World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company

GENRE: Contemporary
First appearance in SF EDF: 2007

The Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company artistically and inventively marries ancient Chinese forms with American modern dance. The company bridges the continuum from past to contemporary – from court dances of Chinese dynasties to contemporary works fusing classical Chinese movement, modern dance, and ballet. The company repertory features innovative dance works, all choreographed by Lily Cai, each revealing the complexity and inner beauty of the Chinese woman. Established in 1988 by Lily Cai, the company tours extensively across the United States and internationally, performing for theater, festivals, and special event audiences and conducting extended residencies at community centers, colleges, and universities.


TITLE: Silk Cascade
GENRE: Contemporary
DANCERS: Mindy Chang, Chui Cheung, C-oNe, Alexandra Nguy, Jia Liu, Angela Yuen Uyeda, Phong Voong

Silk Cascade is a vibrant new interpretation of the Chinese ribbon dance, with flurries of gestured silk and a surprising wall of color. The form is very old, originally performed for royalty in the Han (206 BCE - 420 CE) and Tang (589-907) Dynasties, a dance sometimes associated with an Emperor’s beautiful dream. It features leaping, twirling dancers who skillfully whirl and flick ribbons attached to short, varnished sticks. The ribbons are made of fine lightweight Chinese silk—usually red for good luck—and they are sometimes twenty feet long. The dance is very popular in China, often performed during harvest festivals and to celebrate the New Year. In many styles of Chinese dance, hand-held props—fans, chopsticks, and ribbons—help the dancers extend their gestures, and expand their expressions of emotion. In this piece, the ribbons become dance partners, as six skilled and graceful women push them into the air and allow them to push back.

Choreographer Lily Cai bases her piece in tradition, and she also adds many contemporary touches. She was inspired by the all-over paintings and flung-color method of Jackson Pollock. She triples the number of ribbons onstage and adds new colors to the mix, and her dancers even bend to paint their colors on the ground. The piece also evokes the alert grace of Chinese calligraphy, as dancers write black and white script in the air with airborne loops and trails—the black and white ribbons a contemporary addition to the form. The costumes are modern leotards; the shaping of ribbons behind the body is new and unusual; and the dancers’ attitude of inner quietude is a unique element the choreographer developed over time. The music for this piece is arranged and mixed by Gang Situ, and it also represents the innovative Chinese-American acumen of this company.



Lily Cai is considered a major authority and resource in Chinese dance and we are excited to feature her in our first Artist Dialogue of the season. She will share insight into her artistic process and vision, connecting her work with her fascinating life bridging Chinese and American cultures. She is a passionate dance innovator, working both within traditional Chinese dance forms and blazing new territory in the contemporary dance realm with her Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company. A native of Shanghai and former principal dancer with the Shanghai Opera House, Lily Cai has been a prominent member of the Bay Area’s dance community since her arrival in 1983.

Founder and Artistic Director of the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company and the co-founder of Chinese Cultural Productions, Lily’s strengths as a choreographer derive mainly from her ability to combine and integrate Chinese traditional, folk and classical dance, Western ballet, and American modern dance. Throughout her career, she has choreographed dozens of works expanding traditional Chinese dance forms into contemporary theatrical settings.

In 1994, the company reached a large mainstream audience by opening a Grateful Dead concert at the Oakland Coliseum, and in 1995 performed for the United Nations’ 50th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco. In 1996, the company received two coveted awards for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography and Best Company Performance from the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee for their collaborative performance with Oakland’s Dimensions Dance Theater entitled Common Ground. That same year, the company also premiered Chinese Myths Cantata, a successful collaboration with The Women’s Philharmonic and Chanticleer.

Lily Cai’s signature works include Candelas (1997) with lit candles, Southern Girl (1998) with the Alexander String Quartet, and Detours: Common Ground II (1999) with Dimensions Dance Theater, and Strings Calligraphy (2000) with the New Century Chamber Orchestra, Bamboo Girls (2001), Silk Cascades (2001) and SHE: Portraits of the Chinese Woman (2002). In Spring 2003, the company premiered Si Ji (Four Seasons) commissioned by the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival for its 25th anniversary celebration and Madame Mao for the Santa Fe Opera. 


TITLE: Sun Yun
DANCERS: Chui Cheung, Tammy Li, Phong Voong
MUSIC: Gang Situ

For the 29th Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, Lily Cai presents Sun Yun. Combining natural feminine beauty with virtuosity, humor, and charm, this new work depicts the spirit of shy but playful village girls in today's modern China.

This new work was made possible in part by funding from the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grants program.

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