Finding Your Way on Life's Stage

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Finding Your Way on Life's Stage

"Half Dream." If Jin Xing got another chance to write an autobiography, those two words would be the title of her new book. The other half of her dream is up to audiences who watch her perform on stage.

That title is certainly shorter and crisper than the actual title she used, "Even the Gods' Mistake Couldn't Forbid My Dream," recently published in Korea by the JoongAng M&B Publishing House. But more likely, if Jin ever does receive another offer from a publisher to revise her autobiography, she would not hesitate to decline the offer, simply because she doesn't have a sensational story to tell which most publishers would expect from someone like her.

Jin Xing's name, which means "golden star" in Chinese, often follows a lengthy list of accolades. First, she is China's most celebrated contemporary choreographer and what her colleagues describe as "a model of grace and sensuality." To those who work in the dance field, she has a reputation of being confident and charming. Back in the early 1990s, she worked with some distinguished American choreographers, such as Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.

In Korea, she is also known as a joseon-jok, an ethnically Korean Chinese, who is currently based in Shanghai. But she is most widely known as a rebel who stirred up controversy six years ago in China by undergoing a sex-change operation.

Jin says she felt like a little girl trapped in a boy's body starting, she remembers, at age 6. At 16, she had her first crush on a boy who danced in the same troupe with her in mainland China. Later, when she was studying dance in New York, she learned about alternative lifestyles at Manhattan gay bars. Someone's confusion about his or her sexual identity is hardly news anymore. Nonetheless, Jin realizes how many people stare at her, and she often plays with them.

"People who see me for the first time say 'God! You are not wearing much make-up,'" she says bursting into a loud laugh as she sits in the guest lounge of the Opera House of the Seoul Arts Center. With her lips firmly closed and cheekbones rising like small hills on her angular face, the first impression of Jin is of a forbidding presence.

It's the wrong impression.

"Look at this," she says with an exaggerated frown while lifting up her black velvet dress to her thighs. She reveals two slim legs, covered by a pair of black nylon stockings. She points out a small scar on her right knee, which was not even the size of a fingertip. "I slipped from the truck during the jumping scene," she says of the recent injury.

Jin recently played the part of a female warrior, Lara, who saves a heroine in the director Jang Sun-woo's upcoming action film "The Resurrection of the Little Match Girl." It's her first feature film, although there have been several documentaries about Jin's life, including the one in the works by China Central Television.

"I first met her in the hotel lobby and we only exchanged few words. But she was so articulate about the role in the film from the beginning that other staff members and I were quite surprised," says Park So-young, an assistant with Tube Communications, a talent agency.

"She's also the best motorcycle rider I've ever seen," adds Park.

"The crew was all knocked out after seeing me handling the guns so well," Jin says of making the action film. "So I said, 'Honey, I learned how to use these 15 years ago,' and they all laughed." Two antique rings flash as her fingers carve the air while she speaks.

As a male dancer, Jin Xing began her career as a colonel in the Shenyang Military Dance Troupe, attached to the Chinese army.

At 32, Jin realizes that there are some things in her life that she can't quite take a control of - things like the ticket sales to her dance performances and people's prejudice toward her sexual history. Even so, she remains casual about those matters, partly because her tickets usually sell very well, but also because she is "a natural born optimist," as she described herself in her autobiography.

"I have to admit that half of the audiences who come to see my show are more interested in my personal history," she says sighing. Yet, she doesn't seem to be bothered by it. "I can convince them when they enter the theater."

On the stage, she is simply a dancer and nothing else. For the upcoming Seoul International Dance Festival, a contemporary dance event in which Jin performs, she is presenting her famed repertoire "Shanghai Tango," a collection of 10 dance pieces, which she choreographed and performs with her fellow dancers from the Jin Xing Dance Theater.

"It's about a love triangle," Jin says, emphasizing the word "love." The work is based on a classic tale of a Chinese woman who marries a rich man, but who ends up falling in love with their son. While that sounds like an eyebrow-raising drama, Jin admits she gets most of her inspiration from "chatting with her friends over coffee and shopping." She says, "I skip all those things that most choreographers do. I never take notes."

After a recent rehearsal, Jin removed her make-up and stood in the center of the Opera House's stage, her hands perched on her waist. It's the last rehearsal before her first performance begins in two hours, but she is irritated about the frequent mistakes with the lighting, an important part in the spectacle of her performance. The music, a Chinese opera tune, continues to play, but Jin doesn't move. Instead, she stares up at an electrical box and awaits reactions from the stage technicians. Suddenly, the lighting turns darker and Jin flutters her red silk gown as she runs quickly across the stage. She is dancing.

When she stops, she says, "I can't say that I love dancing, simply because I feel that there is no distance between me and my dance. The subject is just too close to me."


1969 born in Guangdong, China

1978 joined Shenyang Military Dance Troupe as a colonel

1988 moved to New York and studied under Martha Graham

1991 won Best Choreographer Award at the American Dance Festival

1996 formed Jin Xing Dance Theater

1998 won Best Cultural Award from the Ministry of Culture, China

2000 worked as art director and choreographer at Shanghai Opera House

2001 performed at Fourth Seoul International Dance Festival

by Park Soo-mee

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