When the curtain opens on Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room, there are two women onstage, wearing striped pants and tops, and sneakers. By the end, after almost 40 minutes of high-intensity dancing, they've stripped down to red leotards, their fists lifted victoriously. Wanyue Qiao danced one of these athletic superwomen last year during American Ballet Theatre's spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was her first major role, after three years in the corps, and she couldn't have been more fierce. "To be honest, I had never done this kind of dance before, and I wasn't sure if it was my style," she says. Tharp encouraged her, and helped her to find her warrior side. "She showed not just her strength, coordination and ability, but courage," says ballet master Susan Jones, who assisted Tharp in the staging.
Qiao in Twyla Tharps' Duece Coupe
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT
Qiao, now 25, is from Handan, near Beijing, and began her ballet studies at the Beijing Dance Academy. A performance at Youth America Grand Prix led to a scholarship at the Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago, after which she joined ABT Studio Company. So far she has danced small featured roles in various classical ballets. But as her performance in In the Upper Room and other Tharp ballets in the company rep reveals, she is ready for much more.
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