NEW YORK—Born and raised in Australia, Nancy Xiangnan Wang has developed a passion for dance since childhood. In pursuit of her dreams, she chose to study a dance form at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts that she was not exposed to as a young girl, classical Chinese dance, and continued onto dancing by practicum arrangement in Shen Yun Performing Arts, a capsule of the elegant dance form.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, although founded in 2006 in New York, was already an established and growing world-touring company. The moment Ms. Wang saw Shen Yun’s first-season performance in Australia in 2007 she was captivated.
“I was deeply moved,” Ms. Wang said, in her subtle yet steady tone. “I thought that I would feel very honored to one day be one of the dancers on stage. I decided to go for an audition for Fei Tian Academy of the Arts.” And that was the beginning of her endeavor in classical Chinese dance and to a dream come true—dancing in Shen Yun through its practicum arrangement with Fei Tian.
An Enlightening Career
When she first studied and trained at Fei Tian five years ago, she was adept at dancing, but that was nothing close to classical Chinese dance. “Classical Chinese dance is quite different from other dance systems, because it emphasizes bearing and the expression of inner feelings,” Ms. Wang said. “I think one has to change from the inside. It is not merely surface movements and techniques, but it comes purely from the heart.”
Even though Ms. Wang later rose to become a recognized dancer at Shen Yun New York Company, one of its three touring companies, she has held true to herself and the inner qualities that the dance form requires. When asked about her role as a profiled dancer, her usual humble self replied with a smile and a lingering Australian accent, “I think it means you are the same as everybody else.”
“Our company manager often tells us, dance is something that has no end to learning,” she continued. “You would always be learning. Every day you would be able to learn something new. No matter who you are and what you do, you just have to keep trying and trying.”
A Shen Yun Jewel
With her persistence and attentiveness, she has found her place in the company—and it is quite a place. Even though Shen Yun usually features large-scale group dances that emphasize overall effects instead of individual talents, Ms. Wang never fails to stand out.
While Ms. Wang encompasses all the necessary qualities of a female classical Chinese dancer, from grace and poise to smoothness and delicacy, she also has a side to her that makes her unique among the others.
She is one with determination and inner strength—qualities that are put to particularly good use in the opening piece of Shen Yun’s 2010-2011 program, where she performed as the lead female drummer.
In the year prior, Ms. Wang took on her first major role with Shen Yun in a piece depicting a traditional folklore called Splitting the Mountain. The Chinese legend begins with a forbidden love affair between a mortal and a goddess, played by Ms. Wang, which infuriated the goddess’s brother, the three-eyed deity Erlang Shen.
Left in disbelief, Erlang Shen imprisoned the goddess, named San Sheng Mu, inside one of China’s sacred Taoist mountains, Mount Hua. The piece reaches its climax when the only son between the goddess and the mortal decides to train in martial arts with a Taoist master and eventually defeats his uncle in a combat and splits open the mountain, freeing his mother.
Ms. Wang described the experience as the protagonist as a “particularly memorable” one. “When I was taking up this role I needed to put in a considerable amount of effort to study and analyze the character. … I had to bring a legendary character onto myself and convey it to the audience.”
And indeed she did. With her performances in Asia-Pacific that season, her audience members from Suwon in South Korea to Taipei echoed similar praises for her performance.
“It was fantastic,” said South Korea’s National Defense University professor Dr. Hwang Jong-seong in reference to Splitting the Mountain. “How did people create such a good piece of work?”
A month after Dr. Hwang watched the show, Ms. Wu, a leader in Taipei’s financial sector saw the same production in Taipei’s Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in mid-March. She singled out Ms. Wang’s piece and said, “Although there were only several scenes which lasted for a few minutes, the entire content of the legendary story was completely conveyed, and made the audience understand it. So, it’s really superb.”
Ms. Wang took on her next major role in the 2011-2012 season, where she portrayed the lead mountain fairy in the piece The Dafa Practitioner’s Magical Encounter, a modern tale about a practitioner of Falun Dafa responding to persecution of the traditional meditation practice in China. In this story, Ms. Wang’s character first descends from the rocks in the mountain in the stage-wide digital backdrops before she has to seamlessly transition the character live on stage.
All the Way to a Bronze
In between her trainings and studies at Fei Tian and performances with Shen Yun over the past half a decade, Ms. Wang also took the time to participate in NTD Television’s International Classical Chinese Dance Competition in 2009 and 2010, where in the latter year she received a bronze award in the competition’s adult female division.
Ms. Wang, who said of the competition as “quite an experience,” portrayed an adored legendary Chinese character, Lady of the Moon, in the 2009 competition, and played a plum blossom in the snow for the 2010 competition.
“I wanted to include all the techniques that I have learned, and at the same time through those techniques, I wanted to convey my messages to my audience,” Ms. Wang said of her plum blossom dance, which took about three, four months in preparation prior to the summer competition.
Ms. Wang said she chose to portray a plum blossom, a beloved flower that grows on ancient trees found throughout China, for it represents “an undeterred personality.”
“It is a type of flower that lives in the harsh, cold weather. It is very strong,” she said. “It reaches its full bloom when the winter arrives at its coldest and the wind gets to the chilliest.”
Ms. Wang said that she wanted to capture the strength of the plum blossom and make that strength her own. “While dancing, I would think of those people who have never been deterred for the sake of justice and their beliefs, like plum blossoms. In such trying conditions, they would continue to hold onto their faith instead of yielding to the evil. I wanted to convey such message to the audience.”
A Well-Loved Person
Ms. Wang’s grace and thoughtfulness are not only with her onstage. Her fellow dancers have often described her as a caring and strong person with a warm heart.
Her amicable nature has also brought her to countless VIP receptions and after parties, including one at Washington’s Kennedy Center in January 2011, where she and her fellow performers gained praise from Hungarian ambassador György Szapáry, Stephen L. Norris, co-founder of the powerful private equity firm, The Carlyle Group; and Annette Lantos, chairman of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, and wife of former congressman Tom Lantos.
Ms. Wang, who has just returned from the 2011-2012 season of performances, said she and her colleagues have already begun to train and rehearse for next season’s new program. She said for as long as classical Chinese dance needs her, “I’ll be here.” Ms. Wang has performed in more than 500 classical Chinese dance productions.
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