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National treasure now dances to a new tune

By Zhang Kun (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-06-11 10:14
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National treasure now dances to a new tune

A scene from the dance performance, Qingming, by the Hong Kong Dance Company. provided to china daily

The Hong Kong Dance Company (HKDC) has turned China's treasured painted scroll Along the River During the Qingming Festival into a dance production and will give two performances at the Shanghai Grand Theatre.

National treasure now dances to a new tune

Painted between AD 1119 and 1125, Along the River During the Qingming Festival is a masterpiece by the imperial court painter Zhang Zeduan. The scroll painting, spreading more than 5 meters long, reveals in astounding detail the prosperous and busy streets of the Northern Song Dynasty capital, Bianjing - now called Kaifeng - in Henan. With realistic portrayal, multi-point perspective and a dexterously devised structure, it continues to be a major inspiration for painters. The painting is in the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing. The one exhibited last month in the China Pavilion at the Expo 2010 Shanghai was the copy version made by the famous Tang Dynasty painter Qiu Ying.

The HKDC created the dance Qingming in 2007 and the production has toured several cities on the mainland, winning high acclaim from critics.

Jia Zuoguang, the honorary chairman of the China Dancers Association and a famous choreographer, said the performance was of "archaic elegance and an admirable collection of talents".

The HKDC, founded in 1981, has always aimed to promote Chinese dance culture and develop an artistic identity for Hong Kong. Qingming is one of the more than 100 productions from the company and has gone through many revisions to strengthen the expression of traditional Chinese culture.

"We went to Kaifeng three times for the creation of the show. Standing by the Bianhe River, I was amazed at the twisted trunks of willows along the bank. They told me people trimmed the trees that way so the roots can grow bigger and help to hold the river bank," said Leung Kwok-shing, artistic director with the HKDC. Leung is also the choreographer and director of Qingming.

"I wanted to present the twists of the willows by the body curves of our dancers and that's why we designed special shoes for our female dancers - they have to make difficult dancing movements on the soles of their feet because the shoe has no heels," he said.

"In this way, I manage to present the coyness and delicacy of ancient Chinese women in traditional Chinese aestheticism."

The painting scroll depicted more than 800 characters and the dance production features more than 80 dancers. "The greatest challenge was to find, with the sensitivity of a choreographer, which part of the painting can be unfolded on stage," Leung said.

In many types of Chinese dance, women hold umbrellas and fans. Leung was determined to stay away from any clich expressions. "I didn't want my dancers to hold the umbrellas, I wanted the fans to flow like river water, and I wanted rich layers and a three-dimensional visual effect," he said.

"Hong Kong is a special place where Eastern and Western cultures melt together. It's our mission to create Chinese dance with Hong Kong characteristics. Our audiences in Hong Kong accept novel ideas."


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