‘We were afraid of teaching Mongolian dancers’


Modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis once said, “I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.”

Northwest Dance Project contemporary dance company performed at the State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet last Friday, at the invitation of Art Council of Mongolia and the U.S. Embassy. The Asian tour of Northwest Dance Project started from Mongolia.

Art Council of Mongolia and the U.S. Embassy invited the contemporary dancers to promote the trend of contemporary dance in Mongolia and to expand relations between dancers of the two countries.

The company has 175 dances in its artistic fund, and four of these dances, namely “Mother Tongue”, “Memory House”, “Blue”, and “At Some Hour You Return”, were staged in Mongolia. 

The following is an interview with dancers of Northwest Dance Project and winners of the Princess Grace Award, one of the biggest awards for dancers in the USA, Franco Nieto, Andrea Parson, Viktor Usov, and Ching Ching Wong.  

How did you feel when you heard about performing in Mongolia? 

Franco Nieto: We didn’t study Mongolia before we came, because we wanted to see Mongolia as a surprise. Mongolia was like opening a present without knowing what’s inside.

Most of you graduated from ballet school. Is ballet the base or foundation of contemporary dance? 

Andrea Parson: The base of contemporary dance is flexibility. Dancers have to feel every detail of their bodies. Ballet helps us to be flexible and learn techniques of detailed moves.

Viktor Usov: Lots of professional choreographers in our company teach various dance lessons, not only ballet. It is good for dancers to learn various dance genres. We couldn’t learn those numerous body movements if professional choreographers didn’t teach us. I became more open through dancing. Also, I am improving day by day.

What’s the difference between modern and contemporary dance? 

Ching Ching Wong: Modern dance derived from the 1940s. Contemporary dance developed based on modern dance.

Viktor Usov: We have to trust ourselves when we are expressing our skill, feeling, and experiences through dance. Contemporary dance focuses on understanding who you are and mixing your mind and dance moves.

Franco Nieto: Contemporary dance is like chili made with different vegetables. I mean dancers have to mix techniques and  the choreographer’s imagination, then express it. The “soup” will never taste like the previous one after a choreographer cooks it again.

What do we have to do to develop contemporary dance in Mongolia? Can we mix it with Mongolian traditional dance? 

Ching Ching Wong: You can combine contemporary with traditional dance, but you have to learn ballet first. It can be developed if Mongolia brings professional choreographers from abroad.

We saw a concert at Tumen Ekh Ensemble on September 22. I really liked the combination of Mongolian traditional dance moves. Also, I loved what the symphony orchestra played along with the performance. I have never heard this kind of music before.

Franco Nieto: I thought Mongolian traditional dance was based on the ground, and I saw lots of shoulder and body movements during the concert. Some choreographers have taught us those movements before. It was really nice to see the natural form of those movements. Mongolian traditional dance has already influenced contemporary dance.

You taught dance lessons at Mongolian arts and culture organizations. How were the lessons? 

Franco Nieto: I taught a lesson to artists of the State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet. Actually, we were frightened a little bit, of teaching Mongolian ballet dancers when we saw them. Mongolian dancers are very skilled. They were skilled at ballet and knew how to work with their bodies. So I tried to teach them something new. Mongolians were so open and friendly. They were ambitious.

Andrea Parson: I didn’t face any language barriers and misunderstandings, although we have different culture, nationality, lifestyle, and thinking. I didn’t think Mongolians could dance so well.

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