April 5, 2008

Artistic freedom is intrinsically tied with political freedom. but when dancer and choreographer Vina Lee found both, she felt gifted.

After migrating to Australia from China in 1990, Lee says she spent years shaking off the shackles of her former life under communist rule.

"You have to be in a Western country for at least five years or more to realise how much we have been brainwashed in China," she says.

These days, Lee can be found touring the world dancing and choreographing for the New York-based Divine Performing Arts Company's Chinese Spectacular which arrives in Brisbane on Monday.

More than a show that celebrates ancient Chinese culture and artistic traditions, it sends a strong political message about repression in China through what it is able to express.

"For me the most difficult thing there was that as a dancer, as an artist, there is not much hope. Anything you really want to express, you know there is a boundary, and there is no freedom to cross that boundary. You ask yourself, 'What is the final goal I can achieve?' Artistically you can't make a connection," Lee says.

When China opened its doors to the world in the early 1980s, Lee vividly remembers going to see the first American ballet company to tour China, the Boston Ballet.

"It opened our eyes. There was something in the world existing that we'd never touched on, but at the same we didn't have the freedom to do that," Lee, a former principal artist with China's Guangdong Dance Theatre, says.

The Chinese Spectacular, Lee explains, is presented in a format that will be familiar to Chinese audiences, but with a major difference.

"The Communist Party is very tricky. They use traditional Chinese culture to attract Chinese people to shows, but then they promote Communist Party ideology. When people see our show they say it's so pure, so beautiful," she says.

Numerous unsuccessful attempts were made by Chinese authorities to disrupt the show in Australia. It features dances from traditional Chinese cultures and belief systems such as those of Tibet and Falun Gong.

"We're reviving the culture that's been destroyed by the Communist Party," Lee says.

The show has been touring the globe since 2004 and features a selection of Chinese classical dances and "dance dramas" that depict the stories of Chinese legends.

A single dance can require more than 100 costumes and accessories, and each piece is extensively researched and made by hand.

Integrating modern technology, the show also features custom-designed 3D digital backdrops.

The Chinese Spectacular has played on world stages including New York City's Radio City Music Hall, San Francisco's Opera House, Berlin's International Congress Centrum and Paris's Le Palais des Congres.

Two tours of the show are now progressing through the Asia-Pacific and Europe.

Its 2008 tour will see 220 shows performed in 65 cities to some 650,000 people.