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Ballet wows guests through hard work

By Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak in Jakarta ( China Daily ) Updated: 2017-05-15 08:05:18

Chinese performers integrate traditional Eastern characteristics with Western dance

The performance in Jakarta of Raise the Red Lantern by the National Ballet of China wowed ballet enthusiasts, as well as those who specialize in traditional dances.

Ida Bagus K. Sudiasa, a lecturer in the performing arts at State University of Jakarta, was mesmerized by the training and rehearsals conducted by the ballet company before the first show.

"They have a good training regime and they are very disciplined, one thing that our performers still lack. Our training ethos is far behind theirs," said the Balinese dance and music expert who invited 40 of his students to observe the training session.

Ballet wows guests through hard work

Sudiasa praised the integration of ballet and traditional Chinese elements in the performance, saying that neither was overshadowed by the other.

"It's important for our dancers to learn about the traditional dances of their heritage. This can give their performance a unique character," he said.

Since the 1990s, the ballet company, established in 1959, has staged several contemporary ballets depicting the lives of Chinese people, including The Red Detachment of Women, Yellow River and Butterfly Lovers.

Raise the Red Lantern, however, is the first China-made ballet to employ a visionary, international crew, featuring China's new generation of competent dancers. The dance was initiated by Zhao Ruheng, once a dancer with the National Ballet of China and its former director.

The full-length ballet, often referred to as the Red Lantern, was first staged in May 2001 in Beijing. It's the stage production of Oscar-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou's 1991 film The Concubine, which is in turn an adaptation of Su Tong's classic novel The Wives and the Concubines.

The show tells the harrowing tale of a high-spirited and educated young woman during the 1920s in her struggle to take on feudal traditions.

The whole production created a new genre from technical standards of the great ballet repertoires of the past. It combines old and new elements from the West, where ballet historically started, with age-old Chinese art and culture.

As the curtains rose, the stage was filled with Chinese characteristics and imagery such as the dragon-shaped torch stick and red lanterns.

In the overture, the heroine appears in a school uniform carrying a suitcase, demonstrating her desire for a simple life in fluid motions followed by a pas de deux with her lover, a member of a traditional opera troupe dressed up as a "god" character. It is a farewell as she is about to live in the rich household of a master as his second concubine.

From then on, she enters a stifling world of jealousy and resentment where three women compete for the raised red lanterns, which signal that they are favored by the master.

The performance has an international feel to it as it features a diverse and talented creative team, both from China and abroad, who freely experiment with cutting-edge devices to create stunning effects on stage.

One of its two choreographers, Wang Xinpeng, is based in Germany. Its composer, Chen Qigang, is based in France, and Jerome Kaplan, who designed the lavish costumes with elaborate detail, is French.

The seamless incorporation of ballet with Chinese music, traditional dance, martial arts and opera makes the spectacle both audibly and visibly captivating.

The author is a reporter of The Jakarta Post

(China Daily 05/15/2017 page46)

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