by Sun Jingchen, Luo Xiongyan, Zi Huayun
Vigorous Growth of Ballet

If the premiere of "Queen's Comedy Ballet" in France in 1581 is accepted as the origin of ballet, the dissemination and development of ballet in China has been left behind for three centuries. However, it is developing in leaps and bounds.

At the beginning of the 20th century, foreign ballet troupes came to China to perform, but only on a small scale. After that, some Chinese-Russians came to China to set up private ballet schools for amateurs. These schools created quite a stir in cities such as Shanghai, Tianjin and Harbin, and played a positive role in introducing ballet to China.

Undoubtedly, the essential development of ballet in China came only after the founding of the People's Republic of China, thanks to the positive attitude of the Chinese government to all kinds of art forms that had international influence.

At the beginning, the Russian School exerted a profound influence on the development of ballet in China. From February 1954, when the Soviet expert O.A. Yealina was invited to hold the Teachers' Training Seminar in Beijing, to 1958 when China's first classical ballet "Swan Lake" premiered in Shanghai, the development of this great art form in China experienced a "triple jump". Dai Ailian, a master of ballet herself, was an essential player in the development of ballet in China during this period. It only took the students (most of whom had received basic ballet training) of the first Teachers' Training Seminar half a year to finish the 1-6 grade curriculums offered at dance schools in the former Soviet Union. All the students passed strict examinations and became the core teachers of ballet at the Beijing Dance School, which was set up in the year they graduated. Continuing to learn and practice, they gradually grew into excellent ballet educators and have nurtured groups of talented ballet dancers ever since.

The method of learning and performing at the same time contributed to the realization of the "triple jump" development of ballet in China. Famous Russian ballet dancers frequently came to China to perform during that period and their superb performances attracted large audiences. Chinese people soon began to understand and fall in love with this art form.

In 1957, under the instruction and direction of Soviet expert Choplin, China staged "La Fille Mal Gardee", a masterpiece created in the 18th century. The ballet was just right for the level of Chinese dancers and they benefited greatly from the show.

In October 1958, the Beijing Dance School, under the direction of Soviet expert Gusev, concentrated all its efforts and successfully staged one of the world's ballet classics "Swan Lake" (the prima ballerina was Bai Shuxiang). FoIlowing strict training, in a relatively short period of time, China had a professional ballet team with many talents in various areas. Today, "Swan Lake" has become the most popular ballet with Chinese audiences. (Fig.3-31)

At the end of 1959, the Experimental Ballet Troupe was set up in Beijing Dance School, the first professional corps de ballet in Chinese history. In 1960, a dance school similar to the one in Beijing was founded in Shanghai, which also offered training courses. Ever since, the two largest cities in China's north and south shouldered the great task of creating a new platform for the development of ballet in this country.

Following "Swan Lake", two ballets were put onto the Chinese stage in 1959 and 1960 respectively: "Le Corsair" and "Giselle", which were directed by Gusev. Chinese ballet dancers, though still young and immature, were already able to present the two plays with ease and composure.

During this period, ballet professionals including jiang Zuhui (1934- ) and Wang Xixian (1933- ) were sent to Moscow's State Theatrical Institute one after another and studied relevant courses on ballet including choreography. They all graduated with excellent academic achievements. Upon her returning to China, in 1961, jiang Zuhui presented her graduate work "Spanish Daughter" (adapted from the poetic drama "Fuente Ovejuna" by the famous European poet of the Renaissance Lope De Vega) by the Tianjin Song and Dance Drama Theater While in Beijing, Wang Xixian directed "The Fountain of Bakhchi Saray" (adapted from the well- known poem by Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin and premiered by the Experimental Ballet Troupe of the Beijing Dance School).

In 1963, the Central opera and Dance Drama Theater was established, and the Experimental Ballet Troupe of the Beijing Dance School was affiliated to the state-level central theater. Soon after, jiang Zuhui directed another ballet "Nortre-Dame de Paris" (adapted from Victor Hugo's novel and premiered by the Central Opera and Dance Drama Theater). In a short period of just ten years, Chinese ballet dancers and choreographers were able to independently manage the creation, rehearsal and stage performance of classical ballets.

In 1964, China began to create its own ballets. In fact, the country's first group of ballet professionals were previously traditional dancers. Their background was undoubtedly helpful in the work of creating new ballets with Chinese characteristics.

Although the premiere of "The Red Brigate of Women" was, in a strict sense, not the precedent of China's national ballet (there were previous attempts to create China's national ballets of different styles, scale and results), it still can be regarded as China's first and most successful grand ballet. From the content to its form, it was a completely Chinese-style ballet.

"The Red Brigate of Women" premiered in 1964. The choreographers and directors were Li ChengXiang, Wang Xixian and jiang Zuhui, and the composers were Wu Zuqiang and Du MingXin. It was first performed by the Central Opera and Dance Drama Theater with Bai Shuxiang as Qionghua and Wu jingzhu as the Company Commander. The danseur noble was Liu Qingtang who played Hong Changqing, and Li Chengriang was as Nan Batian. The main Supporting female roles were Zhao Ruheng as the fellow soldier of Qionghua and Wan Qiwu as Lao Si.

