Flight Internal: Yang Liping and Ethnic Primitive

Though known mainly as a champion of S. Yunnan “aboriginal” (yuanshitai minzu/minjian yishu) dance and song, she herself will (has) declared herself to be a modern dance “fusion” choreographer, or at least deserves that description. Her best known solo dances may perhaps be closer to “ethnic formalism” (mainly mimesis of birds: peacock, swan, sparrow, etc) than to aboriginal shamanism, but the latter is clearly an alternate mask, the one I feel is closer to her “modern” style, indeed its inspiration, which reminds one of Mary Wigman’s Hexentanze, wildness of body movement denoting demonic or genie possession.

In her folk-balletic mode, one sees the influence of E. India Katak and Narayan solo-dance choreographies. Slow gyration, and intricate shaping in the fingers, arm and wrist. A style that entered her vocabulary as a member Xishuangbanna Song and Dance Troupe into which she was recruited in 1971 (age 13!), The troupe’s signature repertory was Tai/Lve (Dai) Theravada temple dance (though also including animal-totem dances for Buddhas Birthday celebrations), made nationally famous by Dao Meilan in the ’50s with her rewritten (for women) Peacock Dance (See my Youtube Upload of…).

But her “blood” was NOT Dai, and she was a hill-country imp, which factors might be at the root of her noncomformity and fascination with the comparatively pagan (not Buddhist) rites and dances of the Huayao and Niukong Yi, Hani, and Wa (Va) “aboriginals”, inheritors of the least Sinified prayer, legend, and dance traditions of Southwest Yunnan. Herself a lifelong animist and shaman-LIKE masked dancer, she was from the troupe’s point of view, one of “those people”. How that fed through into her personal dancing is suggested by the slides below, which show her in pagan-primitive mode. (Playing off which she entered wuxia film in 1977 (age 19) as Mei Chaofeng, a magically empowered but “dark” swordswoman). An appropriate role indeed.

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illustrations: (1) Jinuo taiyang gu (Sun Drum) ,
(2)-(3) Wa (waar) bullshead masks/ornaments
(4)as a pallid fashion model;
(5) as sorceress-swordsman Mei Chaofeng in wuxia film.

A fuller sense of her fascination with pre-Buddhist/non-clerical folk religious ceremony is embedded in the clip below, showing Act 4 of her enormously successful 云南映象 (lit., Impressions of Yunnan, but (for PR purposes, presumably) mis-rendered as “Dynamic Yunnan” on her show-dedicated blogsite. (overleaf)

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