Beauty of Yunnan in award-winning show

Chinese dance veteran Yang Liping (right) and her disciple Yang Wu (far right) will perform lauded showcase Dynamic Yunnan in Singapore.
Chinese dance veteran Yang Liping (left) and her disciple Yang Wu (right) will perform lauded showcase Dynamic Yunnan in Singapore. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Chinese dance legend Yang Liping will bring the colour and rhythms of her native Yunnan to Singapore in March with an award-winning showcase.

Dynamic Yunnan, or Yunnan Ying Xiang, will feature the dances and songs of ethnic minority groups in Yunnan - replete with drums, masks, Tibetan praying stones and Buddhist praying wheels. Almost all the performers in the troupe are from ethnic minority groups in Yunnan.

"We are reflecting all aspects of our local landscape," says Yang, the director and choreographer. "From the myth of Pan Gu separating heaven and earth, to drums that look like the sun."

She says the idea for Dynamic Yunnan was conceived in the early 2000s when she returned to her village to be with her elderly parents. There, she noticed that a lot of traditional dances were on the brink of being lost forever.

"Young people had no idea how to dance these beautiful folk dances anymore. I grew anxious, gathered other dancers native to Yunnan and came up with this showcase," says Yang, who rose to fame in the mid-1980s with her signature solo dance, Spirit Of The Peacock. For that, she is known as China's "Peacock Princess".

Dynamic Yunnan made its debut in China in 2003 and, a year later, won five major awards at the National Lotus Awards.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: March 9 and 10, 8pm; March 11, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $80, $120, $200 and $250 from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)

Since then, it has been performed about 4,000 times in more than 40 cities around the world - and every day in the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan. Yang's disciple, Yang Wu, will play a principal role in the Singapore show, while the elder Yang will perform in two of the six segments.

Yang Liping is one of China's ethnic minority Bai people. She donned her traditional garb when she met reporters in Singapore earlier this month.

"Nature has been my classroom. Learning how to dance from a peacock or letting a single flower spark the imagination...

"A lot of my rhythms come from tree leaves... or the way plants move in water."

She flexes her arms and fingers to illustrate this, revealing her long, polished fingernails.

She cites a proverb that inspired the lyrics of a folk dance in Dynamic Yunnan: "You zui bu hui chang, bai huo zai shi shang. You jiao bu hui tiao, qiao ye wu ren yao."

In other words: If you have a mouth but cannot sing, you live your life in vain. If you have legs but cannot dance, you may be beautiful but no one will desire you.

"The lyrics weren't written by us, but by the people in the villages," she adds.

"Life is short" is a common refrain from Yang, who turns 60 this year and now takes to the stage less often.

With a nod to Yang Wu, 34, she says: "When you find someone who is passionate about the art, you pass it on to them. When you have a gift, a certain ability, why don't you let it radiate. Like the earth, you let a seed germinate, you nurture it."

While it is important to preserve tradition, artists should also inject new life into these old forms, she says. "I've received these traditional teachings from my elders and I present them in an original way. Similarly, I hope that young people won't just try to imitate, but also create."

"When you climb to the top of the mountain, you've got to come down some day. I'm already prepared for it," says Yang, who came to Singapore for solo performances in the 1980s.

Retreating from the limelight, however, does not mean she will stop dancing any time soon.

"Dance isn't restricted to the stage," she says. "We can dance anywhere and everything can dance. Even after we die, our souls keep on dancing."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2018, with the headline Beauty of Yunnan in award-winning show. Subscribe