“Dancing in the (Chinese) Streets”

December 14, 2008

On a 13-hour flight to Beijing on Tuesday, December 9, with Jennifer Muller/The Works, I received a fortune cookie with one of my oh-so-delicious airline meals: “If done gently, you can shake the world.” More advice than fortune, but I realized that as a dancer, international tours are exactly how I can gently “shake the world.” We get to share our art and culture with people halfway around the globe. But first, I had to recover from jet lag and extended cabin pressure.

We arrived at our beautiful downtown hotel on Wednesday afternoon, giving us two days to prepare for our Saturday and Sunday shows at Beijing’s National Grand Theater, also called “The Egg.” During a supermarket search on our block, I walked past two different groups of street dancers, not to be confused with street performers. One group of at least 30 Chinese men and women were doing western-style partner dancing to what sounded like Chinese folk music, complete with a polka type beat. The most intriguing part: It was only 15 degrees Farenheit and 9:00 PM on a Wednesday night! Another group, of just women, danced to simple drumbeats with fans and scarves for several hours outside my hotel window—luckily they stopped right as my head hit the pillow. Dance and music seems to be very much part of everyday Chinese life. How great would it be if this was a standard post-work activity in the U.S.?

After a much needed night’s sleep, all 12 dancers hopped onto a bus headed to the Great Wall. We hiked through four different points at the Badaling section, about two hours outside the city. The climb up our last section was not only steep, the stairs were also covered in ice and snow! A treacherous combination for dancers about to perform…but we slid our way down while gripping the handrails for dear life. We discovered little fan clubs along the way, like a crowd of teenage girls asking one of our male dancers to take a picture with them. Another Muller-man even jumped rope with a group of shop worker’s taking a recreation break (again, can you imagine American business people stepping outside for a jump-rope break instead of a smoke break?)

Today (Friday) was our first day in the theater. The Egg’s outer design is amazing, like a glass egg floating in a large lake. We entered underneath the man-made lake, which we could see through a glass ceiling. The place is an enormous maze! We prepped for a press lecture-demonstration, where we showed excerpts from all six pieces. With no time for spacing beforehand (the stage crew was literally taping the marley flooring down as Jennifer began talking), we discovered the deep stage and huge wings were very different from dancing in our cozy New York studio. And we were told there is only one ticket left in the 1,040-seat house for Saturday night, so we took some pressure off with retail therapy at a huge Chinese market tonight. I’ll just say we have a lot of spacing work to do tomorrow before our show!