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New York Gets Lessons In Chinese Ballet

Chinese ballet is making an educational swing through New York City from Monday to the end of the month, as Feng Ying, general director and artistic director of the National Ballet of China, gives three lectures with demo performances at NYU, the China Institute and Columbia University, introducing Big Apple dance fans to the essentials.

According to Feng, China’s ballet has undergone a 60-year evolution, and its characteristics have been inevitably changing with the times.

Chinese ballet started when the Beijing Ballet School was established in 1954 and continued to develop under the heavy influence of the Russians through the late 1970s. Then, according to Feng, Chinese ballet moved away from the exaggerated facial expressions and body language of the Russian style and imported some of the gentility of the European school.

The Chinese version of Swan Lake was more than an imitation of foreign culture – it was a homemade cultural product, Feng said.

Feng played the protagonist in Swan Lake in the 1980s. “We tried to combine traditional Chinese elements into the classic ballet,” she said.

Feng said one of the most successful modern Chinese ballets was The Red Detachment of Women, a ballet produced in 1963 portraying the southernmost province of Hainan women’s determination to devote themselves to the glorious and epic revolution.

The National Ballet of China (NBC) made a series of innovative experiments in artistic expression in the early 1990s, which included “a more individual-focused detailed narration and internal emotional description”, according to Feng.

NBC broke the stereotype of the three-scene model of ballets and extended it to a six-scene model – a prelude, four separate scenes and a conclusion – when they performed the 1992 version of The Red Detachment of Women.

Feng said NBC’s innovations went to a whole new level when they staged Raise the Red Lantern in the early 2000s.

Feng said the sanguine, red color of the stage symbolized Chinese women’s sacrifice in the loss of their virginity, and the high-tech special effects of the stage set evoked the nostalgia for ancient traditions and customs.

Kristin Harris, professor of East Asia studies at NYU, said Chinese ballet brought a lot of freshness of the ballet art to New Yorkers and The Red Detachment of Women set a good example of the fascinating artistic ways to demonstrate the fusion of Chinese traditional culture and Western culture.

Jodyn Corkery, a local New Yorker in the audience, said she was awed by the unexpected representation of Chinese arts and philosophy in the performance.

“I didn’t realize that there was a Chinese version of ballet,” she said, “but this interesting form made me fascinated by the thought-provoking ancient Chinese philosophy – incomprehensible, but interesting.”

By NIU YUE Feb. 24, 2016 on China Daily

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