“I guess the reason why I like winter so much is that the season fits my current life,” says Yang, who’s approaching 60. “From birth to death, this work is my own reflection on life.”
Yang, a practitioner of Chinese folk dance, is from the Bai ethnic group of Southwest China’s Yunnan province. She has won national awards and toured the world with her dancers.
Peacock of Winter is derived from Yang’s choreography production, titled "The Peacock", in which she used four seasons to tell the story of the journey of life.
The 2012 work has been staged more than 100 times in China. “We want to go deeper to talk about death with this new production,” says Yang.
“Death is unpredictable and it means doom. But the fear of death is unhealthy. I am prepared for it and I am not worried.” She and set designer Tim Yip have highlighted a peacock’s colors in the performance.
The Oscar-winning designer, who is best known for the martial arts film "Crouching Tiger", "Hidden Dragon", constructed the set with white feathers falling softly like snow onstage.
With dancers moving fast, the feathers can fly around and keep falling. The dancers will wear huge, dense skirts for the shows.
Young dancers, including Wu Ya, Pan Yu and Yan Jin, will share the stage. In one corner of the stage, Cai Qi, Yang’s 18-year-old niece, who is considered the heir apparent to her legacy, plays the role of “flowing time”.
Having performed with Yang since childhood, she will spin onstage in this work, symbolising the clock.
“Yang takes her productions as an important part of her life,” says Wu, a former dancer with Guangdong Modern Dance Company, who performed in The Peacock, and was one of the leading roles in Yang’s war-theme production Under Siege in 2015.
“She has a clear vision for her work.”
Peacock has come to define Yang since she won national recognition for Spirit of Peacock, a work she both choreographed and performed in 1986.
“Peacock is a symbol for good luck, happiness and beauty. I have displayed its vitality, elegance and nobility in my work. In Peacock of Winter, I try to show the decay and rebirth of a peacock. It’s about looking back, meditating and finally setting yourself free,” says Yang.
Growing up in the mountainous areas of the Dali Bai autonomous prefecture, Yang, the eldest child in her family, learned to take care of the family from a young age and helped her parents with farming and herding animals.
Though she never had professional dance training, Yang joined the Yunnan Xishuangbanna Song and Dance Troupe in 1979.
The next year, then 22, she joined the Beijing-based China Central Ethnic Song and Dance Ensemble. In 2003, she left the ensemble and started out as an independent artist.
“Though I have lived in a big city for many years, I am always longing for an idyllic life,” says Yang, who maintains a garden in her house. “I care about the changes in each plant in my garden.”
According to Wang Yanwu, Yang’s longtime partner and the producer of the new work, who also manages her company, Yang Liping Arts and Culture Co Ltd, Peacock of Winter toured 12 cities across China from November to January.
In the coming weeks, the production will be staged in Hangzhou, Chengdu, Tianjin, Beijing and other cities.
Wang notes that the company usually bases its production in one specific city after touring.
For instance, Dynamic Yunnan, Yang’s choreographic work inspired by folk dances and songs of Yunnan province, premiered in 2003 and has been staged more than 3,000 times worldwide. It is now performed as a tourist attraction in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan.
Yang is planning a new work, titled Wu Duo Jin Hua, or Five Flowers, which is based on the Bai ethnic group’s folk music. The show is scheduled to debut in 2018 at a new theater in Dali.
“The Bai ethnic group is good at singing and dancing. I always wanted to make a show for my hometown. Finally it is happening,” she says.
Yang and her team will launch a dance training school in Kunming for children aged 3 to 8, later this year.
“It is vital for young dancers to find out who they are and have their own understanding of dance,” she says.