The ballet was adapted from the film of the same title. The story happened in the 1930s. Qionghua fled to her home after being persecuted by Nan Batian, the landlord. She happened to meet the party leader of the local Red Army troops, Hong Changqing, who helped her join the Red Company of Women. Qionghua gradually became an Outstanding revolutionary fighter after experiencing numerous hardships and tests. After Hong Changqing was killed in the battle, Qionghua led the Red Company of Women to continue their struggle.

Since its birth, the ballet has won a lot of praises from Chinese society. It was highly acclaimed for its moving and tragic plot, magnificent stage design and bright, lively characters, as well as the unique folk customs and scenery of the Hainan Islands. It was a pioneer in creating the valiant and heroic image of women soldiers on the ballet stage. A combination of the cream of ballet and Chinese characteristics, "The Red Company of Women" added to the world's ballet collection a magnificent work. (Fig. 3-32)

Another significant Chinese ballet, "The White Haired Girl", created by Hu Rongrong (1929- ), Fu Aidi (1936- ), Cheng Daihui (1932- ) and Lin Yangyang (1939- ), was staged following the Success of "The Red Company of Women". "The White Haired Girl" premiered in 1965. (Composer: Yan jinxuan; performed by the Shanghai Ballet Troupe; prima ballerinas: Cai Guoying (A), Mao Huifang (B) as Xi'er, Gu Xiamei (A), Shi Zhongqin (B) as the White Haired Girl; danseur noble: Ling Guiming as Da Chun; main male supporting role: Dong Xilin as Huang Shire.)

"The White Haired Girl" was adapted from the opera of the same title. The story was about Xi'er, the daughter of a poor farmer To pay the debt of the family, she was sold to the despotic landlord Huang Shiren. After Suffering enough she fled into the deep mountain. Living for many years in the mountain without adequate food, Xi'er's hair turned white and she became known as the "White Haired Goddess" by those who didn't know the truth. At last Xi'er was rescued by the Eighth Route Army and was fortunate enough to be reunited with her lover Da Chun, who had become a soldier of the Eighth Route Army. The opera "White Haired Girl" moved millions of Chinese to tears with this true story that castigated the old society which turned humans into ghosts and celebrated the liberated society which turned the ghosts back into humans.

In adapting the opera into a ballet, much emphasis was put on creating something new rather than simply sticking to the settings of the original work. The elements of Chinese classical folk dances were wisely employed to create a new ballet, and each development in the story was unfolded by a perfect combination of realism and romanticism. Each character on the stage impressed the audience with its uniqueness: the innocent, sweet Xi'er and the tough, persistent "White Haired Girl"; the honest and sincere Da Chun and his valor and competence after joining the army; as well as the sinister landlord Huang Shiren. (Fig.3-33)

"The Red Company of Women" and "The White Haired Girl" were regarded as milestones in the development of Chinese ballet. They represent the idea of "making foreign things serve China". The two ballets have become important components of the world's ballet collection with their distinctive Chinese characteristics. The collective wisdom of Chinese ballet professionals made up for their lack of experience and helped speed up the development of Chinese ballet and elevate the work to a higher level.

Unlike other dance creations, "The Red Brigate of Women" and "The White Haired Girl" were designated as "Yangban Xi'-- the model of modern Chinese dramas during the "Cultural Revolution", and they were among the few art works that were allowed to be publicly shown. Withstanding the test of time, the two works still possess their artistic appeal and vitality. They were both included in the category of the Dance Classics of the Chinese Nation in the 20th Century.

As the first move to signal the renaissance of China's artistic creations after the "Cultural Revolution", classical western ballets were put onto the Chinese stage. After experiencing a long period in which they could only see "The Red Company of Women" and "The White Haired Girl", the audience in China became immersed in a wave of fervor for "Swan Lake".

The new historical period in China witnessed the vigorous development of ballet. With a more open attitude, Chinese ballet professionals began to widely absorb and draw reference from the world's different schools of ballet instead of being limited to the Russian style. Since the early 1980s, as a form of friendly exchange, many ballet dancers from countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Canada have come to China to teach advanced ballet skills to their Chinese counterparts. Among the artists, Ben Stevenson and Anton Dolin have taken rehearsals in succession at the Central Ballet Theater of China, which included their own work "Te-Pas De Quixte", "Prelude" and the "Serende" created by ballet master Balanchine. Most of their works have been included in the repertoire of the Central Ballet Theater of China. (Fig.3-34)

In addition, within a period of just over 10 years, China had staged in succession many classical western ballets of different styles. In 1980, the Central Ballet Theater staged the famous romantic ballet "Sylvia" of France under the direction of the well-known ballet master Lycette Darsonval from the Paris opera Ballet; in 1984, the Anton Dolin's version of "Giselle" was staged under the direction of the British experts Belinda Wright and Jelko Yuresha; in 1985, "Don Quixote" was staged, which was directed by the world-renowned ballet master Rudolph Nureyev and Eugene Boliakov; in addition, "Romeo and Juliet" (1989, directed by Roman Walker) and "Sleeping Beauty" (1994, the MacMillan version, directed by Monic Park) were both successful.

