The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Pioneers of China's contemporary independent arts scene   Caochangdi Work Station
Photo 7: Living Dance Studio work Toilet
Photo: Zhang Zhiwei
Report on Giving Birth
Photo 8: Living Dance Studio work Report on Giving Birth (Nov 1999)
Photo: Ling Youjuan
Report on Body
Photo 9: Living Dance Studio work Report on Body (Dec 2002)
Photo: Ricky Wong
Report on 37.8
Photo 10: Living Dance Studio work Report on 37.8°C (Oct 2005)
Photo: Ricky Wong
Dance with Farmworkers
Photo 11: Living Dance Studio work Dance with Farmworkers (Aug 2001)
Photo: Zhang Jianping
Dance with Farmworkers
Photo 12: Living Dance Studio work Dance with Farmworkers (Aug 2001)
Photo: Zhang Jianping
How were your artistic activities like before establishing Caochangdi Work Station?
Wen Hui: Our biggest worry has long been finding space to work, and we were constantly moving from one place to another. In terms of works, the first work we did as Living Dance Studio was created by a group of about ten friends. Creating works takes some amount of money. Since we didn’t have our own studio or theater and not sufficient funds for producing works, we were not able to pay our dancers a guaranteed salary. The friends who worked with us were from a variety of professions, from photographer and director to teacher and reporter. I was the only professional dancer in the group. Our performances were held in a college classroom at the Beijing Film Academy. That was in 1994.
    The next year Wu Wenguang and I did a small work involving just the two of us and performed it at an “Experimental Small Theater Internal Works Performance” event in Guangdong. Taking the toilet as our theme, we created a work that dealt with daily life and the two of us performed it (Photo 7). Wu is a video artist, but for our Living Dance Studio works he does the concept making and the composition and also performs.
    Over the next four years until 1999 we lacked the funds to do any works in China, but we did use this as a preparation period for our next new work by doing an interview survey. Interviews are something that you can do without any costs (laughs). We wanted to do something that expressed the life environment and growth process women in China today are experiencing and the chose giving birth as the connecting point for a study. We interviewed women from a wide variety of professions such as blue-collar workers, editors, writers/artists, midwives and housewives and ranging in age from 25 to around 90. Based on these interviews we created the work “Report on Giving Birth” in 1999 (Photo 8). This was the first of our “Notice” (Report) series (Photos 9, 10).

What was the opportunity that prompted you to produce Report on Giving Birth?
Wu Wenguang: This work Report on Giving Birth marked a turning point for us. A festival director from the Netherlands had come to Beijing looking for works asked our Living Dance Studio to prepare a work to perform at for a festival in Amsterdam. Thanks to their funding we were able to do a production including other dancers, instead of just the two of us. It also made it possible to work in collaboration with other artists in fields like music and stage art (sets). And this also gave us a chance to establish ongoing relationships with friends in the Netherlands. Since Caochangdi Work Station opened in 2005 they have become important partners we are working with there.
    After giving three performances of Report on Giving Birth at the small theater of the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, a public theater in the center of Beijing, we received invitations from a number of festivals in Europe and the U.S. that led eventually to more than 40 performances.

As independent artists, did you have many chances to perform in China?
Wu Wenguang: It is still the case that in socialist China it is very difficult for groups other than public arts companies to have their works performed. Public arts companies have their own theaters and they are certified to give performances. We independent groups don’t have either of those things. We can sell tickets, but there is no way to come close to breaking even by selling tickets at around 50 Chinese Yuan (7 USD) for a few performances. There is no opportunity to perform unless we rent a theater knowing that we will no recover the cost. Under current conditions, even though we may be Beijing artists and we have opportunities to perform abroad, we still do not have opportunities to perform in Beijing. It wasn’t until four or five years after out first Beijing performance of Report on Giving Birth that we finally got the opportunity to perform it again in China.
    That is why we wanted a space where we could create and perform our own works. And we are fortunate to have had friends who understood that and provided us with this space. It wouldn’t have been impossible for the two of us to have found for a place, but I don’t think that we ever would have been able to find a place this big.
    And since we have gotten a space this big, we believe that we must not use it only for ourselves but also for activities to support and promote the work of other independent artists like us. That is why we started using Caochangdi Work Station as a base for holding workshops, seminars/symposiums and festivals.

Can you tell us about the workshops you are holding?
Wu Wenguang: We invite foreign instructors to hold workshops that last for a week to ten days. For our first workshop in April of 2005, we invited the Austrian dancer Willi Dorner.
    The workshops were held every day for four hours from one to five in the afternoon, and they were all free. Every time there were from 10 to 20 participants. As a rule we ask them to participate for the whole workshop, but when the workshops are free, the participants tend to get a lax attitude and skip days, which affects the operation of the workshop. So, now we ask for a deposit of 100 Yuan (15 USD). It has been quite effective (laughs).
    The two of us also give workshops. These are one- or two-month courses that are held on the weekends. We don’t charge any fee for these. Until now we have held director workshops that focus on expression, but from 2008 I also want us to hold technical workshops in fields like sound (acoustics). In the future I also want to do workshops on documentary filming.

What kinds of people mainly come to Caochangdi Work Station.
Wu Wenguang: If you divide it into dancers and theater people, the dancers are mostly students studying dance in special training institutions or graduates of such courses. In theater we almost never see students or graduates of special training institutions. There may have been some researchers, but we haven’t seen any people who have studied acting or directing as a profession. The direction must be different. They are probably too busy doing drama or films. The people attending who are not trained professionally in theater include teachers, magazine editors, designers, student and various others. Mostly they are younger people who want to do works independently as a form of self-expression. Most are in their 20s to 30s.
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