A woman’s slender silhouette glows against the moon. She begins a human, but as her hands descend through the air they start undulating, swaying like the tides. Wings spring from mortal fingers to birth a bird, its swift form darting before the planet’s luster.
The woman transforms several more times throughout the dance: into a snake, a shimmering river, a twisted flame. Sometimes she just trembles wildly, in ecstatic celebration. There are dancers and then there are dancers, who can move you to tears through the raw beauty and passion of their movement alone.
It only takes one viewing to realize Yang Liping is capable of such magic.
I’m sad to say I never knew about this wonder before stumbling upon videos of her performances, considering she’s one of the most renowned dancers in China. I’ve never before been hypnotized by someone’s hands, but it seems they’re a poignant part of Liping’s story. When she was a child, Liping’s grandmother drew an eye on her palm and told her that the hands are connected to the heart.
“When you grow up, you will learn to see the world with your heart,” she foretold.
Liping moves with the grace of a swaying willow, and when you watch those elegant fingertips curve into the chirruping beak of a peacock, you’ll find plenty of heart. The plumed bird brought about her first big debut, through a solo show called Spirit of the Peacock that led viewers to deem her the “Peacock Princess” and “Goddess of Dance.”
Since then she’s starred in many productions, though Liping is currently focused on choreographing and directing her own troupe. A recent show called Dynamic Yunnan was created in an effort to showcase the dances and music of ethnic minorities in China.
Considering Liping herself was born to a poor family in Dali, it’s admirable she’s offering upcoming artists the same chance she received to share their heritage and perform on a broader stage.
While she’s fostering new talent right now, the last time Liping performed her famous peacock dance was in 2013 when she was around 54-years-old. Considering many professional dancers end their careers in their early 30s if not sooner, I’m hoping to see a lot more from this seemingly ageless force of nature!
You can catch Liping’s most recent work in London through a show called Under Siege. The performance is her interpretation of the battle between the Chu and Han armies, imagined through a diverse lens that includes “Peking Opera, hip hop, ballet and contemporary dance, classical and folk music.”
Tickets are currently being sold at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
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