Coming to a close: Tapestry's time in China ends with future tours on thehorizon
Tapestry Dance Company recently completed its month long tour of China, in which the company was able to share their signature styling of American tap dance with large, robust international audiences across China. Tapestry Co-founder and Artistic Director, Acia Gray, takes a moment to provide CultureMap with an exclusive look back at the five-week tour and a look toward future tours already on the horizon.
As I prepare for the return flight back to the States from Shanghai, I’m reminded every 15 minutes of how things are always a little more difficult here than at home.
Even as we depart, a Chinese gentleman who is packing luggage into the overhead compartment has to prove to himself (after numerous requests from the flight attendant to do otherwise) that his bag will not fit. It was a 10-minute, “Who is your manager?” tête-à-tête that left me and two of my Tapestry travel mates laughing at the cultural attitude that laid the foundation for our entire five-week tour.
With the first post-tour meeting behind me, and a better handle on The Chinese Way, we have been asked to return for a full country tour next season (to include not only Shanghai and the cities we have played within a 1,000 mile radius, but also Beijing and points beyond). On the next tour, most of our travel will be by plane, supplemented by the bullet trains and coach that have been our main modes of transportation on this maiden voyage.
A Souls of Our Feet performance more customized for the Chinese audience has been requested: two more dancers, utilization of the “rock n’ roll” lighting the country is accustomed to, two more musicians and more technical support staff. Negotiations will begin in a couple of weeks.
Both sides have learned important lessons. The primary thing Tapestry learned is that The Chinese Way will not change; we must go with the flow. If we want to share the power of American tap dance with this country, we must fit into their well-oiled customs, traditions and management styles. As mentioned before, the non-Chinese artists we have met along the way, albeit musicians or dancers, have had similar stories to tell. After working here for years, they have all adjusted.
Overall, there have been enough beautiful sights, sounds, tastes, people and experiences to make it all worthwhile.
In random order, the things I've learned most about performing in China:
- Most audiences are comprised of corporate sells: businesses that have purchased a block of seats (or the entire theater). The individuals, for the most part, have no idea what they are about to see.
- Audiences love our take on a traditional Chinese song sung by our beloved vocalist Datri Bean.
- Audiences also love what we are doing with our feet, but are polite in their response. Standing ovations are more common in the Western-influenced areas.
- Audiences will leave during intermission thinking that the show is over (we added a musical set and omitted this break). Conversely, they sometimes need to be told by announcement that the show is over.
- If we “demand” that our needs be met technically, the crew will stop working even though it is entirely possible to have these needs come to fruition easily.
- On average, it seems to take seven Chinese crew members to focus one lighting instrument or complete one task.
- Many load-in situations included brand new and expensive equipment in stock at the theater, but no one knew how to use it. The growth here is breathtaking.
Will we return? There are still many questions that need to be asked and answered before we can decide. Most of our tour members would love to come back, but some have had a very hard time. The trip has been extremely taxing on the technical staff as well as myself as the director.
Everybody on the tour has felt a big culture shock on some level. Perhaps it’s the oneness of most people, but it’s the absence of the individual that seems to be the most difficult to adjust to. Missing home and our loved ones also takes a big toll after so many weeks.
Our American/Austin attitude and jazz qualities have truly been an anomaly. But from the stage to the music clubs around Shanghai, Tapestry has found friends and carved trails.
In the end, how exciting it is to be one of the first groups to spread some American rhythm around.