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Artists embrace 'timeless piece' and 'special year'

By CHEN NAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-08-06 08:08
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Performers with the National Ballet of China rehearse their new production, Against the Wind, in Beijing on Tuesday. JIANG DONG/CHINA DAILY

Ballerina Ning Long stood en pointe. Arms spread like wings, she fixed her gaze somewhere in the distance. Suddenly, the soft music changed into powerful beats and dozens of dancers walked from the sidelines onto the stage. Ning relaxed her pose and joined them. The sound of their footsteps resounded in the rehearsal room.

That's one scene from the original ballet production, titled Against the Wind, by the National Ballet of China, which is being premiered at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Thursday and will be staged again on Friday.

The 18-minute piece, choreographed by Fei Bo, is dedicated to the health workers who fought against the coronavirus pandemic. Health workers, who worked in Hubei province hospitals during the pandemic, once the hardest-hit area of China, will be invited to watch the show on Friday.

According to Fei, the latest piece depicts the role of a nurse, who had to be apart from her family as she joined in the battle against the pandemic. She witnessed many touching moments despite the hardship of the work, such as the support from her colleagues, greetings from her patients and respect from strangers.

"The nurse symbolizes all the health workers and we want to show our respect to them with this piece," says Fei. "The wings displayed by the dancers represent dream and belief."

During rehearsal, dancers shared the emotions portrayed in the piece since "all of us went through a difficult time and suffered from complicated emotions", Fei says.

"We want to build up this new piece into something timeless. Years later, when you watch it, you should still feel the power from it. It marks a special year for all of us," Fei adds.

He notes that the music is developed from an original song, titled Because of You, written by Wang Shuyi, principal cellist of the National Ballet of China. Its aim was to lift the spirits of people struggling during the viral outbreak and was released in February. Wang has expanded the song into a symphonic score for the ballet.

Besides the latest production, classic Western and original Chinese ballet pieces are being staged on Thursday and Friday at the NCPA, including romantic the ballet, La Sylphide, traditional ballet, Pas de Quatre (Step for Four) and The Red Detachment of Women, one of the first original Chinese ballets.

"It will be the first live performance by the National Ballet of China since the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic. We are eager to meet the audience in theaters and we've been preparing ourselves for this since February," says Feng Ying, president of the company, adding that was when dancers of the company returned to the theater to resume rehearsals. The company also launched online programs to stay in touch with its audience.

"Audience participation is an important part of a live performance. It will be two unforgettable shows for all of us," Feng says, adding that the company is working on another original ballet, which will center on the Miao ethnic group and its story of poverty alleviation. Western ballet techniques and Miao ethnic group dance will be combined in the show.

According to the NCPA, more shows will be staged, covering a variety of art forms, such as Peking Opera, drama and music, but only a limited audience will be allowed to watch the shows for safety reasons.

At the same time, the Taihu Theater of the National Center for the Performing Arts, located in Tongzhou district of Beijing, will present 28 performances by 14 art troupes from Aug 1 to Dec 12, including the China Acrobatic Troupe, the Northern Kunqu Opera Theater and Beijing Chinese Orchestra.

According to Zhang Haijun, president of Beijing Artists Management Corp, one of the organizers of the ongoing performances at Taihu Theater of the National Center for the Performing Arts, the venue will open 30 percent of its seats to the audience.

"All the art troupes we have invited are devoted to their performance since they've not been face-to-face with an audience for half a year. It will start the gradual recovery of the performing arts market," says Zhang.

"The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic forced us to cancel 84 performances and postpone 10 performances during the past six months," says Cui Di, vice-president of Beijing Quju Opera Troupe, which will stage its classic work, Long Xu Gou (Dragon Beard Ditch), adapted from renowned Chinese writer Lao She's novel of the same title, this November.

The art troupe has expanded its fan base through online streaming on popular platforms, such as Kuaishou and Douyin.

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