Since stunning judges on So You Think You Can Dance China, Duan Jingting has been building up a name for her homegrown contemporary dance company D.LAB. Three years since their debut, they move to their biggest stage yet, premiering Fragile at Shanghai Grand Theatre from November 13-14.
When we spoke to Duan last September, she told us about her 15-year plan to “own a big building with a theater and rehearsal rooms that allow us to do performances that communicate purely in dance without worrying about the commercial benefits.”
Nearly a year later, she is well on her way to achieving her ambitions. Sitting in her office in D.LAB’s new studio – complete with rehearsal rooms and a live DJ booth – Duan proudly notes the growing number of young locals starting contemporary dance training with them.
The former Shanghai Ballet dancer has overseen D.LAB’s organic growth. However, as they graduate from the Shanghai Theatre Academy’s stage to the Shanghai Grand Theatre for their latest show, Duan has called in reinforcements for Fragile.
Eight professional contemporary dancers and two seasoned choreographers have joined the production, including Jiang Yang. The former principal dancer at the Lyon Opera Ballet worked with Duan as the choreography director of So You Think You Can Dance China. He describes his style as poetic and expressive. Earlier this year, he was invited to present his work Puzzle at the Milan Expo opening.
For Fragile, he’s crafted a 20-minute performance inspired by Hong Kong arthouse filmmaking legend Wong Kar-wai’s 2046.
“In my piece, six dancers express six different emotions simultaneously, resembling the montage that combines six separate stories in the film,” he explains. “I have named the piece 2047. The performance fits the Fragile theme, which defines the relationships between people to some extent.”
Jiang hesitates to reveal any additional details. “As a choreographer, I prefer to deliver a feeling rather than a fixed plot,” he explains. “Different people will have different takes on the same dance. That’s perfectly normal and I appreciate the audience’s perspective rather than feeding them mine.”
Making his dance theater debut is Belgian artist Phil Akashi. Based in Hong Kong, Akashi also has a studio in Shanghai and was thrilled when D.LAB invited him to collaborate. A stunning street portrait he created two summers ago in Shanghai will serve as a backdrop for one of Fragile’s pieces.
“It’s a portrait of Nelson Mandela, who I adore as a hero and as a fighter of freedom,” Akashi explains.
After learning Mandela was a fan of boxing, Akashi carved the Chinese characters for freedom on boxing gloves as a tribute.
“It took me three weeks to complete the whole project,” he says. “The work is done with 27,000 punches in total, representing 27 years he was imprisoned. To me, freedom is something quite fragile. And I hope this will help to bring out the essence of the dance.”