Tan Yuanyuan, San Francisco Ballet's first Chinese principal dancer, impressed audiences with her performance in the CCTV Spring Festival gala, the show broadcast on Chinese New Year Eve on Feb 11, ushering in the Year of the Ox.
Teaming up with the celebrated pianist Li Yundi and the contemporary dancer Zhang Aoyue, Shanghai-born Tan danced to Wo Ai Ni Zhongguo (I Love You, China), one of the most popular songs among Chinese audiences, sending a message of hope and love in the special time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There was no music when we first met, just a theme for the performance," Tan said, adding that it was her first collaboration with the pianist Li and dancer Zhang.
"It took days in the studio for both of us to adjust to each other's tempo and movement."
The essential section and the highlight in the full-length ballet is the pas de deux. The three artists worked together to come up with some basic postures and steps, because ballet and contemporary dance require different styles and skills. They worked on building mutual trust and harmony, two elements that are usually the fruit of years of practice.
"Luckily there was tacit agreement between us, and we had a common understanding on what we should dance to and about," Tan said. "Things were going better and proceeding more quickly than we had expected. Professionalism is the key. We tried each movement again and again until we were all satisfied."
After watching Tan's performance in the gala, one of her fans commented on the social media platform Sina Weibo: "Whether she is twirling, leaping or bending, she makes her graceful moves look effortless."
Another wrote: "She's so beautiful, and she inspired me to learn ballet. I wish she would she return to perform in her home country more often."
It was the third time that Tan has performed in the CCTV Spring Festival gala, said to have attracted 1.14 billion viewers this year.
In 1994 Tan, then 18, made her debut performance with the violinist Lyu Siqing and the pianist Kong Xiangdong. In 2006 she returned to perform with the dancers Yang Liping and Liu Yan.
Last December Tan appeared in Hunan TV's popular reality show Dance Smash, which came as a surprise for Chinese audiences as well as garnering her a new fan base. Gathering top Chinese dancers, the reality show features the technology to capture diverse dance styles in motion.
"It is the first time that I have appeared in a Chinese reality TV show," Tan said. "I guess I must have surprised a lot of people around the world－including myself."