Dancer-choreographer Li Xiang is known for his techniques and expressive moves of traditional Chinese dance. He has devoted years to polishing his skills to display the beauty of traditional dance.
His recent performances on the reality show Call Me By Fire, which premiered on Aug 12 on Mango TV, a livestreaming platform, won him a larger fan base. Li, of course, seems more excited about taking on the role of "a singer" on the show.
"I wanted to join the show because it was challenging for me. I could try many new ideas, which I didn't have a chance to even think about earlier," says the 29-year-old, adding that Call Me By Fire is his first reality show, with cameras recording 24 hours a day to capture the participants training, performing and going about their daily lives.
"I admire artists who dare to break their own styles and keep their passion for creativity. As a dancer-choreographer, I want the audience to get a fresh sense of dancing and dancers."
Gathering over 30 male celebrities from different fields, like acting, singing and dancing, Call Me By Fire immediately became a hot topic on Chinese social media, with its distinctive lineup, including veteran Hong Kong actorsinger Jordan Chan, martial arts star Zhao Wenzhuo, rock singer-songwriter Chen Hui, who is the frontman of Chinese rock band The Face, and rapper Zhou Yan, better known by his stage name Gai.
They have built firm fan bases over decades and some had withdrawn from the limelight.
Last year, Mango TV launched a reality show, named Sisters Who Make Waves, which gathered 30 women celebrities all above the age of 30. The show was considered successful as the entertainment industry in China traditionally has favored women in their early 20s or even younger.
Call Me By Fire also has male celebrities competing in different groups. They live together and work as teams to brainstorm ideas and produce new work.
"Bringing these men together is a highlight of reality shows this year. Some of them are over 50 years old but still work hard to come up with new ideas. They also bring back memories since I grew up watching their movies and listening to their songs," comments a fan on social media platform Sina Weibo.
Another fan comments: "The show sends a message that you can shine at any stage of your life as long as you never stop trying and learning."
Li says he finds the experience of being on the show very rewarding. "I live in a circle where most people I work with are dancers and choreographers. The reality show allows me to learn about other art forms and make new friends."
One day, he talked to Mc Hotdog, a veteran rapper, on the show as Li wanted to learn to rap with him.
"I surprised myself because I knew nothing about rap before," Li says. "I wanted to break my conventional stage image and I am glad I did it."
Born and raised in Jilin province, Li learned to practice basic skills of traditional dance at the age of 4 and his talent was recognized by his family, who supported him to further his study of dance.
In 2012, he got a degree in traditional Chinese dance from the College of Military Culture of the China People's Liberation Army National Defence University (formerly the People's Liberation Army Academy of Art).
He won a number of awards, including the Taoli Cup and Lotus Award, both top dance awards in China, and has gained a fan base by performing solo dances at the annual China Central Television Spring Festival galas, the country's most-watched TV program.
In 2020, he appeared on a talent show, Dance Smash, where Li impressed the audience with his choreography skills. His dance piece, Xingzhe (The Walker), of just 88 seconds about a lonely yet determined dancer, was staged in that competition.
Li says many Chinese dancers were "considered just backdrops performing behind pop stars" and that for a long time, their artistic value was underestimated.
"It has always been my goal to showcase the charm and power of the art form," he says. "Chinese audiences prefer watching TV or online coverage of performances instead of going to theaters to appreciate dance. But I know there's a wider audience waiting out there."