14 October 2014
Author: Veronica Lewis

Beijing Diary - going behind the scenes

Here’s a behind the scenes peek at London Contemporary Dance School in China. The School was invited to take part in The Beijing Dance Academy’s 60th celebration gala. Veronica Lewis, Principal and David Steele, Vice Principal and Director of Studies along with four second year BA students Jade Brider, Jevan Howard-Jones, Margarida Macieira and Kyle White and choreographer James Wilton flew over last week. Veronica has been keeping a short diary of the trip. 

The photograph above is (from left to right) of Carol Walker, David Steele and Veronica Lewis.


Thu 16 Oct

The visit to the Great Wall was stunning; it was an unusually warm day with blue skies and we set off early in a small bus. We were joined by Hilary Robinson, Dean of Arts from Middlesex. Chris Bannerman was rehearsing so had to miss the trip.

The Great Wall was breath-taking. We walked along to emptier sections and spent time in the huge open range of peaks, with the wall snaking along it. The students rushed ahead to climb to the highest section that’s open at the moment. It was incredibly peaceful in that vast space. Eventually, we all met at the bottom of the cable car and two of our party came down on metal toboggans.

When we went back we quickly changed into smart gear and got ready for the formal dinner and yet more speeches and photographs. The performance followed, again really interesting and varied. Two Middlesex students danced an excerpt of Bob Cohan's Forest, which Anne Went and Bob had coached. They danced it beautifully and I hope Bob would have been pleased with it.

Ten groups performed, among them a group of Kathak dancers. The highlight for me was a stunning male solo by one of the boys from Macao, who danced to the Dying Swan music. It was completely extraordinary and absolutely beautiful. The evening ended with a collaboration between Goldsmiths and BDA. Goldsmiths is home to the UK’s Confucius Centre, and the students and staff crafted a short musical on two students learning each other's language, which gave a lively end to the evening and was absolutely loved by the Chinese delegations.

More photos were taken and eventually we piled the LCDS students onto the Presidents and Professors coach, much to everyone's surprise, and brought them back to our hotel to eat at T.G.I. Friday’s - the only place open! It seems so strange that it is impossible to eat after a show anywhere around here. Some of the other staff, who hadn't been able to get to the preshow buffet, joined us. Chris Bannerman was there as well! Around midnight we left to sleep.

The next day I awoke to a text from James Wilton at 7.30; stuck in his hotel with a problem with the bill - which wasn’t his fault - a coach full of people waiting to leave for the airport, and no cash. The next hour wasn't much fun, and no one seemed to want to understand my need to get to his hotel with a pile of dosh quickly. Not a nice way to start a day for anyone!

Eventually I reached the hotel an hour later, and the coach had just left with James thankfully on it along with everyone else. BDA had telephoned them to say I was on the way and they let him go. Just as I was finishing paying the bill for James, I realised that the man sitting next to me was Jonathan Lunn! We had a catch up on everything he is doing in China and elsewhere in the world, and on the alums who are working with him on various productions.

Most of the rest of the day was spent in the 798 area, which houses the most interesting art and design community. There were informal meetings with other leaders from Asia and the US, as well as a bit of site seeing and... just a little shopping. Another really exhausting but interesting day!

Wed 15 Oct

Last night the students danced the first performance of the series in the huge theatre at Beijing Dance Academy. The wings are the size of The Place theatre and it seats 1500. There were nine Conservatoires from around the world performing including representatives from New Zealand, Hong Kong, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan, USA (Purchase College), Italy and of course us!

Drift was really well received and got the biggest cheer other that the final big tap dance. Two young Japanese girls danced traditional work in full Japanese dress, with great control and dynamics.There were also two beautiful duets from New Zealand, of exquisite crafting with such depth and integrity. The first piece, started in darkness with Maori chanting from the back of the theatre and gradually moved to stage. The piece had filmed work on the backdrop throughout, mainly sea views which all linked to the work on stage.

One performer from the USA did a piece with 24 hoola hoops! Gradually constructing them as different objects and animals around her body as she constantly did a sort of skippy hoppy step. At the end of the show, when everyone joined the dancers on the stage, she was mobbed by loads of the visiting professors asking her to teach them how to do it.

There were formal photographs taken with all the presidents, professors, students and VIPS from Beijing Dance Academy. Then, spontaneously all the Presidents and Professors went around the groups of dancers to congratulate them and discuss the works. It was a really wonderful evening. David and I had missed dinner and discovered the only place that was open close to our hotel was T.G.I Friday's, so it was burgers for supper, along with the jury members from the Ballet competition who were also there.

The plan for tomorrow is to take a trip to visit the Great Wall of China.

Tue 12 Oct

We enjoyed the chance to sit down and relax for five minutes in the sun this morning, before the bus arrived to whisk us away to our next activity which was a 'grand signing of agreements' ceremony followed by the giving and receiving of gifts. The performance of Drift will be tonight! 

Mon 13 Oct

It has been wall to wall speeches and formal photographs over the last few days. I feel like I’ve been photographed more than Princess Diana, but then everyone else has too! I did my speech on Sunday and David Steele did his this morning, following a speech on Chinese folk dance and Chinese Classical Dance. Also on the line-up today was Carol Walker, Emeritus Professor, Purchase College SUNY and long-time friend of many of us in the LCDS faculty. Following the speeches we went to the theatre in the Beijing Dance Academy, to wait for James and the dancers to do their technical rehearsal. Drift gets performed tomorrow night on Tue 14 Oct. 

There are people from all over the world, it is absolutely fascinating and a real privilege to hear such visionary speakers. The indigenous dances from all over Asia are really beautiful and the ballet we’ve seen is very precise. We have seen lots of familiar faces including LCDS alumna Azzura Ardovini and Katie Cambridge who were just off the plane and in Beijing to work with Chris Bannerman and Jonathan Lunn on their Crossing Borders project. They have 10 days of rehearsals before they will perform, so we will miss that.

Sun 12 Oct

The smog lifted this morning which was a relief as we can now all breathe more easily and see the sun. To make the most of some downtime the students have taken the opportunity to visit the Winter Palace in Beihai Park and James Wilton has gone to find the Forbidden City.

Fri 10 Oct

We arrived in Beijing today. We spent the morning in Shanghai and sat in on a Chinese Folk Dance Class at the Shanghai Dance Academy with five live musicians. It was wonderful, we are seeing and learning loads on this visit already. 


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