On June 17, the American Dance Festival (ADF) celebrated 30 years of modern dance in China with a panel and discussion titled “Why Do They Fall Down? The Story of Modern Dance in China.” Panelists included ADF Director Emeritus Charles Reinhart; dancer/choreographers Yang Meiqi, Shen Wei, and Sarah Stackhouse; dance historian Ou Jian-Ping, former ACC Hong Kong Director Michelle Vosper, and former ACC Director Ralph Samuelson. In the excerpt below, Ralph Samuelson tells us the story behind “The Story”—reflecting on ACC and ADF’s longstanding commitment to connecting dance professionals in the U.S. and China, and the ripple effect this has had on generations.
Panelists Ralph Samuelson, Charles Reinhart, and Shen Wei
“In 1984, New York-based choreographer Chiang Ching (ACC 1982, 1996, 2001) came to see us at ACC to talk about the changing cultural landscape in China and the need for individuals in the dance field to engage internationally.
Following this conversation, in 1985, Ms. Chiang recommended that a group of four Chinese dance specialists visit and study at the American Dance Festival (ADF). She identified three talented dancer/choreographers who were recent competition winners and one dancer/administrator, Yang Meiqi, who was the principal of the Guangdong Dance Academy in Guangzhou. With the enthusiastic agreement of ADF Director Charles Reinhart, ACC made a grant to bring these individuals to ADF in summer 1986.
As Yang Meiqi (ACC 1985) watched the modern dance classes at ADF, she was surprised to see students falling to the floor. This was unheard of in the context of dance in China. 'Why do they fall down?' she asked Mr. Reinhart. He replied, 'Why not?'
This was a kind of epiphany for Ms. Yang, a totally new understanding of a body in space. She quickly came back to Mr. Reinhart with a proposal to develop the first modern dance program in China at her school. So, in 1987, the American Dance Festival, the Guangdong Dance Academy, and ACC embarked on a project to develop a new kind of dance thinking in China. 30 years later, there are numerous modern dance companies and modern dance teaching programs across the country.”
Yang Meiqi at ADF in 1986
Dance critic and historian Ou Jian-Ping (ACC 1988, 1998, 2006), pictured above with Yang Meiqi and Ralph Samuelson, expanded on the scope and repercussions of this project:
“ACC and ADF began to help us by providing generous funding and sending experienced modern dance teachers to the Guangdong Dance Academy. This four-year project led to the establishment of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company in 1992, and consequently Beijing Modern Dance Company, Beijing Contemporary Dance Theatre, Jin Xing Dance Theatre, Tao Dance Theatre (ACC 2014), and Hou Ying Dance Theatre, and many more.”
Ou Jian-Ping (center), with Yang Meiqi and Ralph Samuelson, reflects on ACC and ADF's impact on modern dance in China
Bringing us back to the panel, Ralph explained:
“The panel at ADF was a reflection of all that has been accomplished, and a revelation of the enormous challenges that Ms. Yang faced in carrying out her dream. With tears in her eyes, she recalled the difficult context in which she worked in the 1980s and early 1990s, and maintained that it was the support from ADF and ACC that made her work possible.
Today, ACC continues to support dance professionals from China through our fellowship program, as well as recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the international understanding and appreciation of Asian art and culture with the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Award. Yang Meiqi received this award in 2002, and dancer, choreographer, and visual artist Shen Wei will be honored as the 2017 JDR 3rd Award recipient at ACC’s 55th Anniversary Gala this coming October.
Below: ADF Executive Director Jodee Nimerichter with panelists Sarah Stackhouse, Michelle Vosper, Yang Meiqi, Ou Jian-Ping, Ralph Samuelson, Charles Reinhart, and Shen Wei