Sunday, June 07, 2009

Modern Dance Lecture: Parallels with Contemporary Chinese Art - Alison M. Friedman

Alison M. Friedman visited our art class to give an insightful presentation on modern dance in China. Very intelligent and energetic, the Fulbright scholar gave a well organized and interesting lecture on the brief history of modern dance and initiated very important discourse on modern dance development in China vs. internationally. The China vs. West debate, and local vs. global debate are discussions that have cycled itself in the classroom, studio visits, and in our readings. It seems to be a discussion that spans across many disciplines, not just art, but modern dance, hip-hop/music culture, etc.

Friedman touched upon the internal and external factors that have a great influence on the direction of modern dance in China today, many factors, in fact, that also correlate along the same lines as those seen in Contemporary art in China. Friedman explained that there is very little funding for modern dance, as well as a limited audience. In addition, there are very little theater infrastructures, limited opportunity to perform, and modern dance education is still developing and being realized within the community, with a brief history of about 20 years. These are all internal factors that have affected modern dance development in China in recent years. Furthermore, external factors include demand that is overwhelming the supply for creative works. There is pressure to create something that is the quintessential expectation of “what is Chinese” in Chinese modern dance (this speaks true of contemporary Chinese art as well). Friendman explained that dance is often interpreted as “not Chinese enough, or too Chinese.” This pressure from the external community is a very frustrating argument among arguments. When we think of Contemporary art or modern dance in the West we think of Contemporary art and modern dance, in general, as it seems the West dictates (or have dictated) the definitions of these artistic movements. However, when we think of modern dance or contemporary art in China, there is always the, “well what makes this Chinese?” I think the greatest fault in this debate is that artists from China already innately include their backgrounds and culture in their works, but this does not mean their Chinese stories have to stick out and be obnoxiously obvious that everyone else can tell it is a Chinese artist’s work (I'm thinking like bright colored dragon printed on the canvas). The fault in this debate is that “Chinese” is so specific that it has perverted the conception of the East as being extraordinarily foreign, and this has become the international expectation for Chinese art.

Friedman mentioned the reception of modern dance in China. Modern dance, as with other modern forms, asks something different from what the audience is traditionally used to. Friedman explained that traditional theater and dance in China has always been very narrative, whereas modern dance asks the audience for their own understanding and concentrated focus (similar to traditional Chinese ink paintings vs. contemporary art). I was shocked to hear that Beijing has over 400 theaters, but less than 10% currently operate. It is an endless and vicious cycle for underground/underdog movements because when you have no audience, you have no ticket sales, and no ticket sales result in no performances, and no performance means you won’t have an audience to sell tickets too, etc. and this keeps going in an endless cycle. It is important to build a diverse community around arts and culture.

Photo Courtesy of Beijing Modern Dance Company and BBC:


Alison said...

Hi Rodeen,

Thank you for your thoughtful recap and response to my lecture. I enjoyed sharing with your class that day. I hope the rest of your semester was fabulous and that you all come back to China often and soon.


Anonymous said...


My name is Katia Gosselin. I am a photographer from Quebec, Canada. In my work, I am very interested by movment. I work a lot with dancers. My last project is called "La concordance des fluides" and is about synchronicity. You can see the exhibition on my blog:

I am going to Shanghai next automne and I would really like to find dancers to work with there. I was wondering if per chance you would know a dance troop who's approch is essentialy improvisation?

Thanks for you time,

Katia Gosselin