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Shanghai Ballet set for NY debut with Swan Lake

By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-15 09:33
Shanghai Ballet's production, The Butterfly Lovers, is based on the violin concerto of the same title, and tells a traditional Chinese love story. Having premiered in 2001, it is now part of the company's repertoire. Shanghai Ballet will present four shows of the original Chinese ballet production in the US later this month. [CHEN WEN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Shanghai Ballet will make its debut at the Lincoln Center in New York with four performances of Swan Lake from Jan 17 to 19.

The 108-piece touring team left Shanghai for a tour of the United States on Jan 10. After New York, the company will head to Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky to present four shows of the original Chinese ballet production, The Butterfly Lovers.

In New York, the New York City Ballet Orchestra will play live music accompaniment for the performance of Swan Lake, conducted by Charles Barker, principal conductor of American Ballet Theatre.

Shanghai Ballet's Swan Lake, which was choreographed by British artist Derek Deane, premiered in Shanghai in 2015. It is the tragic story of a cursed princess who is turned into a swan. Instead of the usual 16 or 24 swans, Shanghai Ballet's production features a flock of 48 birds.

The leading characters of Prince Siegfried and Odette/Odile will be played by Wu Husheng and Qi Bingxue, star dancers of Shanghai Ballet.

Two guest dancers, Maria Kochetkova, a Russian ballet dancer who performed as principal dancer with both the San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and Dawid Trzensimiech, a principal dancer at Polish National Ballet, will play the leading roles on the second evening.

The production toured eight cities in the Netherlands in 2015-16, and staged 40 shows in nine European cities in 2017. In 2018-19, Shanghai Ballet took Swan Lake to Europe again, staging 11 performances in Berlin, Germany, and 10 in Vienna, Austria.

"We presented in front of the most strict/picky audiences the Oriental interpretation of a Western classic, and won high praise with almost 100 performances overseas," says Xin Lili, director of Shanghai Ballet.

"Lincoln Center is one of the largest and most celebrated art institutions, and artists from all over the world dream of performing there," Xin said earlier this year, when the plan was announced for the US tour.

"We hope our successful performances will help to introduce the cultural brand of Shanghai to the mainstream theater world."

The Butterfly Lovers, which also premiered in Shanghai in 2001, was choreographed by Xin, together with Luo Huaizhen, the playwright, and Xu Jianqiang, the composer. The ballet made extensive tours home and abroad in 2007 and 2013, with 34 performances overall.

Based on a traditional Chinese folktale, the ballet tells a tragic love story between a free-spirited young woman who pretends to be a boy in order to attend school, and falls in love with a poor young man who was rejected by the woman's family.

The folktale was presented in a violin concerto created by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang in 1959. It was premiered at Lyceum Theatre in Shanghai. Today the composition remains one of the most famous orchestra works of Chinese music. The theme melody has been adopted in the ballet music as well.

Presenting a repertoire of classical ballet and an original production of a Chinese tale on this important tour to the US, Shanghai Ballet hopes to "present the strong capabilities and artistic style of our company to the sophisticated audiences of the US," according to Xin.

One of the most prominent ballet companies of China, Shanghai Ballet celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019. The company evolved from the performing team of a revolutionary ballet production, The White Haired Girl, one of the first Chinese ballet productions in 1966. It adopted the name of Shanghai Ballet in 1979, and since then developed a repertoire of Western classics and original Chinese productions.

In November 2019, Shanghai Ballet premiered its latest creation, The Lady of the Camellias, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas (1824-95). Choreographed by British artist Deane, the production is a new addition to the company's repertoire.

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