In the springtime, the Chinese celebrate the beginning of a new year. Spring festivals are hosted all over the country, and traditional foods such as niangao, or Year Cake, are eaten to bring good luck. On January 31, the Year of the Horse officially began. To get into the Chinese groove, the Suzanne Dellal Center will host the annual Spring of Chinese Dance Festival. This year’s program will consist of performances by two major companies: the Shaolin Monks and Wang Yabin and Her Friends. Performances of both troupes will be held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Herzliya.

The Shaolin Monks will present a traditional demonstration of stage combat, drawn from hundreds of years of tradition and practice. The first evidence of Shaolin Kung Fu dates back to the sixth century. A small number of battles were documented, during which monks from the Shaolin temple defeated robbers by using their unique skills. In the 16th and 17th centuries, martial arts became an integral part of life in the temple. In 1610, the first manual on the form was printed, entitled “Exposition on the Original Shaolin Staff Method,” a document that is still used today.

In recent years, due to increased international attention, the abbot of Shaolin opened his doors to the media, allowing a 1,500-year-old tradition to enter pop culture. Many choreographers have referenced the deft movements of these monks in their dance pieces. Most notably, Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkouai created Sutra, an eveninglength piece performed by 50 trained Shaolin monks. The piece was performed in Israel in 2010 as part of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center’s dance season.

Wang Yabin has been an active member of the Chinese dance community for many years. Born in Tianjin, Wang began studying dance at the age of nine. She quickly caught the eye of her teachers and went on to dance as a soloist in the Beijing Dance Academy’s Young Dancer’s Group. She has performed numerous times in North America and Europe. In 2008, she founded Wang Yabin and Her Friends as a platform to present the best of dance to a broad audience base. In the years since, she has hosted musicians, choreographers and dancers. Today, her list of collaborators includes 100 names, such as composer Zhou Long; dancer, teacher and choreographer Mark Haim; choreographer and performer Sidi Larbi Cherkouai; and the rock band Tang Dynasty. In 2009, Wang founded Yabin Studio, a production group that puts out a new eveninglength piece once a year. The studio commissions choreographers based in America, Europe and Asia.

For her first trip to Israel, Wang has put together a program of six sections. Each section is named after a moment in life or an emotional state. The evening includes music, theater, dance and a variety of sets and props. Beyond the diversity of the program, the real treasure is Wang’s stunning stage presence. Both delicate and fiery, Wang is a force to be reckoned with.

Spring of Chinese Dance is a joint project of the Suzanne Dellal Center, the Chinese Embassy in Israel and the Chinese Ministry of Culture. Delegates from the Chinese Ministry of Culture will come to Israel with the artists to enjoy the days of the festival.

Spring of Chinese Dance will take place from February 16 through 21. For more information about Spring of Chinese Dance, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il

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