Dancing in the Outskirts of a Small Town
Since the beginning of the 1980’s, China has seen an emergence of a unique set of “art groups”: bringing with them simple props and costumes, driving covered vehicles (usually antiquated large trucks), and drifting on the outskirts of towns and cities, they maintain a livelihood through their performances. The group members are mostly peasants and hail from economically undeveloped provinces. By organizing into a performing group, they can increase their income as well as have a chance to escape their hometowns and see the “outside world”.
On arrival at a new place, the performing group will set up a tent or rent a theatre. The content of performances usually includes singing and dancing, magic acts, qigong, acrobatics, etc. In order to attract an audience, the group may also add some violent or sexual content. In comparison to male actors, the acts of female performers receive more attention. Their performances are quite bold, for, having left the familiar land and environment of home, they show an ease and romance they had never had before. For only five yuan one can watch an entire show.
The fact is, China is currently undergoing dramatic economic change and social transition, and at the same time, all types of fringe people have become separated from mainstream society; “vagrant artists” are just one of these types. In 1997, I came into contact with and began photographing them. At that time I worked at a news agency. In the end, I spent 3 years photographing Dancing in the Outskirts of a Small Town.