Watch: Stars of New York City Ballet, Indian Kathak Dance, and Chinese Kunqu Opera Share Stage
Renowned former ballerina Wendy Whelan, explosive dynamo Indian Kathak dancer Parul Shah, and effervescent Kunqu opera star Qian Yi came together on stage in New York last month to explore the connections of their performing arts forms. The program took place as part of Asia Society’s annual Viewpoints series, which highlights new ideas in the creative world.
Each of the three performers represented a rich classical tradition. Ballet is the quintessential Western classical dance form; Kathak is one of eight classical forms of Indian dance which originated with Sanskrit storytellers in ancient India; and Kunqu opera, one of the oldest forms of classical Chinese opera, combines dance, music, and theater. Each form incorporates rigorous physical training, requires incredible aestheticism and aesthetic understanding, and embodies the history of power in its respective culture over hundreds of years.
For the program, the three performers each gave demonstrations of their respective forms, including two presentations of exquisite footage featuring Qian and Whelan in Slow Dancing, a video installation by photographer and videographer David Michalek. The demonstration finale included all three performers on stage together.
Viewpoints: Classical Connections explored aesthetic beauty, the female form, and innovation as manifested across cultures: from Qian’s serious performance and humorous anecdotes, to Whelan's rendition of the 18th century French courtiers putting on airs and stuffy walks in well heeled feet that was the precursor of ballet, to the Persian influence of the Mughal Court where the dynamic Kathak dance was born.
The three women who shared the stage have shaped the dance world and now use their art to redefine dance. For those who might have wondered how their dance forms could ever be related, it became clear in their strict classicism, rigorous technique and aesthetic language.
The program was followed by a patron dinner, where the conversations continued. Attendees included choreographer Shen Wei, dancer Rajika Puri, and American Dance Festival Founder (and 1960 curator of performing arts at Asia Society) Charles Reinhardt, capping off an evening in which the history of the Asia Society’s work in the world of dance was vividly on display.
Video: Watch the full program (1 hr., 23 min.)