BYU’s Contemporary Dance Theatre traveled to China last semester with an amazing opportunity at hand. Groups can perform at the National Center for the Performing Arts’ educational arts festival, in Beijing, by invite only, and BYU was the first international university to have ever been invited to perform.
The CDT, formerly known as The Dancers’ Company, has taught and performed around the United States. It has had international opportunities in South America, South Africa, Australia, Israel and now east Asia. With a chance like this, faculty members worked hard on the dancers’ performance.
“We wanted to represent the dance department, BYU and the Church in the best light possible,” said CDT director Nathan Balser. “We wanted to perform well so that this relationship would continue and the opportunity for other BYU groups to perform there would avail themselves.”
Jiamin Huang, a former student and faculty member of the Beijing Dance Academy, is currently a member of the dance faculty at BYU. Huang set a collaborative piece allowing the two dance companies to work together. Sarah Cooper, a first-year member of CDT, said the experience with the academy was stressful, but rewarding.
“I was a little nervous initially because there was a significant language barrier and our styles of dancing were quite different,” Cooper said. “However, the whole process of collaboration and performing with our new friends at the Beijing Dance Academy ended up being one of the coolest experiences I have had as a student at BYU.”
China has strict religion laws. Second-year CDT performer Colin Holbrook said the dancers wanted to share their spirits through movement because they were unable to speak of their beliefs.
“We were warned not to verbally share much of our gospel,” Holbrook said. “Yet as dancers we strived to bear our testimonies through movement, and I truly think that happened. We had many comments on the spirit of the show and how inspiring it was.”
The Young Ambassadors were the first group from BYU to go to China in 1979, and since then BYU groups have returned many times.
“I believe that every time we go over there, we strengthen ties that could potentially open doors for missionary work in China,” Cooper said. “It’s exciting, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”