Interview: choreographer Wang Yuanyuan on her career and what's next
Wang is proud of her adaptation of The Golden Lotus for Beijing Dance Theatre, but not of her role in Beijing Olympics opening show, excited to be a Hong Kong APA honorary fellow and thrilled to have met Jacky Cheung
48HOURS: Have you always wanted to be a dancer?
WANG YUANYUAN: I have always been hyperactive but I didn't understand very well what dancing was and what it meant to be a professional dancer when I was younger. Just like any child, I was drawn to dancing by a love for everything beautiful. The reason behind my drive to practise is very simple — I want to look pretty. I started my Chinese dance training [at the age of 10], before I took on learning modern dance choreography.
Which work(s) will always hold a special place for you?
So far I'm proudest of my dance adaptation of The Golden Lotus, which premiered at the Hong Kong Arts Festival [in 2011]. I spent more time — two years — on it than any of my works and I am very satisfied with it. It also gave me many great memories and the fate of the Beijing Dance Theatre has changed completely as a result.
My seven-year-old company does not receive any government support and never gets regular funding. We have to work hard to make sure each piece can earn audience and ticket sales in order to feed the company. And The Golden Lotus brought us a lot of exposure and opportunities.
What about your collaborations with film director Zhang Yimou in the 2001 ballet version of Raise the Red Lantern and later Feng Xiaogang in The Banquet (2006)?
I never want those works to be mentioned ever again, but reporters drag those up all the time. Those works play a really marginal role in my dedication to dance. I don't want anyone to bring up the directors nor my involvement in the opening dance of the Beijing Olympic Games [in 2008]. They are not part of the ambition I am striving to attain.
So you're just as famous without those household names?
For sure. In the dance circle, at least, everybody knows it's not easy to attain what I have attained. In dance theatre, the choreographer, not the director, is what really matters.
What else has your dance career brought?
My husband? He's a set and lighting designer. From the very first time we collaborated I figured I could trust him to do his job so I could focus on my part. I've grown to depend on him because he always gets what I envision. We got married eight years after we first met and we have two boys, one 15, the other two.
Who influences you most in your career?
I love to watch all kinds of works and I don't have particular choreographers whom I look up to. But I admire [Jiri] Kylian, former artistic director of the Netherlands Dans Theatre, a lot as he excels in incorporating the best out of both ballet and modern dance. I also love [the late] Pina Bausch's powerful, theatrical dance expression and respect her attitude towards dance.
What's coming up next from the Beijing Dance Theatre?
We're working on an adaptation of The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde. [20th-century architect and writer] Lin Huiyin did a very beautiful translation of the tale and we're premiering it at the Shanghai International Arts Festival in October.
Having received numerous awards, are you still thrilled by any accolades that come your way?
To be honest, I'm very excited to be named an honorary fellow of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. It's not that easy. The awards I've received before each show recognition towards one particular work. But this award is not only devoted to one work, but a nod to my efforts paid in the dance scene over the past 30 years. It also encourages me to do even better in the future so as to do the award justice.
The ceremony night must have been quite memorable then?
Some of the officials failed to pronounce my name in Putonghua [shrugs] and I had to correct them. But I got to meet Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, [who was one of the awardees, alongside director Ruby Yang Ziye and two professors]. I'm a big fan of his songs and I got to have a photo taken with him [big grin].