December 10th, 2008
Putting mind, body and spirit into his performances, Timothy Wu is sharing traditional Chinese culture with the world.
Wu, 21 of North Wales (Pennsylvania), is the lead dancer for Divine Performing Arts and is about to embark on a 60-city international tour.
Created in 2006, Divine Performing Arts is a nonprofit performance group focusing on classical Chinese music and dance.
The company is based in New York City and consists of three dance companies, two orchestras, and choreographers, composers, costume designers, backdrop artists and artistic staff. It is independent of China's political regime.
Wu's family has lived in the North Penn area since 1997, and he is a 2005 graduate of North Penn High School. He was born in Shanghai, China, moving to the United States with his parents when he was 4.
"I've always been interested in the arts, especially the traditional Chinese arts," Wu said. "My parents always emphasised that culture, such as making me speak Chinese at home, but I had never really looked into it before."
Besides playing basketball in high school, Wu had done some dancing as a teenager, such as the lion and dragon dances, which can often be seen at Chinese New Year events.
After his high school graduation, Wu originally studied pharmaceuticals for a year at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
"I'd always enjoyed my Chinese culture, and heard of Divine Performing Arts and decided to go for it," he said.
"I just wanted to do something different, something I believed in," he said.
Wu is currently in his third year at the Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in New York City.
Wu said people might mistake traditional Chinese dance for ballet, but "although it has some elements of ballet to it, there's acrobatics, such as flipping and tumbling." Performances of Chinese classical dance showcase ancient tales and legends, ethnic folk dances, and modern stories, as well.
"The biggest difference is the emphasis on dancing one's inner feelings," Wu said. "Using your heart to dance and express a character. Ballet is a bit more systematic."
When he first began, Wu said he liked the acrobatic elements of Chinese dance, but as he has matured, he appreciates the reflection and wisdom required for each performance.
"The deepest, most profound thing about dancing for me, is having to think about the roles, putting myself into the roles I play, and learning to express those roles," Wu said.
"It's something I believe in," he said "The most important thing about traditional Chinese culture is that belief that everything given to us comes from divine beings. This is the message we try to portray at our shows.
"Since the Cultural Revolution, which did away with religion, people have forgotten this. We want to have a renaissance of that traditional belief," he said.
From the beginning, Wu advanced quickly with dance; he began performing in New Tang Dynasty TV's (NTDTV is an international Chinese-language TV network) Chinese New Year shows in 2004.
Wu also became the principal dancer for Divine Performing Arts in 2006, and in 2007 he was the bronze medalist for the men's division of NTDTV's first Chinese Classical Dance Competition.
Besides offering standard academic classes, the academy also offers courses in Chinese culture and history. Wu said he is taking a Chinese writing class, as well as one in Chinese history.
A typical schedule at the academy for Wu would be a four-hour morning rehearsal, academic classes in the afternoon, and an hour of dance rehearsals into the evening. Students get one day off a week.
At this point in the year, Wu said most of his time is spent rehearing all day to get ready for the Diving Performing Arts upcoming world tour.
For the 2008-09 season, three different groups will be touring across the United States and Europe, and Wu's tour is being kicked off in Philadelphia later this month.
"We'll be in the United States until mid-February, and then head to Europe until April or May," he said.
Many of the cities in the European tour are ones Wu has never visited, and he said he looks forward to exploring new places.
"[Through Divine Performing Arts] I've been to Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and parts of Asia," Wu said.
After four years at the academy, Wu can choose whether to stay with Divine Performing Arts or perhaps go back to college for pharmaceuticals. Though he is not sure what he's going to do, for now sharing his beliefs and culture through dance has been immensely rewarding.
"It's just been a great opportunity," he said.
The Philadelphia Divine Performing Arts show is hosted by the Greater Philadelphia Asian Cultural Center and the Greater Philadelphia Falun Dafa Association. The shows will be at the Merriam Theater, 250 South Broad St., with four shows Friday to Sunday, Dec. 19-21. Tickets range from $38 to $108. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.
To learn more about Divine Performing Arts, visit www.divineperformingarts.com.
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