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Wen Wei Wang began dancing professionally in China. In 1991, he came to Canada and joined the Judith Marcuse Dance Company and Ballet British Columbia. He has received the Clifford E. Lee Choreographic Award, as well as Rio Tinto Alcan and Isadora Awards for Choreography. His company, Wen Wei Dance, has toured across Canada five times and has presented works at the International Dance Festival in Vancouver, Dancing on the Edge Festival, the Canada Dance Festival and the International Contemporary Dance Festival in Columbia, South America. The company has performed at the Venice Biennale Festival in Italy and at the Beijing National Performing Arts Centre and The Shanghai Grand Theatre with the Beijing Modern Dance Company in China.

Wen Wei has choreographed eight full-length works for his company. He has also choreographed for Alberta Ballet, Ballet Jörgen, Ballet BC, North West Dance Projects in the United States and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. He has choreographed the dance sections of the opera Nixon in China for the Vancouver Opera and the San Francisco Opera. Recently, he received the RBC top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award 2013.

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Carol Anderson: When and why did you come to Canada?

Wen Wei Wang: It seems a long time ago … I was working in the Lanzhou Army Dance Company. My teacher Chen Ling and I were invited to Canada on a five-month cultural exchange with China. I arrived in Vancouver in 1986 to perform with the Lorita Leung Chinese Dance Company at Expo '86. Coming to Canada was a cultural shock for me. From only wanting to be a good communist soldier, I quickly realized my eyes had been shut tight. I found another dream that did not include Mao.

Chen Ling and I flew to Vancouver via San Francisco. It was my first flight experience. It was also the first time I tasted cheese, which I found really awful. This was in March. Beijing is cold like Toronto, snowy and grey. When we landed in San Francisco, we were wearing winter clothes and were surprised to see people in sandals. I also remember seeing a woman walking her dog – which was something I had never seen before. I felt as if I had climbed out from under a rock. Neither of us could speak any English.

CA: None at all?

WWW: No – none at all. But we were fortunate enough to meet some local Chinese people who helped us onto the plane headed for Vancouver. When the plane touched down, we thought we had arrived at our destination so we followed people off the plane to the luggage area to discover our luggage was not there. We then met a Chinese couple who explained we were not in Vancouver; we were in Seattle and the plane we had just left had already taken off for Vancouver. The Chinese couple kindly took us to their home, fed us and got us back to the airport just in time to catch the last plane out of Seattle to Vancouver. We were met late at night by our very worried hosts.

Driving into the city from the airport, I was amazed to see such wide streets, the cherry trees in bloom, green grass everywhere, the magnificence of the mountains and the houses, which looked like something I had seen in comic books in China. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came to mind. I felt I was in heaven; I never knew a place could be so beautiful.

CA: How did you begin to make connections in Vancouver?

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WWW: I needed to take a professional class to stay in shape, so I went to the Dance Gallery – at the time Earl Kraul and Dianne Miller had their own school in downtown Vancouver. I met Grant Strate for the first time. He had just returned from a sabbatical trip to Asia Pacific where he had taught some ballet classes at the Beijing Dance Academy. I was in his ballet class at the Dance Gallery. Lorita Leung asked him to choreograph a solo for me, which he did despite the fact that I spoke no English and he spoke no Chinese. But somehow the language barrier did not matter as we understood each other through dance, which has its own language. It was my first contact with a Western choreographer. The solo he created for me was very difficult and physically demanding. At the end of one long and exhausting rehearsal, he asked me to repeat it for a third time. I instantly and emphatically said, “No”, which I believe was the first time I spoke an English word. That's how I got to know Grant. When I left Vancouver I knew I was a very changed person. Mao was no longer a god. My eyes were opened. On the plane, I remember wishing that time would stop so I would not have to return to China.

In 1988, I went to Beijing to study choreography at PLA - People's Labour Army Art Academy – which offers a university degree in choreography. (next page)

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