Harvard CAMLab

Harvard CAMLab seminar review | Performing Dunhuang Murals: Traditional Analysis to Modern Creation


Dunhuang murals have a brilliant history of more than 1,600 years, with music and dance being an extremely important topic in Dunhuang art. The images of dancers in the Mogao Grottoes have a dazzling array of dance poses and gestures. They not only perpetuate the style characteristics of the eras they were depicted in, but also have a basic unified aesthetic that extends across the ages.

Harvard CAMLab’s upcoming project -- Dance at Dunhuang-- takes Dunhuang murals, extant manuscripts from Cave 17 (the library cave), and extant sheet music as research subjects, aims to fuse Dunhuang dance with modern dance and technologies to achieve performative feats only possible by marrying disparate styles and cultures to bridge time and space. The performance recreates the platonic and spiritual imagination a Reverent Dunhuang Landscape.

This seminar, “Performing Dunhuang Murals,” invited Professor SHI Min from Beijing Academy of Dance to share her dancing and teaching experience of Dunhuang Dance. She interpreted the perception of dance as seen on Dunhuang murals from a new perspective, from curriculum structure and talent training to choreography and performance. 



Video Catalog: Introduction to CAMLab’s Dunhuang Flying Apsaras Project



Please enjoy the lecture and its highlights in review.




  1. Overview of Historical and Cultural Context of Dunhuang Dance


00:14  Classifications of images of Dunhuang dance: Images of Ji Le Bodhisattva, Flying Apsaras, Heavenly Kings and Vajra, Heavenly General Ji Le, Incarnate Ji Le, and the Eight Legions.






2. Creation and Analysis of Dunhuang Dance

  • Studying murals in depth

    • Enlightenment and meditation 00:03

    • Thirty-six postures of Ji Le Bodhisattva 00:17

    • Techniques of billowing ribbons of flying apsaras 00:25

    • Thirty-six postures of male Ji Le 00:28

    • Dancing of Heavenly King Nio 00:36



  • Choreography -- Inspiration from murals

    • Trailer of dance of Ji Le 00:03

    • Pipa playing 00:10

    • Wen Fa flying apsaras 00:26

    • Male dance, enlightenment, and Leigong drum 00:30

    • Crossing the lantern flames and lotus 00:42




3. Aesthetics of Dunhuang Dance 00:44





4. Q&A

In the future, Dunhuang Flying Apsaras will sponsor more public lectures and more seminars. Please stay tuned!


Seminar guest: Professor Min Shi

Seminar host: Anna Yu

Translator: Ning Zhu

Video edit: Anna Yu & Jiajian Min

Content edit: Anna Yu, Jiajian Min, and Qilin Huang




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