NEW YORK—It was an exciting day downtown at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center on Friday, Oct. 26. With one spectacular performance after another, the semi final rounds for New Tang Dynasty Television’s 5th International Classical Chinese Dance Competition successfully concluded with 41 contestants entering the final rounds.
In five hours, 56 contestants each performed two dance pieces: a three-minute dance routine and a two-minute required set of movements. During the dance routine, the contestants performed an individually choreographed program in costume with specially selected music.
During the required movements section, the contestants were evaluated solely on the three components of classical Chinese dance: bearing, form, and technical skill.
The dancers demonstrated their skills in the highly difficult techniques incorporated into their routines, such as jumping, leaping, turning, and flipping. Flips are classical Chinese dance’s most distinct technique, and they include two main classifications.
One is “flipping the body,” which is a series of turning movements wherein the waist is the axis and the dancer’s torso is slightly tilted. The second is aerial or tumbling techniques and is one of the most difficult kinds of technique.
The judges noted that the contestants all seemed more relaxed and more fluid in their movements compared to the preliminary round on Thursday.
“In general, this year’s contestants are more mature in their skills,” said judge Michelle Ren, a classical Chinese dancer and choreographer. “One minute on stage equals years of effort off stage; we can see that [the dancers] worked very hard everyday.”
Judge Chen Yongjia commented on the different themes the contestants chose for their three-minute dance routines and how difficult it is to portray a historical figure, such as Mulan, or a certain mood, such as the spring awakening.
“To portray a character, [the dancer] must be true to the historical background and the character’s personality; to portray a mood, [the dancer] must allow the audience to understand what that mood is and the dance should be true to the piece’s name,” he said.
“A mature dancer can accurately portray any character or mood,” Chen said.
Yili Zhou (Elisabeth Baumann), a Junior Female Division contestant from Germany who made it into the final rounds, chose to perform a dance piece called “Ying Tai,” which is about the female protagonist in a traditional Chinese love story called “Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai,” better known in English as “The Butterfly Lovers.”
Zhou said that at first she was not confident enough to portray the character, whose complex back-story makes for a difficult routine, but she received encouragement from a friend and fellow dancer.
“You can’t look down on yourself; you have to have this inner [confidence]. You just have to keep doing it,” she said.
Like all the contestants in the competition, Zhou has a strong passion for classical Chinese dance, which also paved way for her understanding more about traditional Chinese culture.
Zhou said that she didn’t have a good grasp of traditional Chinese culture before she started learning classical Chinese dance because she grew up in Germany. Her mother sparked her interest when she took her to see Shen Yun, a classical Chinese dance show.
“I couldn’t imagine how people could move that gracefully,” Zhou said of her first encounter with classical Chinese dance. “You have be selfless while you dance. You have to really want to show the audience how you feel, and your eyes have to talk to the audience; they have to give them warmth.”
Even with many hours of practice each day, Zhou said that she was nervous on stage but glad to be part of the competition.
“As soon as you go on stage, you can’t think of anything anymore … on stage you can’t remember anything … your mind is completely gone. On stage all that counts is how many hours you practiced,” said Zhou.
“I feel like I gave something to the audience. That’s what I wanted to accomplish,” she said.
Like Yili Zhou, many of the dancers are from all around the world, including France, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and New Zealand. These contestants first competed in the preliminary rounds held in their regions and were selected to perform in New York, where the final rounds are taking place.
The competition traveled a bumpy road before reaching the final stages. Earlier in August, the Asia-Pacific Preliminaries in Hong Kong saw heavy interference from the Chinese Communist Party. As reported by the Epoch Times, a group of individuals backed by the CCP engaged in nuisance-making activities outside the venue, annoying guests and attempting to intimidate judges walking to the venue.
Despite the interference, the competition successfully concluded and five contestants were able to make it to the semi final rounds in New York. Even so, many potential candidates were not able to attend the competition because of pressure from the Chinese government.
Yet the interference has a rebound effect.
“The oppression only lets people in dance communities know [about] the competitions we hold in Hong Kong and around the world,” said Ma Lijuan, chairperson of NTD’s Competition Series. It makes them pay more attention and have a better understanding.”
The International Classical Chinese Dance Competition is one of the competitions in NTD’s Global Competition Series that seek to revive traditional Chinese culture. The other competitions include Han Couture Design, Martial Arts, Culinary, and Oil Painting.