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?
Jue / Aware
Jue / Aware
Jue / Aware
Jue / Aware
Jue / Aware (2004)
How did the Beijing Modern Dance Company come to be established in China at a time when there were only public sector arts companies?
First the legal procedures for the establishment of the company were made, even though at the time the company only had eight dancers. The director of the Beijing Bureau of Cultural Affairs was a person with very progressive ideas, and he believed that Beijing should have a contemporary dance company. The Beijing Modern Dance Company got its start when eight of the first graduating class of the contemporary dance department of the Beijing Dance Academy were given Beijing residency so that they could remain in Beijing. Although they were called the Beijing Modern Dance Company, they weren’t actually an independent company at first. They were under the management of the Beijing Song and Dance Company and they were using the performance rights of the company without one of their own. And, although there was some budget provided for them by the government, it was allotted through the Beijing Dance and Song Company. In other words, the Beijing Song and Dance Company as managing the Beijing Modern Dance Company in place of the Bureau of Cultural Affairs. So, at the time of its establishment in 1995 it was actually a public sector company. And, I wasn’t involved at that time.

When did you become involved with the Beijing Modern Dance Company?
In 1998. At the time the Beijing Modern Dance Company was at a critical stage in its existence. The government wasn’t taking any responsibility for it and it was on the verge of becoming defunct as a result. Although the government had said that Beijing needed a contemporary dance company, they were reluctant to get involved when things got difficult. There were various problems, including financing. I happened to know the dancers well and I suggested to them that they wait for a while and see how the situation developed. Three months later I found out that they had all left the Beijing Modern Dance Company and were dancing at a nightclub to earn their living. That is a tough thing for a dancer to have to do. When I went to the Beijing government to talk about the situation, they told me I should manage the company. I wanted to help them but I was already managing several businesses at the time and I just didn’t have the time to take on more responsibilities. After thinking about it for a while I decided that I could afford to provide the dancers’ salaries and I got some friends to put up several tens of thousands of Yuan (several million yen) to fund them. We were fortunate to have the capital at that time.
Of course this was not a fundamental solution to the problem. The problem was not the financing but the fact that there was no real management and planning. After thinking about what I could do for the Beijing Modern Dance Company, I decided to become involved. Now eight years have passed. I never thought I would be involved with the company this long. With the exception of one, all the dancers in the company now are different from the original members. As you know, that remaining one is now my wife, Gao Yanjinzi. I am now concentrating fully on managing the company. I am not involved in any other business at all. Lately I find myself thinking that people like me don’t choose the work they do but it is rather the work that chooses us.

After that, how did you make the Beijing Modern Dance Company an independent private-sector company.
The first thing we did was to get rid of the requirement that only people with Beijing residency could be members of the Beijing Modern Dance Company. Then we replaced the traditional Chinese system of employment by introduction with a contract system. Next we stopped depending on government funding. We even turned to renting our own studio space. At first it was a studio formerly used by the Beijing Song and Dance Company that had managed the Beijing Modern Dance Company, but we made a point of paying rent for its use. The reason for this was that we wanted to have decision-making rights in all aspects of the company’s management in order to become a truly independent company without government affiliation or obligations. As you probably know, in China if you have government affiliation you will be obliged to give priority to government-organized events even if they conflict with important events that you might have been planning at the same time. If you have full decision-making rights, however, you can refuse such priorities. On the other hand, if you are in a situation where you are not depending on government funding and you go abroad with government officials to present a production, they will provide funding for it. Since we are not financed by the government we have to think about how to get by when there is no funding. We have had the good fortune of accompanying the Chinese President Hu Jintao with one of our overseas performances and we received a good amount of compensation from the government that time.
In this way we became what you can call an independent private-sector company, but in fact we are not completely independent. This is because, as I’m sure you know, in China a performance permit is necessary in order to give public performances. At the time, Beijing Modern Dance Company didn’t have a performance permit of its own, so in order to perform we needed to use the permit of another organization. We couldn’t perform on our own merits. It took me three years of hard work to get us this performance permit. On June 27, 2004, we finally got our permit. That is why I was able to say that the Beijing Modern Dance Company was a completely private-sector company when I came to Japan for the Tokyo Arts Market in the summer of 2004. And what we had received was a permit for commercial performances, which was unprecedented for a contemporary dance company. Even the Guang Zhou Contemporary Dance Company that was established earlier than our company is still receiving government funding. Throughout China, we are the only completely independent private sector arts company that has this performance permit.

With 28 company members, how are you able to keep the company going without government funding?
We actively participate in international festivals as a means of publicizing our work. If promoters like our work and want to schedule a tour of performances we get a good amount of income from that. If we do 30 performances we are able to earn about US$500,000, and even when we deduct our various expenses we are still left with a considerable amount. Besides, we live simple lives and we don’t require a lot of money. So, we are able to make enough to support ourselves.
We have contracts with our dancers of at least one year and pay them a fixed monthly salary is 4,000 Yuan (approx. US$515), which the equivalent of the starting salary of white collar worker with a college degree in Beijing. In addition we give them a housing allowance of 500 Yuan (approx. US$64) and pay for injury insurance. We also pay an additional fee of at least 200 Yuan (approx. US$26) per performance aside from their fixed salary.
That may seem like a stable situation but I cannot afford to feel satisfied yet. The next ting I plan to do is to look for some fixed sponsors for the Beijing Modern Dance Company. There are busy times and inactive times with few performances in the performing arts, so we are susceptible to economic insecurity. Things will become more stable if we can get some fixed, long-term sponsors. I would like to get sponsorship not from just one source but from about ten. Then it will be sufficient if each sponsor gives us about 100,000 Yuan (approx. US$13000).

Are you interested in inviting Japanese performers at your Festival?
Lately there have been political problems between Japan and China, but that doesn’t apply to the arts. If the opportunity presents itself, I would like to participate in the festivals. I am personally interested in the work of Kazuo Ono and Sankai Juku.
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