The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
What lies ahead for the Beijing Modern Dance Company and its international dance festival in today's Chinese contemporary dance scene?
Four Happiness
Four Happiness (1996)
© Beijing Modern Dance Company

Quietude (2003)
Since 1999 you have been organizing the Beijing International Dance Festival, I believe. What is the situation like for the Festival now?
I am glad to say that we have won acclaim each year and continued to grow, but it is also the case that size and quality are mutually opposed quantities. From the outside it may look like we are successful, but on the inside there are a variety of problems. The SARS outbreak in 2003 provided us with a ripe opportunity to think about the direction of the Festival again.
First of all there is the fact that a festival simply takes a lot of money. But we don’t have that money. Because we have been expanding the festival every year despite the fact that we don’t have money, the overall quality has fallen of necessity. Secondly, there is not sufficient planning going into it. Since we didn’t have money, we were accepting all the performances that came to us and not turning any away. As a result, it had become simply an event with no particular academic or artistic merit to speak of. Thirdly, the development of the Beijing Modern Dance Company was not keeping pace with the growth in scale of the Festival. That meant that we were unable to devote sufficient organizational resources to the Festival, and if something like an accident in which people were injured should happen, we would be unable to handle it. Considering these factors, it seemed better that we not organize a festival at all.
Looking to the future, we plan to take another look at the status of festivals in China and clarify the definition of what they should be. One thing we are think now is that our Festival should be themed. Even if everyone involved doesn’t necessarily know about it, there must be a theme that all the important members of the organizing group recognize and understand thoroughly. Next comes the composition of the program. We have to decide what percentage of the total program should be dedicated to the established masterpieces in order to maintain the quality of the festival. Then we have to decide what percentage of the program to devote to progressive works present that may point the way for the future. And as a festival, we also have the responsibility to give a chance to some unknown “dark horses” that may turn out to be good. The third thing we have to think about is tie-ups with other festivals. Tie-ups with other festivals raises the scholarly value and provides scholars with new material for their research. The results of their research will then provide material for new outlooks for the future that benefits both them and us. The analysis of scholars also helps to provide the general audience new understanding of the arts. The networking through Tie-ups can also help cut costs.
The Beijing International Dance Festival we held last October and November gathered eight companies from Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangxi and ten overseas companies primarily from the countries of Europe. Our five venues included both theaters and outdoor arenas. We also held lectures and workshops.
There was a considerable amount of experimental work involved in the production we invited to our last Festival. That was because we were introducing a new style of work. At first, many of the works by the European companies were new works, so there wasn’t much in the way of detailed materials or documentation about them. That meant we couldn’t get government approval. But I wanted to bring in some new work. So, what I did was to choose a work by the internationally famous Danish Dance Theater, which always has a lot of experimental elements in its works. After their performance, there were people in our audience who were saying that it was not art. Of course, we had expected to hear that. But, this is the type of work that should be studied by the scholars, and I believe that it is the role of a festival to put this type of experimental work out in front of the audience and the critics and scholars.
It is easier to invite this type of experimental work as part of a festival rather than as an individual performance. In short, if you invite it independently you are going to have to provide the officials with a lot of reference materials about it in order to get approval, but if it is part of a festival it is only one small part of the overall plan. Our 2006 Festival was very well received and that led the government to offer funding for the 2007 Festival. For the 2007 Festival we are going to put a lot of effort into the planning and organizing.

How do you decide what works to invite from overseas?
Sometimes the foreign companies contact us and sometimes we go to them with a request. Up until now we have presented over 1,500 stages and some of them have been very memorable, outstanding works. When I discover works like these I want to find a way to bring them to China, and what I usually do is to contact that country’s embassy. One of the roles of an embassy is the export of their country’s culture, and they are usually prepared to use part of their budget to do that. This is how I have found it to be with almost all the embassy staff I have dealt with, although it varies somewhat by country. What I tell them is that we want to help them export their culture. Then I tell them that they don’t need to give us any money. Instead, I ask them to give the money to the artists we will be inviting.
Now I am on very friendly relations with many of the people at the embassies. And because of this they will often tell me what their annual budget is. For example, they may say that their budget isn’t large this year but they have enough to support performances by four companies, and then they ask me what companies I am interested in. In this way, it is getting easier and easier to get foreign performers to come here.

What things do you pay special attention to in foreign exchanges?
Trust is the most important thing. I have to make sure that our foreign partners don’t get a mistaken image of China. So I am very careful to make sure that everything is done legally according to the existing laws.
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