Sang Jijia, Shaking up moderndance in China

Shaking up modern dance in China

In 2002, Sang Jijia, who goes by his Tibetan name Sangba outside China, became a student of renowned dancer and choreographer William Forsythe – then of the Ballett Frankfurt – as the inaugural protégé in the dance discipline of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts initiative. Sang stayed on in Germany with Forsythe, working with the Forsythe Company until 2006, when he returned to China as artist-in-residence with the BeijingDance/LDTX Company.

Interviewed in May 2013

It has been a long time since your mentorship with William Forsythe in 2002. What has happened in your life over the past 11 years?

In those first few years after returning to China, my schedule was very tight. My entire existence was basically rehearsing and performing, but I really love the feeling of being busy. I created full-length works for dance troupes, including As if to Nothing, Sticks, Unspeakable, Standing before Darkness, Layer Code and Mongolian Legends. Mongolian Legends had a cast of more than 100, with over 400 costumes, and required an investment of RMB20 million (€2.5 million). In scope, it’s the biggest dance performance project I’ve ever been involved in and the one that has left me with the deepest impressions of my working life so far.

How long did you spend with William Forsythe’s company, and what was particularly memorable about it?

Altogether I spent four years with William Forsythe, and I still recall the happiness I felt working with the people there. I think I was extremely lucky to have had a learning and working experience of that kind in my lifetime. As for what was particularly memorable, I would say that was every time I threw myself into one of Forsythe’s new works, crouching and writhing around and exploring the possibilities of movement with my fellow dancers – sharing both the joys and frustrations of creativity.

Are you still in contact with William Forsythe?

Sure, we stay in touch.

How did it feel returning to China? Do you have any stories to tell about it?

It was a joy to return. China and Europe are very different. China’s still a developing country, particularly in terms of the development of contemporary arts, which still have a long way to go. Precisely for that reason, China needs people like me who have studied abroad to return and be part of the country’s artistic progress, sharing what they have learned, giving young dancers a fresh perspective.
Apart from my works being performed around the country, I also occasionally conducted workshops at schools and also invited interesting overseas artists to participate in dance festivals.

Regarding your mentorship, how do think Western ballet has influenced your dancing?

If you talk about genuine influence, I think my biggest influences are my birthplace, Xiahe, and Tibetan culture. What I like about dance is that it presents the body with infinite possibilities, and I’m not interested in any particular kind of dance. At the same time, I’m more interested in the body than I am in technique. William’s influence on me was less about choreographic technique than inspiring me to see the pluralism innate in dance, the possibilities of the body, and so to deeply understand the value of dance.

Has William Forsythe seen you dance since the mentorship?

He hasn’t come to China yet to see any of my works. I really hope he can make it one day.

What are your plans for the future?

I have a lot of plans for the future. I need time and some good fortune to slowly make them happen. Right now, the important thing is working hard on rehearsals for the latest work in Norway.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re doing in Norway?

I’m in Bergen, where I’m working with artistic director and CEO of Carte Blanche (the Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance) Bruno Heynderickx on a completely new work called Not Here/Not Ever, which will premiere at the Festspillene i Bergen on 3 June this year. The show will also go on tour elsewhere in Europe.

We hear that you’ve been working on a long-term project in Tibet. Can you tell us anything about that?

Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, that project is currently on hold. I hope to be able to revive it in the future. I’m in the process of working hard at raising money for it at the moment.

Do you have any parting words for us?

My life is very simple. If I’m not rehearsing, I’m at home reading or listening to music… and then there’s always housework to be done.