Nature Calls

Yang Liping embodies the elemental forces of Yunnan

With the heavy beat of drums reverberating across the room, The Sound of Yunnan begins. The story of the epic ethnic dance opens with a mysterious tribe holding a ceremony for the birth of a child. The highly acclaimed dancer and choreographer Yang Liping plays the pregnant woman. Battling her fear of dying in childbirth, she struggles with the physical pain, but her eyes reveal her secret delight at the arrival of her child. To encourage her, the drums of her fellow villagers beat on, filling the air with an electric anticipation.

Yang’s body language vividly portrays a pregnant woman’s pain and emotion. Even a slight movement of her hand can raise up an entire audience with her joy, or cast them down with her sorrow.

“It is very different from what I used to choreograph,” Yang says. “It is more creative, and more extravagant. We are not only carrying on the tradition of ethnic dance, but creating and developing it.”

For years, the name Yang Liping has been practically synonymous with Chinese ethnic dance. Demonstrating extraordinary talent from a young age, the girl from the Bai minority was chosen to join the Xishuangbanna Song and Dance Troupe when she was just 13 years old, and became famous overnight through her performance in The Peacock Princess.

Equipped with long nails, a radiant face, and a body as thin and flexible as a rubber band, Yang speaks volumes through movement, her captivating stage presence conveying an almost instinctual understanding of nature and romance. The Sound of Yunnan will include several pieces that are as exotic as they are  tied to the earth, including Moonlight, Fire, The Spirit of Sparrow and The Riddle of Tibet.

Yang considers The Sound of Yunnan the sister work to her milestone 2003 work, The Impression of Yunnan; it’s performed by the same troupe, but presents the lives of people in the mountains. To “bring together all
the sounds of Yunnan,” Yang brought hundreds of folk instrument to accompany the dance, including the five-meter long bamboo flute and a one-stringed cello made of bamboo and cow skin.

Some of those musical instruments are so rare, they are no longer used. In their symphony is born the sounds of nature – a baby’s heart beating inside its mother’s womb, the sound of wind rustling through a bamboo forest, or the flap of a butterfly’s wings over water. Yang says, “Be it a hoe, a mill wheel or a branch of leaves, if it can be held, it can be played, and we will give it a sound.”

It was published in July issue of thebeijinger.

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