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Children's ballet is a deer sight

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-25 07:56
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The Nine-Colored Deer tells the story of a spiritual nine-colored deer, who saves a Persian merchant from drowning in a river. [Photo provided to China Daily]

This April, the National Ballet of China premiered its first performance aimed at children, titled The Nine-Colored Deer.

On June 20 and 21, the ballet production was staged at the Art and Education Center for the Performing Arts of Tsinghua University by 85 amateur dancers-students from Beijing Chaoyang District Jinsong No 4 Primary School-with an average age of 9-years-old.

Adapted from a well-known painting in the murals of Dunhuang, Gansu province, the ballet tells the story of a spiritual nine-colored deer, who saves a Persian merchant from drowning in a river. In exchange, the merchant promises not to tell anyone about the deer. However, he breaks his promise and leads the king's army to hunt down the deer because the king's concubine wants a coat made of the deer's skin. When the merchant falls into the river again, he is drowned.

As well children's books, the story of the nine-colored deer was adapted into a popular Chinese cartoon movie in 1981 by Shanghai Animation Film Studio.

According to the ballet's scriptwriter and director, Yu Daxue, choreographers and dancers from the National Ballet of China traveled to Dunhuang several times to visit the Mogao Caves.

"We've seen two of the most well-known mural paintings-Flying Apsaras and The Nine-Colored Deer. We not only appreciated them as artworks but also got inspired," says Yu. "The story of the nine-colored deer is about the traditional Chinese virtues of honesty, credibility and being kind."

Besides The Nine-Colored Deer, the National Ballet of China premiered a ballet production, Dunhuang, at the Tianqiao Theater in Beijing last September.

Yu also adds that compared to ballet works performed by professional adult dancers-which are based on solid ballet techniques and years of training-amateur student dancers make the ballet production much easier for a child audience to appreciate. Additionally, it also helps that the story of the nine-colored deer is so well-known among both children and adults, alike.

"If our production of The Nine-Colored Deer inspires children to start ballet lessons then that's great, but most importantly I hope it helps them to appreciate the magic of dance and theater in general," Yu says.

Feng Ying, the president of the National Ballet of China, said in an earlier interview that she had always wanted to create a ballet production for a young audience.

Soon after the premiere of the ballet, Feng agreed to allow Beijing Chaoyang District Jinsong No 4 Primary School to perform the ballet.

"With students performing in the ballet, child audiences, who are of a similar age to that of the dancers, will be able to have fun and enjoy the show much more," Feng said.

Twelve-year-old Liu Yiduo played the leading role, that of the nine-colored deer and it was the first time she had ever performed ballet.

Of creative stock, her father is an oil painting artist, so he has taken Liu to many art exhibitions and she was taught piano before she learned traditional Chinese folk dancing. She joined the dance troupe of Beijing Chaoyang District Jinsong No 4 Primary School at 6-years-old and a year later, she made her debut performance at the school.

Along with other student dancers, she has been trained by ballet dancers from the National Ballet of China for four months.

"It's so different to dance ballet," she said before the performance. "I have watched ballet performances but it's very difficult to dance using the ballet techniques myself."

However, it seems that Liu, who has read the story about the nine-colored deer from books and watched the cartoon movie, is now keen to add another string to her artistic bow: "I am excited to dance my first ballet and I want to learn more about the art."

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