Spring Leaves Falling in Chongqing


A partnership project between Charnwood Arts, 501 Xu Space and Yu Dance in Chiongqing, South West China.

Charnwood Arts’s links with South West China began in 2007 when the Arts Director of Charnwood Arts was invited to take part in a UK based Cultural Leadership Programme which included visits to the Chinese cities of Chengdu and Chongqing. This was followed by an invitation from the British Council to work on a creative consultation project with three communities in Chongqing later in the same year.

In 2010 Charnwood Arts worked with Barrow upon Soar based curator, Ming Turner, to take an exhibition to the 501 Art Space in Chongqing and Charnwood Arts gave a number of talks about Community Arts and Arts Development projects in the UK.

In both 2011 and 2012 the dancer and choreographer Rong Tao spent month long residencies with us in a link up with Nottingham University. Hundreds of young people across Charnwood and other parts of Leicestershire were involved in workshops or saw performances and more advanced dance students took part in masterclasses or longer projects to choreograph new works. Two of these were performed at special events with a total audience of over 6,000 people.

As part of Rong Tao’s work with us and the Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham, he was introduced to work with young people with special needs and he has continued to develop this work in China since.

Our links with Chongqing have been sustained through another key relationship with the remarkable artist and academic, Yan Yan, a teacher at Sichuan Fine Art Institute and the Director of 501 Art Space. Yan Yan and the Arts Director of Charnwood Arts have met on numerous occasions, both here and in China, and agreed that a meaningful cross cultural relationship would take at least a decade to bear full fruit. In fact, the City of Leicester has been formally twinned with Chongqing since 1993, so the local links to this area of China already have their own established history.

We travelled to Chongqing via Finland - spending one night there and, on the following day, met up with a recent intern at Charnwood Arts, Jenni Lindfors. An interesting experience as we all ended up walking around the harbour on the sea ice! Two days later it had all melted and broken up!

Our next surprise was on the Finnair plane to Chongqing. The air hostesses became interested in why we were travelling as a group and a long conversation ensued - the upshot of which was that Saijal and Hema were invited to dance as we crossed over from Tibet into South West China. A first for an East Midlands Arts organisation I’m sure! Within hours of landing Hema had attracted yet another audience of over 500 people in the commercial district of Yang Jia Ping!

Two weeks of intensive activities followed. We stayed in the ‘Foreigners Hotel’ at the old campus of Sichuan Fine Art Institute and were gifted the use of a large studio at 501 Xu Space and a ‘home from home’ with constant green tea on tap at the Himalaya Bookshop. The title for our final work ‘Spring Leaves Falling’ came from a mix of sources. As a visual artist one of Jemma’s first discoveries of interest were the long brown fallen leaves of bamboo, which she eagerly brought back to the studio. We were also staying amongst avenues of trees, special to Chongqing, that were everyday shedding more leaves. This phenomenon of Autumn in Spring, of something familiar yet so different, became a motif of our exchange as artists.

The three main centres of our working activity were a special school, Huiling, nearer to the commercial and business centre of Chongqing, the Huang Jue Ping Street area where 501 and Himalaya are based and the remarkable New Campus of the Sichuan Fine Art Institute. The latter is part of the new University City housing over 200,000 students with a commercial centre bigger than Loughborough’s. The Art School is one of the biggest in the world and it was a real honour for us to be able to work and lecture there.

In our highly active two weeks we prepared and delivered with our Chinese partners, collaborators and hosts an impressive list of outputs that included:

A series of dance workshops with Rong Tao at the Huiling Special School.

A series of dance workshops and a performance at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute [SFAI].

Presentation talks by James Chantry and Jemma Bagley on Video Art and Community Projects at SFAI.

A lecture presentation by Kevin Ryan at SFAI on his experience in Community Photography and his own photographic work since 1979.

Talks and Discussion evenings with Kevin, James and Jemma with documentary film maker Li Yifan and photographer Guai Zi at the Himalaya Bookshop.

A spontaneous performance and workshop at the Luohan Temple.

A spontaneous performance evening in Huang Jue Ping !

The creation of new works combining poetry, visual arts, photography, music, dance, video art and digital film leading to a final performance at 501 Xu Space.

Add to this the myriad of informal conversations, visits to exhibitions, artists studios, arranged meetings, cultural visits and the inevitable delights of Chongqing cuisine... this was one of our most active projects abroad to date. We also have many hours of documentary footage to edit down to a short film.

There are a host of outcomes from a trip such as this - both for us as an organisation and as a team, for our partners in China and of course for future ideas, projects and relationships between us. Making the connections between China, Taiwan, India and the interest shown in Palestine, where we also have a long term relationship, was a particularly interesting cross cultural development for us all.

There is enormous interest in us returning next year to develop further work along the lines of a community project, to undertake more dance work and to work in a special school or mental health context.


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