Chi­nese dance his­tory on show in Chicago, tells dif­fer­ent col­lec­tion story

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FASHION -

The on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion on Chi­nese dance his­tory at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan (UM) in the mid­west U.S. city of Chicago not only il­lus­trates post­war Chi­nese danc­ing, but also tells a dif­fer­ent col­lec­tion story.

The show, held at the UM Hatcher Grad­u­ate Li­brary, draws from a wealth in the UM Chi­nese dance col­lec­tion, which owes most to a Chi­nese dance re­searcher, and a li­brar­ian who is mean­while a per­form­ing arts fan.

While the show Chi­nese Dance: Na­tional Move­ments in a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Age, 1945-1965 presents China’s dance cul­ture and his­tory in that spe­cific time frame, the ex­hibits — photos, pe­ri­od­i­cals, books, per­for­mance pro­grams, postcards and mimeo­graphs, among others, mark an in­ten­sive and joint ef­forts over more than three years by Emily Wil­cox and Liangyu Fu.

Wil­cox, a UM as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor, is one of the re­searchers in the field of Chi­nese dance stud­ies based in the United States. Over the past decade, She trav­eled to China for 11 times, vis­it­ing Chi­nese artists’ homes, scan­ning 1,500 rare photos, and record­ing 300-hour-long in­ter­views with Chi­nese dancers and chore­og­ra­phers.

It was a lunch chat in the fall of 2013 that gave the ori­gin of the UM Chi­nese dance col­lec­tion.

Fu pro­posed that they work to­gether to cre­ate a Chi­nese dance col­lec­tion in the li­brary dur­ing the meal she in­vited Wil­cox for.

Be­ing then a newly come li­brar­ian for China stud­ies, Fu was keen to add a dis­tinc­tion to the col­lec­tions at the UM Asia Li­brary. As a per­form­ing arts fan and some­one fas­ci­nated by pre­serv­ing ephemeral ma­te­ri­als, Fu was thrilled to learn that Chi­nese dance is an emerg­ing area for stud­ies.

What’s more, the area com­bines her per­sonal in­ter­est with Wil­cox’s re­search.

At the same time, be­ing a dancer her­self, Wil­cox was over­joyed with the idea of hav­ing a per­ma­nent home for the re­search ma­te­ri­als she had col­lected for years.

Thanks to their joint ef­forts, the UM Chi­nese dance col­lec­tion now ar­chives more than 1,500 photos scanned from per­sonal col­lec­tions of lead­ing Chi­nese dancers in the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s, as well as more than 1,000 books, pe­ri­od­i­cals, photo al­bums, per­for­mance pro­grams, postcards, mimeo­graphs and manuscripts re­lated to Chi­nese dance dur­ing those times.

None of the in­di­vid­ual dancers and chore­og­ra­phers Wil­cox has se­lected for the ar­chive hasn’t had an im­pact on the his­tory of Chi­nese dance. Prior to the cre­ation of the UM col­lec­tion, there was no well­doc­u­mented his­tory of their artis­tic ca­reers in English.

Ac­cord­ing to her, a feel­ing of ur­gency prompted Wil­cox to work to pre­serve as soon as pos­si­ble their mem­o­ries, as the Chi­nese artists were mostly in their seven­ties or eight­ies, and some passed away.

The el­dest Chi­nese dancer Wil­cox in­ter­viewed for the ar­chive is Sheng Jie. Wil­cox said that al­though Sheng was over 90 of age, she could still re­call vividly her danc­ing per­for­mances dur­ing World War II, which would of­ten be dis­rupted by Ja­panese bomb­ings.

Shu Qiao, who played the role of the fe­male hero­ine in fa­mous dance drama Dag­ger So­ci­ety in 1959, im­pressed Wil­cox most.

Shu is also one of the first prom­i­nent fe­male chore­og­ra­phers of the Chi­nese clas­si­cal and con­tem­po­rary dance drama.

“I re­ally en­joyed meet­ing Shu Qiao in per­son, I went to her apart­ment in Shanghai cou­ple (of ) years ago. I was just so shocked be­cause she was al­ready in her eight­ies, she just looked like a young per­son. She smoked all the time. She lived alone. She cracked jokes. She has a great per­son­al­ity,” Wil­cox told Xin­hua.

“We had a re­ally fun time talk­ing all the af­ter­noon in her apart­ment,” she said.

On her part, Fu has amassed more than 1,000 items for the UM Chi­nese dance col­lec­tion.

One of the in­ter­est­ing parts of the col­lec­tion, Fu said, is that many things ev­i­denced cul­tural ex­changes be­tween China and the rest of world in the 1950s and the 1960s, times that many peo­ple re­gard as a seclu­sive pe­riod for China.

“As a na­tive Chi­nese, I didn’t even know there were so many in­ter­na­tional ex­changes in the field of per­form­ing arts (dur­ing that pe­riod) un­til I started col­lect­ing the per­for­mance pro­grams,” Fu told Xin­hua. “They chal­lenged a stereo­typ­i­cal view on that time pe­riod.”

The per­for­mance pro­gram dis­play at the cur­rent UM show un­veils that be­tween 1949 and 1965, state­spon­sored Chi­nese dance del­e­ga­tions vis­ited 53 coun­tries, rang­ing from Hun­gary, Poland and Syria to Ghana, Colom­bia and Brazil. And vin­tage postcards in the 1950s and 1960s show trips of dance troupes from such coun­tries as Yu­goslavia and Bri­tain to China.

Xiaob­ing Tang, a UM pro­fes­sor of mod­ern Chi­nese stud­ies, deemed the UM Chi­nese dance col­lec­tion as in­valu­able re­sources for those who are in­ter­ested in Chi­nese cul­ture or dance and per­for­mance arts, for aca­demic pur­poses or not.

What­so­ever, it is now the dream of both Wil­cox and Fu to make the col­lec­tion a world-class one.

As a na­tive Chi­nese, I didn’t even know there were so many in­ter­na­tional ex­changes in the field of per­form­ing arts ...” Liangyu Fu, li­brar­ian for China stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Asia Li­brary

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