Yang Liping, born 1958, is the director, choreographer and star of a performance art show called “Dynamic Yunnan” that has drawn sellout crowds all over China. She toured Europe and the United States in 2005.
Between 2004 and 2008, Yang Liping directed and choreographed a trilogy: “Dynamic Yunnan”, “Echoes of Shangri-la” and “Tibetan Myth”. In 2004, “Dynamic Yunnan” won five major awards at the National Lotus Awards, including Gold Award for Dance Spectacular, Best Choreography and Best Female Performer.
To create the exotic song and dance spectacular “Dynamic Yunnan”, Yang spent years travelling to remote villages of the 26 ethnic minority tribes in Yunnan and selected over 60 peasants who had the natural gift of song and dance, from whom she built an archive re-creating this rich feast of sight and sound.
Yang Liping, of the Bai Ethnic Minority in Dali, Yunnan Province , grew up with her two sisters, brother and mother. Despite her parents’ divorce, she developed a positive attitude towards life and art. At the age of nine Yang moved with her family to Xishuangbanna. Although Yang loved to dance since she was very young, she was never officially enrolled in a dance school. Because of her extraordinary gift, she was chosen to join the Xishuangbanna Song and Dance Troupe in 1971 when she was 13 years old.
She became famous overnight for her performance in the Dai dance drama, The Peacock Princess. In 1988, she entered the China Central Song and Dance Ensemble of Nationalities. At the Second National Dance Contest, her dance The Soul of the Peacock, that she choreographed and performed herself, outshone all the other dances and reaped two first prizes, one for choreography and the other for her performance of the piece. A shining star was on the rise. Since then, she and her dances have been frequently shown on TV.
Yang the artist, coming from the deep mountains, has sometimes been dubbed the “sorceress” of dance and the Spirit of Dance. In Taiwan and Southeast Asia, she is also known as the “Goddess of Dance.” Yang’s pure and mellow dance style is a result of her unique figure, intelligence and artistic inspirations from the aboriginal and natural cultural landscape.
Yang won the 1979 Best Performance Award of Yunnan Province in the leading role of the large-scale national dance drama “Peacock Princess.” Yang created and performed “The Soul of Birds” in 1986 which helped establish her reputation and acquire various awards. At the closing ceremonies of the Asian Games in 1990, Yang performed the dance again.
In May 1992, she became the first dancer from the mainland to perform in Taiwan. In 1993, her “Two Trees” won the first prize in the CCTV (China Central Television) Spring Festival Party. Yang has traveled to Singapore, the Philippines, United States, Canada, Taiwan and Japan to engage in art communications.
The large-scale dance drama “Dynamic Yunnan” has been an outstanding innovation on the Chinese stage in recent years. Dynamically incorporating traditional beauty and modern flavors with a reintegration of the most original and rustic dance elements of Yunnan, the programme breathes new life into Yunnan culture.
Primitive, unsophisticated folk dances and a fresh artistic concept converge in the programme, giving audiences a unique “Yunnan Impression.” Sixty-two drums and 120 masks of strong ethnic characteristics are incorporated in the performance. Other props, like a “praying stone” and bull’s head are taken from real life. A 70-percent cast of ethnic-minority performers and enigmatic lighting and stage effects also add to the programme’s appeal.
Yang unveils the mystery and charm of this Chinese top dance prizewinner, which she choreographed and directed herself. This large-scale dance drama, which raises the notion of “original dance” for the first time, comprehensively exposes the hard work, love and beliefs of Yunnan people.
“We just reintegrate the essence of the simple and unadorned dances in the mountains and villages and demonstrate the most original elements of the dances of the ethnic groups,” explains Yang. “If you would like to crawl on the ground, you will find the grass here can dance; if you would like to hear with your soul, you will find the stones here can talk. The dance here is also characterized with its unadorned manner.”
Yang spent 15 months collecting folk dances from the villages and mountains of Yunnan Province . Having watched a great number of genuine folk dances, Yang condensed the most representative movements to create “Dynamic Yunnan.”
“This is a spiritual journey for me,” noted Yang. “My work is to discover and polish the gems so they glitter again.” Yang insists farmer dancers participate in the piece because “they are the people who dance for love and life with ‘original spirit.'”
For a long time, Yang has been known for her choreography and solo dance performances. But returning to her hometown in Yunnan, Yang found that “the simple and unadorned art form that should be cherished did not attract much people’s attention.
“The folk dance is in imminent danger and that makes me very worried,” she said, adding: “At that time the idea of featuring a large-scale folk dance just welled up in my heart.”
“I naturally became interested in dance,” said Yang when interviewed. “The Bai people love nature and advocate the essence of life. So, they usually express their affection for nature and life through singing and dancing.” The first time she performed the dance The Soul of the Peacock, Yang said, “I felt as if spiders and elephants were all around me as I stood on top of an earth mound in my hometown.”
Yang’s dances boast a lyrical touch, which often abandon trivial realities and meretricious expressions. What’s left in her dances are various moves that form silhouettes of a tree, a fish, a bird, or a snake against the backdrop of a moon as depicted in her dance Moonlight. It is said that Yang, with her dances, invites audiences to journey to a fairyland with blooming flowers, singing birds, and running beasts. She gives life to those creatures with her emotional and expressive body language, and communicates with them.
No speech is needed in dance. She rarely separates her everyday life from the world of dance. Yang is a taciturn person, and finds it difficult to communicate with others. When she does speak, she mostly speaks to herself; and what she says usually concerns dance.
This is Yang Liping, who lives for dance.