As is tradition, during the 2004 closing ceremony of the Athens Summer Paralympic games, the next host Beijing had eight minutes to showcase China’s expansive culture. It was in that moment that The China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe (CDPPAT) made their international debut, performing the iconic, and now world recognised Thousand-hand Bodhisattva dance.
One year later the troupe delivered the most notable of the dances’ performances when they appeared on the 2005 Spring Festival Gala. The footage went viral across YouTube and Facebook, culminating millions of views.
The Thousand Hand Bodhisattva dance is a beautifully synchronised flow of movement. What is even more astounding is that the sixty-three strong group of dancers who take on this incredible dance, are all deaf or with a hearing impairment. The performers are supported by six directors of whom use sign language to help the dancers feel the rhythm and remain in perfect time.
The CDPPAT was formed in 1987. Since then it has seen significant growth with over 80 performers and has toured over fifty countries as advocates for disability rights. The group has become a national treasure and in 2007 was appointed UNESCO’s Artist for Peace. Members devote their days to rehearsals, staying on site and returning home only during the New Year celebrations.
The seamless dance itself represents the Bodhisattva Guan Yin, a goddess of compassion. According to legends, Guan Yin cannot fully become a buddha so long as there is still a single tear in the world. In her attempts to help the suffering, her head split open and arms shattered into pieces. She was then granted a thousand heads and a thousand arms, an image beautifully portrayed in the Thousand-hand Bodhisattva dance.
The mastermind behind the dance is choreographer Zhang Jigang, whose impressive roster of over 300 large scale dance productions includes co-directing and choreographing the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. With a position as Lieutenant General in the People’s Liberation Army, Jigang now holds the highest military, non-combat officer rank in China. Jigang has previously described his creations as being “rooted deeply in sympathy” for the challenges faced by others of whom he gives a voice through dance.
Both The China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe and Zhang Jigang continue to create and inspire through their art. Their visually dynamic, diverse range of performances can be watched and enjoyed across the internet.