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Red detachment dances home

The National Ballet of China stages first leg of classic production's 60th anniversary tour in Hainan, Chen Bowen reports in Haikou.

By Chen Bowen in Haikou | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-22 07:30
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The heroine of the classic ballet Red Detachment of Women, Wu Qionghua (right, front), played by Qiu Yunting, joins a legendary all-female Red Army battalion. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Forward, forward, the soldier's responsibility is heavy, the women's enmity is deep." When the passionate melody sounds, the National Ballet of China's sixth generation of the heroine Wu Qionghua carries on the legacy of her predecessors with an exuberant and youthful performance of the ballet Red Detachment of Women

Six decades after its premiere in 1964, the iconic ballet made a return to South China's Hainan province, the very place where its story unfolds. The 60th-anniversary celebration of this classic production by the National Ballet of China debuted in Haikou city on the evening of March 2.

The Hainan Provincial Song and Dance Theater pulsated with energy as a packed house bore witness to hundreds of voices uniting in the well-known theme, The Song of the Detachment. It took the performance to soaring heights, igniting waves of emotion.

Based on the film of the same name, the ballet consists of seven scenes. It begins with a rural woman, Wu Qionghua, who escapes a life of slavery under her cruel landlord Nan Batian, and joins a legendary all-female Red Army battalion, led by commander Hong Changqing on Hainan Island during the civil war in the early 1930s.

Through the trials of battle, the journey of transformation from a bitter rural slave to a steadfast revolutionary soldier, depicted in the ballet, paints a vivid and magnificent picture of the strong and unyielding revolutionary spirit of Chinese women, according to Han Chaoguang, chairman of the Hainan Performing Arts Group.

"The ballet, Red Detachment of Women, represents an extraordinary melding of Chinese and Western artistic traditions, seamlessly integrating the timeless techniques of classical ballet with the intricate tapestry of traditional Chinese culture and art. This trailblazing approach incorporates distinctive traditional Hainan Li ethnic dance movements into the elegant postures of ballet," said a ballet enthusiast surnamed Chi. "By embracing this innovative synthesis, the production vividly captures the dynamic customs and ethnic features of Hainan, paying homage to the island's rich cultural heritage in a captivating manner.

A scene from the ballet. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"This harmonious blending of diverse influences weaves a compelling narrative that transcends borders and celebrates the beauty of cultural diversity, offering a breathtaking showcase of artistic innovation and cross-cultural appreciation," he added.

Gao Fenfen, an entrepreneur working in Hainan, shared her experience after watching the show. "The performance will serve as a source of encouragement, inspiring women like me to continue embracing and upholding the revolutionary spirit and Red Culture," she said.

Pang Qijiang is a loyal fan of the ballet. Previously, as the head of the culture station in Yangjiang town in Qionghai city, the hometown of Red Detachment of Women, and a descendant of Pang Qionghua, the first commander of the real-life battalion upon which the story is based, he has devoted half of his life to studying this iconic ballet. After retiring, Pang Qijiang took it upon himself to systematically collect, organize, and publish information about Red Detachment of Women, producing several books on the subject.

His commitment goes beyond just research — Pang Qijiang has also made numerous visits to historical sites in search of friends and relatives of the original battalion. The touching, inspiring story has left a lasting impact on him, and he describes each viewing of the ballet as a profound educational experience.

The 72-year-old expressed his excitement about the ballet staging the first stop of its 60th-anniversary celebration tour in Haikou. "This show holds special significance, as it marks the premiere of the ballet in the place the story originated," Pang Qijiang said. He mentioned that since 2012, whenever the classic ballet is performed in China, the families and friends of the real battalion have made it a point to attend the show.

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