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Butterfly Lovers tour concludes in New York City

By Caroline Berg in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2013-11-21 11:33

Butterfly Lovers tour concludes in New York City

Shanghai Ballet principal dancer Husheng Wu performed the lead male role of Liang Shanbo. Caroline Berg / China Daily

As the story concluded and the Butterfly Lovers fluttered off the stage in flowing white garb, an audience member at the front of the auditorium pulled her smartphone out to capture the image and a theater attendant rushed down like a hawk to shine a flashlight on her.

The elegance of the Shanghai Ballet's costumes competed against the grace of the dancers for attention, and the unregulated use of cell phones to take photos had theater attendants running around throughout the four-act performance to spotlight both the guilty and innocent.

With a predominantly Chinese audience in attendance, the Shanghai Ballet finished its month-long US tour Tuesday night at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center with a performance of the classic Chinese romance, the Butterfly Lovers.

Instead of a standing ovation as the dancers took their bows, cameras and smartphones were drawn, while some cried "Bravo!"

"When I hear the applause from the audiences, it's my happiest moment," Shanghai Ballet choreographer and company director Lili Xin said about what she has enjoyed most about the company's US tour, which began in Michigan, and included stops in South Carolina, Minnesota, California and New Jersey.

The story, which can be traced to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), follows a four-season trajectory. It begins with the female lead character, Zhu Yingtai, falling for her classmate, Liang Shanbo, who is unaware of her feelings because she is disguised as a young man.

Midsummer, Liang escorts Zhu home to see her family. They stop in a beautiful natural setting of birds singing, Mandarin ducks playing in the water and butterflies flying in pairs. Taken over by the romantic scene, Zhu disguises herself as a bride, but Liang is still oblivious. Only until Zhu departs and leaves Liang with a fan decorated with butterflies does he realize that Zhu is a girl.

In the fall, Zhu is arranged to marry her former classmate Ma Wencai, who comes from an affluent family. However, Zhu expresses her love for Liang, which eventually draws fatal attention to the lover.

In winter, Zhu mourns over Liang's grave and, like Juliet in the famous Shakespeare romance, she commits suicide to live with love in the afterlife. In heaven, the two are reunited and become a pair of butterflies.

Although Butterfly Lovers is primarily a classical ballet, Xin told China Daily that she included some modern elements in the story, including a dream sequence that foreshadows the story's ending.

"Also, we have many symbols, which keep Chinese tradition alive, as seen with our props, costumes and scenery," Xin wrote to China Daily in reply to an e-mail inquiry. "Fans and handkerchiefs are distinctly Chinese."

"My hope is that the American audiences fully understand the story, because of the cultural differences like our bridal veil is red, instead of white as in Western culture," Xin said about the challenges she has faced in this tour.

Another challenge Xin noted was being on the road and without the flexibility to take as many props along, which she said are very elaborate and beautiful.

Directly following this tour, Xin said the company will participate in the first China Dance Season in Beijing and perform its new production of Jane Eyre. From there, the Shanghai Ballet will do a national tour of China with performances of The White Haired Girl, followed by a dance season at the Shanghai Grand Theater in January. In March, the company will travel to Paris to perform A Sigh of Love and The White Haired Girl.

In addition to China, the US and France, the Shanghai Ballet has toured almost 100 cities worldwide, including in Canada, Spain, Norway, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

"I will be very happy to tour the US again in the near future, and bring some new ballets which will showcase the diversity of the Shanghai Ballet," Xin told China Daily. "However, we do not have anything in the schedule yet."

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