Chen Ailian, a veteran dancer-choreographer who had been active onstage since the 1950s, died aged 81 on Nov. 21.
According to a report by Beijing Evening News, her daughter confirmed her death and said the cancer, which was diagnosed a month ago, spread from her stomach and to the bones.
In 1962, her performance in the dance drama Spring River in the Flower Moon Night, based on the Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Zhang Ruoxu's poem of the same title, won Chen four top prizes at the World Festival of Youth and Students, an international event organized by the United Nations, in Helsinki, Finland.
In 1980, Chen held a solo dance show in Beijing, the first of its kind in China, which showcased her techniques in traditional Chinese dance and ballet.
She was also passionate about training young Chinese dancers. In 1995, she founded Chen Ailian Dance School.
In 2017, at the age of 78, she gave three nights of performances in Beijing to celebrate her career spanning 65 years.
She played the role of Lin Daiyu, a teenage heroine in the dance drama Dream of the Red Chamber, which is based on a novel of the same title written by Cao Xueqin during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
"I was impressed by her passion for dancing when I worked with her during the dance competition reality show, Dance Smash, last year. She had sever waist injury but still danced hard during the rehearsal," said 28-year-old dancer Liu Jia on his Sina Weibo platform on Saturday.
Liu performed with Chen in the popular reality show Dance Smash in 2019. He also posted a photo of him and Chen sitting on the ground in a rehearsal room.
"She showed me that a dancer can leap through the age barrier."
Chen was born in Shanghai in 1939 and grew up in an orphanage. She started to study traditional Chinese dance in Beijing in 1952. The same year, she watched a performance by the late Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova in Beijing, which was a life-changing experience.
After the Beijing Dance Academy was founded in 1954, Chen was transferred to study there.
Besides traditional Chinese dance, she was also trained in other dance forms such as ballet.
Her first break came while studying at the same academy when she played the lead role in a dance drama called Yu Mei Ren, which premiered in Beijing in 1959.
Yu Mei Ren, which combines Western ballet with traditional Chinese dance moves, is regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Swan Lake.
After graduating, she became a teacher at the Beijing Dance Academy.
Chen also played leading roles in many other Chinese dance dramas, such as The White-Haired Girl and The Peony Pavilion.