‘Encounters’: Then, now and beyond

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BYU’s Contemporary Dance Theatre recent tour to China has made ripples across cultures.

CDT Contemporary Dance Theatre "Encounters" Presented at the Chun Hua Qiu Shi Festival at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China. (Photo courtesy of Mark Philbrick.)
CDT Contemporary Dance Theatre “Encounters”
Presented at the Chun Hua Qiu Shi Festival at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, China. (Photo courtesy of Mark Philbrick.)

In November 2013, a group of student dancers ranging from contemporary dancers to cloggers performed in Beiijng, China in the ChunHuaQiuShiu Festival of Arts collaboratively with the Beijing Dance Academy, an elite dance conservatory.

The Festival took place at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, one of the largest performance stages and the most prestigious venue BYU has ever performed in in China.

“No other non-Asian university has ever been invited to this Festival,” said Stephen Jones, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications.

The Contemporary Dance Theatre tour, however, is not BYU’s first foray in the performing arts in China. In the late 1970s, the Young Ambassadors were one of the early performance groups to perform on Chinese soil.

“Asia is a remarkably large area of the world and it is so important for us as a college to engage with them in the arts and scholarship,” Jones said. “We have so much to learn from a culture very different from our own.”

The name of the program Contemporary Dance Theatre performed was rightfully called “Encounters” and included a variety of contemporary dance, clogging and tap dancing. The performance culminated with a collaborative dance piece with dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy.

“I think when we “encounter” one another, our differences fall away,” said Marilyn Berrett, department chair of the Department of Dance. “[This performance] was a way of truly encountering one another and about deeply caring about both our similarities and our differences.”

An instructor at the Beijing Dance Academy, Wang Wei commented on the impact the show had on her and the audience.

“The performance of BYU aroused so many emotions in me,” Wei said. “The students’ performance was genuine, pristine and moved the audience to tears.”

The dancers involved were also impacted by the special spirit felt onstage.

“The reason we do these tours is to ultimately spread the Gospel and to show our light through what we can do,” said Heidi Jorgensen, senior in dance. “It was amazing how much I felt the Spirit while we were dancing. It helped me see the greater purpose of what I am doing and why I’m doing it.”

Looking ahead, BYU has many exciting opportunities to further share the unique spirit felt on campus with the East. This spring, the Ballroom Dance team will travel to China to perform across the country. The Young Ambassadors will tour Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. In May, 30 students from the Sichuan Conservatory of Music in China will come to study dance at BYU for a month.

“I think we will increasingly visit and engage [with Asia] in the future,” Jones said.

Wei summed up the exchange between East and West best by saying that each group learned to love the other as they came together and began to understand each other’s differences.

“Humans have been experiencing too much suffering and disaster merely because we do not fully understand others who are not like us,” Wei said. “But as a race, we have never abandoned the ideals of peace and unity. A better, more harmonious world has always been the common aspiration of all people. Only when we encounter, can we come to understand how close our hearts are and how deep our love for each other can be.”

Contemporary Dance Theatre will be performing the same concert performed in China in the Pardoe Theatre, February 13-15. Tickets are on sale now at arts.byu.edu.

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