Young per­form­ers live their dream, on and off­stage

China Dis­abled Peo­ple’s Per­form­ing Arts Troupe dwells on ta­lent, not dif­fer­ences

StarMetro Toronto - - DAILY LIFE - Michael Crabb WED­NES­DAY MAT­INÉE

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.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHINA DIS­ABLED PEO­PLE'S PER­FORM­ING ARTS TROUPE

CLAU­DIA BROOKES

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