Art or vulgar? Chinese ‘peacock’ artist sparks controversy with near-nude dance
Published: Sep 08, 2023 04:03 AM
Yang Liping Photo: IC

Chinese dancer Yang Liping Photo: IC


Choreographed by China's veteran dancer Yang Liping, who is known for her signature "peacock" dance, a recent woman-man paired dance has sparked wide criticism from netizens who are calling it "too revealing" and say it contains sexual connotations.     

Photos of the dance were posted by netizens online after they photographed Yang and her male dance partner performing an "updated" program called Chun Zhi Ji (lit: The Rite of Spring) that added the new concept of "Yin and Yang practice." 

With a unique aesthetic that sees the male dancer wear a tight T-back and Yang herself in a sheer skin-colored body suit, the show has made some netizens frown with its boldness. The dance also blend quite a few private movements such as touching the opposite sex's sensitive areas. This has sparked criticism from netizens who call it "too revealing" and "a disaster if someone takes a minor to watch." 

Debatable photos of Yang's shows soon began trending on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, earning more than 400 million views. 

Addressing netizens' comments, Yang responded saying that she "did not care about the general public's opinion" and that the "truth and results" were something only audiences in the theater could determine. 

"There is no need to care about comments," Yang told media. 

Despite some voices calling the show "porn-like," some other netizens appeared to be supportive. 

"It is just an unusual aesthetic. Shouldn't we focus more on the art of the dance  itself?" said one netizen on Sina Weibo. 

"Yang's art is always slightly kinky yet attractive just like her peacock dance. If you can't accept this you can hardly appreciate a lot of classic art like those Renaissance sculpture masterpieces," posted another. 

Prior to the current controversy, Yang's peacock dance helped her rise to international fame back in the 1980s, but also lead the dancer to a Waterloo due to its revealing costumes and "porn-like" setting. 

In June, Yang brought a re-mastered version of The Peacock back to the stage. The male dancer's tight skin-colored body suits sparked netizen debate even though Yang later publicly clarified that the look was designed to cater to the dance's story. 

"This bit of dance delivers a story that the male peacock's feathers fall off one by one, and finally return to life's original look," Yang told media. 

"The costume was designed to express the truth that each of us came into the world naked and each of us will leave with nothing," Yang remarked. 

Whether or not an artwork is "deliberately erotic" or "being naked for the purpose of art purpose" is a nuanced subject, but it can be judged from whether those "revealing looks serve the narrative ," stage director Lu Siyu told the Global Times. 

"I've been a fan of Yang for a long time. Due to her Bai ethnic minority background, a lot of her dances depict 'primitive' and 'human-nature' stories. That's her language, and I don't feel it is porn," Liaoyi Xuemei, a fan of Yang and a peer, told the Global Times. 

Chen Feiyuan, another performing arts insider, told the Global Times that ugly "naked" versus elegant "nudity" has been a huge debate in art history for a long time, and the distinction won't be made clear in the short term.

"What we should do is to warn viewers, especially underage viewers, that a show has revealing content," Chen noted.