Li Hengda outside Hengda Dance Academy in Bellevue. Madison Miller / staff photo

Li Hengda outside Hengda Dance Academy in Bellevue. Madison Miller / staff photo

Local director produces Chinese drama

Li Hengda has a dance academy in Bellevue.

A local Chinese director is breathing new life into an ancient tale.

Li Hengda, a resident of Mercer Island, came to the U.S in 1990. Hengda studied dance at Beijing Dance Academy, China’s top institution of higher dance education, and is recognized as a national premier dancer in China.

Hengda spent six years as a principal soloist dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet. He is frequently invited to judge international dance competitions, including the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” in China in 2014. Hengda has received many grants, fellowships and awards for his innovative work and contributions to the performing arts. Most recently, in 2018, Hengda was awarded the UNESCO Excellence in Dance Arts Awards and deemed a master of his craft.

Since coming to the U.S., Hengda founded American Asian Performing Arts Theatre (AAPAT) in Seattle and Hengda Dance Academy in Bellevue.

Hengda has devoted his time to the education and encouragement of Chinese arts and culture in the United States. Through his work with the Hengda Dance Academy and AAPAT, Hengda has created and directed 34 large-scale dance productions, and several acrobatic productions as well.

His newest work, “The Butterfly Lovers,” is among the first Chinese productions to achieve residency in Las Vegas.

Hengda’s “The Butterfly Lovers,” is a classical Chinese dance drama. It’s akin to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

The folk tale tells the story of two lovers who can never be truly together. It isn’t until their death can their spirits, manifested as butterflies, be together.

While “The Butterfly Lovers” is a classic Chinese drama, Hengda wanted to breath new life into the folk tale.

He said the original production of “The Butterfly Lovers” is about 26 minutes long. The original production typically casts only two performers to play the two lovers.

In Hengda’s production of “The Butterfly Lovers”, the story is about 80 minutes long. He has a cast of more than 45 performers.

He said he wanted to focus on the characters’ feelings.

“We use the performers like poetry,” he said. “They help tell the feelings of the characters.”

Hengda’s production is made up of student performers from the Beijing Dance Academy.

He said he wanted to see more Chinese art in the community. His mission through AAPAT and Hengda Dance Academy is to promote the unique — yet, universal — appeal of all Chinese arts and culture, expressed through the performing arts.

“The Butterfly Lovers” will be McCaw Hall at Seattle Center Sept. 5-7.

“The Butterfly Lovers” is performed by Beijing Dance Academy, presented by American Asian Performing Arts Theatre, and sponsored by CPAA North American Inc.

Tickets can be purchased online through https://asianperformingarts.org/ or https://www.ticketmaster.com/search?q=mccaw+hall+butterfly+lovers .

To receive a 10 percent discount, Bellevue Reporter readers can use the promotion code is BELReporter, and the Mercer Island Reporter readers can use the promotion code is MIReporter.

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