China / Society

En pointe, cultural openness in China

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-11-10 09:16

BEIJING - Hungarian-American ballet master Tamas Detrich was deeply moved by the passion of Chinese audiences gathering at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) on Friday night in the heart of Beijing.

Detrich and his elite Stuttgart Ballet brought a graceful tenderness to the Chinese, performing "The Lady of the Camellias," a ballet adapted from Alexandre Dumas' masterpiece.

"The theater is remarkably magnificent," Detrich, the troupe's associate artistic director, spoke of the half egg-shaped surrealistic architecture designed by French architect Paul Andreu. "China is changing, both in architecture and diversifying cultural forms."

Zhao Ruheng, artistic director of NCPA, recalled, "Stuttgart was the first ballet company that came from the West after China ended the self-isolation and opted for embracing the outside world."

"The Stuttgart show immediately brought us a totally different enjoyment. We were so impressed at that time," said Zhao, who starred in a well-known revolution-themed ballet, "Red Detachment of Women," in the 1960s. "We used to be familiar with 'Swan Lake.'"

Across the street from the NCPA building, a titanium-and-glass opera house nicknamed the Bird's Egg for its ellipsoid dome, stands the stately Romanesque Great Hall of the People, where the Communist Party of China (CPC) inaugurated the week-long 18th National Congress on Thursday morning.

Chinese leader Hu Jintao addressed to the national congress delegates the Party's belief in "opening up in cultural areas and actively learning from excellent foreign cultural achievements."

Yves Tiberghien, director of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, told Xinhua in an email that China is embracing diverse cultures that "struggle with each other and pushing issues forward."

Tiberghien's thoughts are evidenced by top-ranking artists from around the world vying to perform at Chinese stages.

French star ballerina Sylvie Guillem is to dance on November 11 the same Dumas story on the same stage as Stuttgart Ballet does.

Both Guillem and Stuttgart Ballet are part of the NCPA international dance festival, which also features Italian modern dance company Aterballetto, New York City Ballet and Wayne McGregor/Random Dance.

"Stuttgart and Guillem will duel in China. What a spectacle for us," a ballet aficionado "wuzhibalei" wrote in a tweet.

In October, Wayne McGregor/Random Dance staged "Entity," a compelling abstract piece that challenges audiences' understanding. The show lent a modernist touch to the NCPA festival and was warmly received by Chinese audiences.

NCPA will also be offering some more traditional performances in November, such as "Jade Hairpin," a Kunqu Opera, and "Du Fu," a modern drama that tells the story of one great ancient poet.

Meanwhile, the ongoing Shanghai International Arts Festival has managed to bring Peking Opera, symphony, Senegalese dance, British puppetry and magic to the newly-emerging middle class in the economically vibrant coastal city.

Kang Sue-jin, a Korean principal dancer in Stuttgart Ballet who danced the lead role of Margaret, said she was "amazed by China's economic, cultural growth" and found it awesome that "kid dancers have advanced in rather a short time" when she visited a local ballet school.

After rapid transformation in the past three decades, China surpassed Japan in the GDP ranking to become the world's second-largest economy.

"When I first came to China, it was all the same color of uniforms; when I came back, it was that colorful," said Detrich, who first came to China in 1978 as a chorus dancer in "Onegin," a ballet based on "Eugene Onegin," a novel by Russian author Alexander Pushkin.

As foreign performers pour in, Chinese dancers go abroad.

The NCPA Orchestra entertained audiences in Sydney to a rendition of "The Butterfly Lovers," China's "Romeo and Juliet," on Tuesday, three months after performing at the Bad Kissingen Music Festival in Germany.

Guangzhou Ballet went to Long Beach, California, to perform "Cinderella" in October.

Tiberghien, director of the Institute of Asian Research with the University of British Columbia, said China has found "a model that is full of variations, diversity and competitive processes."

In the tragic "Camellias," a narrow-minded duke disrupts his son's romance with a girl. Detrich believes Chinese audiences are more tolerant, and their inclusiveness has been a great reward for all his work directing the show.

"Vivien" wrote on Sina Weibo: "I saw Camellias last night. The story is heartrending. Together with Chopin's music and meaningful choreography, the 19th century France came back."

"Now they came to understand souls behind the movements," Detrich said. "They seldom applauded at an improper time."

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