Dancing dama take on the world
Chen Guohua, 64, a lover of outdoor square dancing, no longer worries about finding a dance venue where she will not disturb the neighbors.
Chen and five other Chinese dama— middle-aged or elderly women — have performed for the past year in the 80-minute drama 50/60 Dance Theater with Dama, at Penghao Theater in downtown Beijing, and even performed on the international stage in October’s Vie Festival in Bologna, Italy.
“At first, we only took the play as a pastime and a way of doing exercise. None of us ever anticipated performing in Italy,” said Tian Ying, 63. “I think few retirees can do what we are doing now.”
From public squares to public theaters, these dama are more than just square dancers who use simple movements to go along with popular songs. Their body language tells the story of a generation of women born in the 1950s.
The choreography includes pieces of Beijing opera, ballroom dancing and even daily chores. Simple but unique, the movements draw on modern German dance, ballet and Chinese folk dance.
All six performers were members of their community dance troupes for retired residents, but none had ever received professional training.
It was Wang Mengfan, a 26-year-old director, and her young team that led these dancing dama to the theater. “Square dancing introduced me to them and inspired me,” Wang said.
While shooting a documentary film about square dancing two years ago, Wang found that the dancing was only a small part of these women’s lives.
“They are beautiful in many ways,” Wang said. “The play presents different facets of their beauty.”
The play premiered at the 6 th Beijing Nan luoguxiang Performing
At first, we only took the play as a pastime and a way of doing exercise. None of us ever anticipated performing in Italy.” Tian Ying, 63-year-old retiree
Arts Festival in Penghao Theater in July last year.
“It is an interesting idea to bring ordinary people, like these dama, into the theater,” said Xie Pang, PR manager of Penghao Theater. “The idea fits with Penghao’s aim to draw common people nearer art. That’s why we included it in the festival.”
As one of the leading private theaters in China, Penghao is popular among young theater lovers, many of whom are theater students and well-educated white-collar workers.
The tickets for these dama’s debut sold out, anddue to popular demand, they gave three more performances in September last year.
At that time, Pietro Valenti, art director of Vie Festival, was on a visit to Penghao, and on seeing the play, he decided to invite them to perform in Italy.
However, the performance encountered difficulties. Wang described it as “a negotiation between the young 20-something professionals and the aging amateur performers”.
Rehearsals started in March last year. At first, the elderly performers did not understand Wang’s work and acting methods. But gradually, they got the hang of the play, and were even able to offer some helpful advice to the professionals. For several months, they practiced for five or six hours a day.