By: Sarah Trested



INTERVIEW WITH KYL/D'S Rehearsal Director and assistant to the artistic director: Lingyuan "Maggie" Zhao

Maggie Zhao

(SARAH): First, tell us a little bit about your dance background.

(MAGGIE): I was born and raised in Yunnan Province, China, where there are 26 different minority ethnic groups. Due to the amount of diversity, I was able to take Chinese minority ethnic dances when I was 6 years old. From 2002-2007, I studied at Chongqing Dancing School, a professional dance conservatory, to master Vaganova ballet, Chinese Classical dance, and Chinese Majority and Minority dances. In 2007-2011, I went to Capital Normal University (CNU) in Beijing, China, for my BA in Dance. CNU is where I first learned about American modern dance, composition, dance pedagogy, and Chinese and Western dance history and theories which fascinated me. One antagonizing element of my education in China was that I was constantly told that I could not be a professional dancer onstage, because I did not have the ideal “dancing body.” So, I subconsciously told myself that in order to continue my dance career, I needed to find other ways to pursue dance. Choreography and dance pedagogy were other fields besides performance that I was interested in. I had taught Chinese Classical dance and choreographed when I was in China. As I taught, I realized one of the problematic issues in China’s dance education was the lack of creativity and critical thinking in the curriculum. From this discovery, I decided to study abroad in the U.S., at UNC-Greensboro, to explore more possibilities in dance.      

(SARAH): Now that you have spent a little over 5 years in the U.S., how do you compare the dance culture in China to the dance culture in the U.S.?

(MAGGIE): To reflect on my own experiences, there are two mains differences to dance in China versus dance in the U.S. First of all, the goal of dance education is different. Chinese dance education heavily focuses on bodily training towards “perfection,” so the professional dancers are always chosen at an early age by measuring their physicality. In contrast, I feel like U.S dance education concentrates more on cultivating creative thinking and individuality. Secondly, the relationship between the dance teacher and his/her students is quite opposite. In China, students are trained to be respectful, obedient, and follow what the dance teacher wants and requires. This implies that disagreement with the teacher is not allowed. However, in the U.S, I have sensed a strong feeling of individuality and empowerment within the students in their relationship with the dance teacher. Particularly, the students are welcomed to share their thoughts and feelings.

The same issue we all face either in China or in the U.S is that it is very hard for dance artists to find a well-paid job. In China, so many dancers have to change their careers to administration, business, film acting, etc. so they can maintain an independent lifestyle. I have also noticed that there are so many American dancers who mainly work in restaurants to support their dance career as free-lance artists.        

(SARAH): So what led you to Kun-Yang and KYL/D?

(MAGGIE): I heard of Kun-Yang Lin in 2013, but it took two years to officially meet with him in person. I learned about him during the first year of my MFA in Choreography Studies within the Dance Department of UNC Greensboro. One of my peers, Elisa Foshay, introduced Kun-Yang and his artistry to me. By that time, with my limited English skills, I could not fully understand what Elisa was trying to say and why she was so passionate about Kun-Yang’s artistic voice. I, therefore, did not keep Kun-Yang and KYL/D in my mind.  However, after attending the NDEO (National Dance Education Organization) Conference in November 2014, I got a strong impression about KYL/D from the presentation made by Jessica Warchal-King, a senior dance artist at KYL/D. I kept in contact with Jessica and told her that I was very interested in working at KYL/D to further my research in the eclecticism of Chinese and American modern dance. Jessica invited me to take Kun-Yang’s class in March 2015, and that’s the first time I met Kun-Yang.

(SARAH): You have been working with KYL/D for over a year now. What do you love most about KYL/D?

(MAGGIE): The fascinating aspect of the KYL/D dance ensemble to me is its diversity of dance artists, the collaboration of the administration and artistry, the interdisciplinary/multi-cultural investigation through choreography, and Kun-Yang’s belief in Choreography as Practice. In China, we always have the same aesthetics of recruiting “good” dancers, so I feel that the dancers look very familiar. However, at KYL/D, every dance artist is a beautiful soloist who has his/her own strong artistic voice and has different cultural and technical backgrounds. Although they are so diverse, Kun-Yang aims to bring all of the dancers together to find their similarities through their differences. The process of balancing these differences takes time, energy, and patience. I think that makes every rehearsal worthwhile and meaningful because every practice has become a valuable opportunity for us to learn and discover something we may not have been aware of before. To me, that’s what I would never experience in China. Kun-Yang’s personality is very neutral and empowered. He embraces the diversity from our dancers; and he listens to and sometimes integrates our comments and feedback. But most importantly, his choreographic process is beyond the creation of movement itself. Kun-Yang’s artistry is to conceptualize and contextualize our contemporary culture through different disciplinary inquiries.