Innovative performances from Chinese ballet dancers mesmerize Tokyo


When dancers from the National Ballet of China depicted scenes from traditional culture in the performance of Raise the Red Lantern, audiences in Tokyo, Japan were mesmerized by their delicate moves and innovative art expressions.

XinhuaUpdated: May 13, 2019

When dancers from the National Ballet of China depicted scenes from traditional culture in the performance of Raise the Red Lantern, audiences in Tokyo, Japan were mesmerized by their delicate moves and innovative art expressions.

Dancers from the National Ballet of China perform during the show of Raise the Red Lantern in Tokyo, Japan, May 10, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

In order to illustrate the classic story in an artistic form, the performers were dressed in exquisite traditional Chinese costumes with bright colors in the performance on Friday night. Their equally delicate dance moves won bursts of amaze from the audience.

According to Feng Ying, director of the National Ballet of China, a team of 120 came to Tokyo to put on shows of Raise the Red Lantern and Swan Lake, the largest scale of performance in Japan since the Ballet was established 60 years ago.

Adapted from renowned Chinese Director Zhang Yimou's film, Raise the Red Lantern tells a tragedy of women struggling in a traditional feudal family.

"The play tells the story from a powerful perspective of films and dramas. Its plot is unveiled in a way of theatrical dramas, an innovation breaking away from traditional ballet forms," said Feng, who was a famous ballet dancer in China.

Compared with classical ballet, Raise the Red Lantern incorporated various traditional Chinese elements such as Peking Opera, folk music, and traditional instruments, a creative form of performance enriched by the Chinese culture. The music was produced by Tokyo Philharmonic and conducted by Zhang Yi, head of the China National Symphony Orchestra.

On the other hand, the show invented new ways for ballet dancing. For example, the audience turned to gasps when performers began to dance around square tables, imitating people playing mahjong, a Chinese board game.

The dancers swirled around the tables, sometimes hopped on and ducked under them, vividly depicting relationships of the characters through their moves. The cluttering sound of mahjong boards impacting each other was produced by using many abacuses, a kind of traditional Chinese calculators which have a clicking sound when using.

To depict the oppression of the male master over the heroine, shadows of the two characters dancing together were cast on a large paper screen with the male shadow evidently larger than the heroine. The two shadows swirled and twisted with each other, struggling in tense music, which resembles the artistic form of Chinese shadow puppetry.

The innovative techniques added depth to the play which is rich in traditional cultural elements. The performance of Swan Lake on Sunday, on the other hand, will maintain the most standard style of classical ballet and give Japanese audiences a high-level performance of the world classic from Chinese ballet dancers, Feng said.

"The two plays of different styles represent the inheritance and innovation of traditions in the ballet field since China's reform and opening up," she said.

Speaking about ballet exchanges between China and Japan, Feng said, "It should be about exploring how to carry on the tradition while also taking the path of innovation, especially in how to express the Asian culture."

She said she was more than impressed by the hospitality and friendship from fellow Japanese dancers and the Japanese people.

"We communicate not only with the Japanese ballet circle, but also with the Japanese theatrical circle," Feng said. "I remember when I came to perform in Japan in the 1980s, Japan celebrated the coming-of-age ceremony. The Japanese troupe that received us also held the coming-of-age ceremony for the young girls around the age of 20 in our ballet group."

"I still remember the clothes and makeup, the genuine enthusiasm and concern from our Japanese friends," she said.

"In recent years, the National Ballet of China has created many works with traditional Chinese cultural characteristics and also with the spirit of the contemporary era. We hope they can be staged in Japan in the future," Feng said.

"Our Japanese ballet peers have also been exploring how to express the Asian culture in western dance forms. I've seen them do ballet in kimonos, and they're also exploring new things," Feng said.

"I hope the Chinese and Japanese ballet circles will strengthen communication and learn from each other. I also hope that ballet exchanges will further promote communication between the Chinese and Japanese peoples and the people around the world, and make joint contributions to the building of the Asian culture and world civilization," she said.

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