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En pointe to Canada

Updated: 2012-12-14 14:04
By Chen Nan ( China Daily)

China's national ballet company continues to take the nation's artistic dance to the world. Chen Nan reports.

En pointe to Canada

The two rehearsal rooms on the second floor of the National Ballet of China are packed. Twenty or so young female dancers tap the floor with quick steps to the fast piano notes. They are practicing The Rite of Spring, by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Feng Ying, the ballet director, leads the rehearsal next door, where two young dancers practice the classic Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake. "Even without performances, our dancers continuously practice to keep their breathing and body condition in a good state," says Feng. "They are young but veterans in performing both Western and original Chinese works."

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The 49-year-old will take the national company to tour Canada in February and March next year, the troupe's first tour there. "We've always wanted to bring China's ballet dancers and our dance works to the world," she says.

Two ballets, Swan Lake and Raise the Red Lantern, will be performed in Vancouver and Montreal, in nine shows over two weeks.

According to Feng, Swan Lake is one of the greatest ballets of all time. Its romance and beauty has allowed the classical ballet to mesmerize audiences for more than 100 years.

"It's also a ballet, which best proves a troupe's skills and ability," Feng says.

Raise the Red Lantern, one of China's most well-known original ballets by choreographer Wang Xinpeng, is a stage adaptation of Zhang Yimou's 1991 movie of the same name. Since its debut in 2001, National Ballet of China has performed Raise the Red Lantern around the world many times and won international fame.

"We chose to perform it on the Canada tour because it is rich with Chinese culture," says Feng, who graduated from Beijing Dance Academy in 1979 and joined the National Ballet of China the next year. In 1982, she was sent to France to study at the Opera National de Paris for a year, during which she studied with ballet masters such as Maurice Bejart.

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"Even though the cultures are different, the appeal and emotions of a love story are universal," she believes.

Sheng Shidong will perform leading roles in the two dances.

The 29-year-old says that he has performed Raise the Red Lantern more than 30 times since 2008. The Canada tour will feature Sheng and other young dancers of National Ballet of China, such as Cao Shuci and Ma Xiaodong.

"Though I have performed the roles many times, I still feel excited about the next time," says Sheng. "The emotions of my partners and myself are different during each performance."

Feng says more and more Western audiences are curious about Chinese culture, and they want to learn about it through different artforms.

"Though ballet came from the West, Chinese choreographers have combined traditional Chinese culture and contemporary Chinese art ideas into our original ballets," says Feng. "That's why many Western performing companies invite Chinese dance troupes to tour abroad and the shows are usually sold out."

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Teck Resources Limited, Canada's largest diversified mining company, is sponsoring the ballet company's 2013 Canada tour. Low-priced tickets have been reserved for young Canadians, says Ralph Lutes, Teck's vice-president for Asian affairs and chief representative in China.

"Canadians get lots of exposure to China through media. We know about trade and investment and China's rise as a global economic power, but we know less about Chinese culture," Lutes says.

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