When ABT went on a tour to Beijing last month, Pointe asked corps member Katherine Williams (our "Dancer Spotlight" subject from June/July 09) to keep a diary of her experiences. Here's what she wrote:
Our tour to Beijing is starting with a 12:40 am flight out of Orange County after a week of Giselle performances. Naturally everyone is a little tired, but the company has only ever traveled to Shanghai and Hong Kong in the past, so this will be a new experience for everyone. From what we’ve heard, Beijing has developed rapidly since the Olympics, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, which is where we are performing, is a brand new theatre. I’m very excited for this tour since it’s my first trip to China, and I can’t wait to go to the Great Wall! We have an extra day off before we start performing so we can get accustomed to the thirteen-hour time difference and our generous sponsors have organized a trip for everyone to go see the Wall together. It will definitely be an unforgettable trip, as long as we can actually make it there. At the moment, we’re scheduled to land in the middle of a snowstorm!
We have officially arrived in Beijing, after an extensive 16-hour flight due to the stormy weather conditions. Our hotel is unbelievably nice and making it a lot easier to recover after a long and tumultuous flight! We were able to get out and explore Beijing a little on the first day, and even though it’s freezing here, we trudged through the snow in search of a traditional Chinese meal. The cuisine here is much different than American Chinese food, and revolves around a lot of different meats. They don’t seem to waste any parts of the animal when cooking, and we encountered some very interesting choices such as fried pig liver and goat intestine. We decided to pass on those options and opted instead for the more traditional-sounding soups, noodles, and dumplings, which were delicious (and also really inexpensive!)
Our trip to the Great Wall was amazing! It was a long hike up all the steps and it was well worth it for the incredible views of the mountains covered in snow. I think everyone had a wonderful time and we even managed to take a group photo of all of us in our eight layers of clothing. We were all so grateful to have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this historic site, which is one of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World, and especially to experience it altogether. I know I will never forget it, and it has been the highlight of my tour so far.
Now that we’ve started performing, our days are jam-packed with rehearsals, but everyone is still trying to squeeze in time for sightseeing as well. The shows have been going really well, though the audience here seems more subdued than our fans back home. We started off with two nights of the rep program from our fall season at Avery Fisher Fall, and have moved on to Don Quixote for the remainder of our time here. I really enjoyed our pieces this fall and have always loved Don Quixote, so I’m happy to be performing them for an audience that probably hasn’t been exposed to a lot of ballet before now. When we do find a spare minute, most people either return to the hotel for a quick nap (we are all been struggling with jet lag) or head to the Silk Market, which is a haven for bargain shopping. The deals you can find there on designer bags, accessories and clothing are fantastic—as long as you are willing to haggle with the vendors. I’m not very good at bargaining, but I’ve still managed to find some really great souvenirs, and even an extra suitcase to carry all my new purchases in.
Our trip to Beijing was definitely memorable, and allowed us to experience a culture that is distinctly different from our own. We were able to catch a glimpse of the Chinese culture and language, and even saw how Communism affects the daily lives of the people. Towards the end of the tour, a large number of people started getting some sort of stomach flu or food poisoning, which caused some interesting changes in casting. For our final Don Quixote show, three different principal couples performed each act, and Yuriko Kajiya and Daniil Simkin made an outstanding debut as Kitri and Basilio in the third act Wedding Pas de Deux. By the end of the trip we were all ready to come home. I was delirious but happy when we touched down in New York City. I’m not sure if we will be returning to China anytime in the near future, but I am so thankful to have been given this cherished opportunity. One of the great things about being a part of ABT is having the chance to travel to so many unusual places, and to explore them with a wonderful group of people.