of yourself and think more of the group. Once you do that, the power is tremendous and the audience can feel it,” he added. “After the show is over, during the final curtain call, we usually see the audience giving a standing ovation, and at that time I feel like they really understood the message that we try to give.”
For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org.
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