Thrilling dances bring ancient Datong heritage back to life
A troupe gives a performance of Yungang Dance in front of the Yungang Grottoes in Datong. [Photo/Shanxi Daily]
Twenty years ago, the Yungang Grottoes, located in Datong city, North China's Shanxi province – known as a treasure trove of ancient Chinese art carving – were included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Now, a group of artists from the Datong Culture and Art School in the city have raised the global profile of the grotto sculptures from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) again, through a vivid series of dance performances called Yungang Dance.
The artist team led by the school's president Wang Heping has been dedicated to the study of Yungang Dance for some 20 years.
"Our research is to help make the silent statues carved 1,600 years ago come alive, using beautiful body language, to let the audience travel through time and space to ancient Datong," Wang said.
Since 2002, Wang and his team have started integrating and creating Yungang Dance, based on the statues in the Yungang Grottoes and the historical stories of the Northern Wei Dynasty.
The team has also compiled and published basic training materials for Yungang Dance, and cultivated choreographers and a troupe of performers for the dance form. In the process, they have made gratifying progress in their exploration and practice of high-quality Yungang studies, and in the revitalization of Yungang Grottoes' art.
A series of textbooks on Yungang Dance, compiled by Wang Heping [Photo/Shanxi Daily]
Through the team's efforts, performances of Yungang Dance have taken place on overseas stages four times over the past 10 years, helping to spread the cultural heritage globally.
Last year, Yungang Dance was recognized as an intangible cultural heritage item from Datong city. The Yungang Dances Creation Research Center was established and the development of the Yungang Dances discipline was officially launched, an initiative expected to usher in a new period for Yungang Dance research and creation.
"Yungang Dance, which come from the art of Yungang Grottoes, is an important part of the studies of the grottoes," Wang said.
"The essence of the discipline of Yungang Dance is to dynamically present the dancing poses of the statues in the grottoes and to give a living display of the Yungang Grottoes art," added Wang, who was appointed director of the Yungang Dances Creation Research Center.
Moving forwards, plans are for the center to develop the discipline of Yungang Dance further to high standards, form a high-quality subject team, do a better job in the compilation and publication of Yungang Dance teaching materials, train professionals for Yungang Dance, and stage more special tourist performances themed on Yungang Dance and music.