Young performers live their dream, on and offstage
China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe dwells on talent, not differences
Anyone who saw the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe in its 2012 local debut already understands that, apart from delivering a colourful evening of dance, music, song and more, the troupe serves as an inspirational reminder of what talented young artists can achieve despite obstacles that might be insurmountable for some.
The Beijing-based troupe returns to the GTA this week with a refreshed version of My Dream, its celebrated, globally toured variety show.
To be a professional-level dancer demands incredible discipline and years of training. It also requires an acute sensitivity to music, which in most instances serves as a choreographic propellant. Imagine, then, the challenge of becoming a dancer if you are seriously hearing impaired. Yet this is what the troupe’s men and women have mastered, whether performing lyrical classical ballet, Chinese folk dance or moving to a Latin beat. But how do deaf dancers perform without hearing the music?
If the music follows a regular rhythmic pattern they internalize the beats, stamped out for them loudly on the studio floor during rehearsal. In performance, they follow “conductors” placed strategically onstage whose gestures convey the music’s tempo, rhythm and phrasing.
As one such conductor explains: “I am their visual music.” China Disabled People's Performing Arts Troupe member Wei Jingyang in a scene from My Dream.
Even so, watching My Dream it’s easy to forget that most of these extraordinary young performers have never heard a note.
The troupe also includes blind musicians and singers and, depending on the company roster from season to season, performers with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities. The troupe’s members, however, don’t dwell on these differences. They’re focused on developing and perfecting their varied talents.
As with Toronto’s 44-yearold Famous People Players, the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe members are emphatically not looking for sympathy or expecting audiences to make special allowances. Quite the opposite; they are confident in and proud of what they do. Their primary concern is to present the best show they China Disabled People's Performing Arts Troupe in the Thousand Hands Dance.
possibly can. Although the troupe’s My Dream would be unthinkable without a performance of its precision-perfect Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Thousand Hands Dance), the program changes from year
to year according to the talents of its members. It could be a Peking Opera excerpt, a physical comedy routine or a jazz number.
Says artistic director Tai Lihua: “This time there will be eight new items in the show that we’re presenting abroad for the first time.”
Tai joined the fledgling troupe as a teenage performer 28 years ago. It was originally launched in 1987 as an offshoot of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation by a former government official, Liu Xiaocheng. Liu had been deeply moved by witnessing a performance by a small group of artists with disabilities. He then made it his mission to reshape the public image of a group too often marginalized in Chinese society. Liu travelled the country recruiting promising talents and shaping them into a professional troupe.