Ac­ci­den­tal bal­let dancer a star as­cen­dant

Chi­nese-born dancer took bal­let when an­other class was filled, and he learned grat­i­tude from an­other un­ex­pected turn of events, re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - Con­tact the writer at ce­cily.liu@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

That Zhang Jin­hao finds him­self on stage, liv­ing out his love of bal­let, is one of the lit­tle won­ders of life. He per­forms from the heart, and clearly this is his life’s work.

“It’s about feel­ing the de­tails of ev­ery ges­ture, feel­ing the emo­tions and per­son­al­ity of the char­ac­ter I dance, and try­ing to un­der­stand what he is like and what he is try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate,” said the 20-year-old ris­ing star of the English Na­tional Bal­let com­pany.

Zhang, who started study­ing bal­let at the age of 4, has won in­ter­na­tional ac­claim, in­clud­ing a sil­ver medal at the Ge­nee In­ter­na­tional Bal­let Com­pe­ti­tion in 2011, fin­ish­ing eighth in the pres­ti­gious Prix de Lau­sanne in 2013, and win­ning the English Na­tional Bal­let’s Emerg­ing Dancer com­pe­ti­tion last year.

He joined the English Na­tional Bal­let in 2014.

On stage, he wins his au­di­ence over with the per­fec­tion of his tech­nique and his abil­ity to cre­ate true and be­liev­able char­ac­ters, be it a wealthy boss, a loyal ser­vant or a beau­ti­ful swan.

In con­ver­sa­tion his youth­ful live­li­ness and pas­sion for the pro­fes­sion shows through strongly, while his 185 cen­time­ter, mus­cu­lar body com­mands re­spect.

Sit­ting down for an in­ter­view in a small of­fice above his re­hearsal stu­dio, he el­e­gantly moves his head, hands and feet in the air to demon­strate how con­cepts like love, prom­ise, and sui­cide are acted out in bal­let.

Sud­denly th­ese sound­less move­ments seem to vividly de­scribe what writ­ers have at­tempted to con­vey for gen­er­a­tions.

One of his fa­vorite roles is Basilio in Don Quixote, which is a bal­let orig­i­nally chore­ographed in 1869, based on episodes taken from the fa­mous Span­ish novel Don Quixote de la Man­cha by Miguel de Cer­vantes.

Com­pet­ing in the Prix de Lau­sanne, Zhang per­formed the pas­sion­ate dance of a proud Basilio as he is about to get mar­ried. The fast-mov­ing ex­cerpt, last­ing for just over a minute on stage, con­sists of jumps and turns, and paints a cheer­ful and lively pic­ture rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Span­ish cul­ture.

Zhang has loved this dance since high school. His teach­ers be­lieved that he would be bet­ter suited to the prince char­ac­ter, since there is a royal feel­ing to his height, his con­fi­dence and el­e­gant calm­ness, but Zhang prefers the tech­ni­cal and artis­tic chal­lenges re­quired of the Basilio char­ac­ter, who is more of a free spirit.

De­spite years of prac­tice, Zhang felt ner­vous when he com­peted in the Prix de Lau­sanne, which turned out to be a life-chang­ing op­por­tu­nity for him when he won a schol­ar­ship to study at the English Na­tional Bal­let School as a re­sult.

In ad­di­tion to the im­por­tance of the com­pe­ti­tion was the tech­ni­cal chal­lenge of the 3.5 per­cent stage slope.

“I was so, so ner­vous,” Zhang re­counted. “I knew that many dancers ac­tu­ally fell when they landed on their tip­toes af­ter a jump be­cause of this slope, so I dared not think about the slope when I was on stage.”

To over­come this fear, he forced him­self to for­get about the stage, to fo­cus on Basilio’s joy­ful feel­ings in that par­tic­u­lar mar­riage, to think about Basilio’s beau­ti­ful bride-to-be, and to en­joy him­self.

“I did it, and I didn’t make a sin­gle mis­take.”

Raised in Dalian, Liaon­ing prov­ince, Zhang started bal­let quite by ac­ci­dent.

“When I was young, I was very thin and did not eat meals prop­erly, so my mother wanted me to do more ex­er­cise. She took me to en­roll in a kung fu class, but sadly the class was filled.”

The teacher in charge of reg­is­tra­tion told Zhang’s mother that there is lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween kung fu and bal­let, and urged Zhang to try bal­let.

Zhang fell in love with it im­me­di­ately, and he rec­ol­lected his child­hood en­counter with bal­let with fond­ness.

“I was the only boy in a class full of girls, and they teased me about it. On one hand I was em­bar­rassed, but at the same time I en­joyed the at­ten­tion be­cause I stood out.”

Af­ter he stud­ied bal­let for two years, his mother wanted him to stop be­cause of the pres­sure of school work. But by then he was a fa­vorite pupil of the bal­let school di­rec­tor, who told his mother that Zhang had great tal­ent and urged her to al­low him to con­tinue.

Af­ter an­other two years, it came time for Zhang to de­cide whether he wanted to do bal­let pro­fes­sion­ally.

“I chose to do it. But at the age of 8, I did not know what be­ing a pro­fes­sional bal­let dancer mean at all.”

As a pro­fes­sional dancer, Zhang joined the school af­fil­i­ated with the Liaon­ing Bal­let, where he trained for six years be­fore start­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in bal­let at Tongji Univer­sity in Shang­hai.

Suc­cess fol­lowed suc­cess in his ca­reer, but one big dis­ap­point­ment un­der­lined how im­por­tant bal­let was to him.

In 2013, right af­ter his suc­cess at the Prix de Lau­sanne, he con­tin­ued to train for an­other in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Moscow.

“I was not tak­ing any rest, and pushed my body to the ex­treme ex­tent of what it could bear. I was tired, and didn’t look af­ter my­self prop­erly.”

Zhang had never had a prob­lem with dis­ci­pline and he kept push­ing him­self.

Just be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion, he landed on the back of his foot in a jump dur­ing a re­hearsal and frac­tured a bone.

“Im­me­di­ately I could not feel my foot and I was taken to the hos­pi­tal.”

For the next four months, he was bedrid­den, un­able to move his foot.

“I was dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated. I was scared that I might not be able to dance again af­ter the plas­ter was taken off. I asked my­self why I chose to be a pro­fes­sional dancer, and I ques­tioned what I could ever do if I stopped danc­ing.”

He ex­pe­ri­enced in­tense grief and self-doubt un­til “I re­al­ized that I could not live with­out bal­let. I never knew how much I loved bal­let un­til then.”

Af­ter the plas­ter was gone, he said, the pain of hav­ing to mas­ter the skill of stand­ing, turn­ing and jump­ing on his tip­toes was un­speak­able.

But Zhang was de­ter­mined. “I don’t like be­ing a quit­ter, so I wouldn’t give up.”

Three years have passed and he can still feel the in­jury when he gets re­ally tired, but he said he has learned to take care of his body and con­trol the pain.

Zhang is now work­ing to­wards his next goal, which is to per­form lead roles at the English Na­tional Bal­let.

“Ev­ery per­for­mance is a new chal­lenge be­cause I have to do my best to give the au­di­ence the best ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Ev­ery per­for­mance is a new chal­lenge be­cause I have to do my best to give the au­di­ence the best ex­pe­ri­ence.”

per­former of the English

Na­tional Bal­let

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Zhang Jin­hao per­forms his dance, Dy­ingSwan, dur­ing the English Na­tional Bal­let’s Emerg­ing Dancer com­pe­ti­tion last year.

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