Worth mentioning is that Nureyev was extremely important in helping improve the performance skills of Chinese ballet dancers with strict training based on his unbeatable and consummate skills, profound understanding of characters as well as the reality of the Central Ballet Theater of China. He had made indelible contributions to the development of Chinese ballet. (Fig.3-35) Among the many international exchange activities, Dai Ailian played a significant role as a coordinator. During the same period, the Beijing Dance School, by continuing with its tradition of combining study and practice, staged "Coppelia" (1979) and "La Bayadere" (1981). The Shanghai Ballet Troupe presented the third act of "Napoli" (also known as "The Fisherman and His Bride"); and the Tianjin Song and Dance Drama Theater re-staged "Spanish Daughter" (1982). Besides, the Liaoning Ballet Troupe, established in 1981 staged "Le Corsair" (1983). Chinese people's cultural lives were greatly enriched and a new generation of Chinese ballet dancers began to mature quickly by performing famous classical ballets of the world under the direction of well-known ballet artists from many foreign countries.

In 1982, Wang Qifeng (female, Shanghai) and Zhang Weiqiang (Beijing) won the third place at the Jackson International Ballet Contest, the first international award to Chinese ballet dancers. Ever since, Chinese dancers had become frequent participants in various international ballet contests and have displayed their outstanding skills. In 1984, Wang Qifeng and Wang Caijun (Beijing) won the Special Award at the First Paris International Ballet Contest. In 1985, Li Ying (female, Beijing) won the first place and Xu Gang (Beijing) the second place at the 13th Lausanne International Ballet Contest At the 5th Moscow International Ballet Contest in 1985, Tang Min (female) won the Best Performance Award, while Zhang Weiqiang and Zhao Minhua (both from Beijing) won the third place respectively in the men's pas de deux and solo dance.

In 1992, Tan Yuanyuan (female, Shanghai) won the First Grand Award at the 5th Paris International Ballet Contest. In the same year, Tan Yuanyuan won the Gold Award of the Girls' Team at the First International Ballet Contest in Japan (Yu Xiaonan from Liaoning won the Silver Award at the same competition). She also won the Nikins Grand Award in Poland.In 1994, Wang Yuanyuan (female) and Cao Huanxing (both from Beijing) won the second place of the modern ballet pas de deux at the 6th Paris International Ballet Contest. In 1995, at the Helsinki Ballet Competition, Zhang Zhao (female) and Han Yejun won the second place of the teenagers' team event. In 1997, Zhang Zhao, who had won many awards, captured the first place for the pas de deux at the 8th Moscow International Ballet Contest.

Under new circumstances, Chinese ballet rapidly developed. Ballet professionals achieved one success after another in adapting ballets from famous Chinese literary and dramatic works. The most well-known adaptations are: "Thun-derstorm" of Cao Yu, "Family" of BaJin and "Soul", "True Story of Ah Q" and "Regretting the Past" by Lu Xun. In these creations, breakthroughs were made in dance structure and expression, which can be regarded as bold and beneficial trials in the history of Chinese ballet.

Among these ballet adaptations, "The New Year's Sacrifice", originally a novel written by Lu Xun, and "Lin Daiyu" which was adapted from A Dream of the Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin were the most influential.

"The New Year's Sacrifice" premiered in 1980. (Director and choreographer: Jiang Zuhui; composer: Liu Tingyu; first performed by the Central Ballet Theater of China; prima ballerina: Yu Leidi as Sister Xianglin, Wu Zhaoning as He Laoliu.) Chinese literati Lu Xun, with his sharp eyes and mind, revealed in the novel the miserable life of Chinese women in the feudal society. Sister Xianglin was an honest and obedient young widow who worked as a maid in a rich family. She was sold to He Laoliu as his wife. At first she was defiant, but later, moved by the honesty and frankness of He Laoliu, she married him and gave birth to a son. However, Such happiness didn't last long -- her husband and son both died young. People in the feudal society regarded Sister Xianglin as an ominous symbol because she had married twice. Sister Xianglin, who could find no place under the vast sky to make a living, finally died one night in a snow storm, full of suppressed feeling and sorrow for her tragic life.

In the second act of the play, "Defying Marriage", the director applied the Chinese wedding tradition of "the bride's head shrouded in a piece of red cloth" and designed the scene of "uncovering the red cloth three times". The simple and honest local people helped the groom lift the red cloth, with dancing and music all around. To everyone's surprise, the bride showed her true face with her hands tied up and mouth gagged with cotton. Tears welling up in her eyes, Sister Xianglin ran to the table to kill herself. He Laoliu set her free with sympathy and Sister Xianglin was moved by his kindheartedness and decided to stay. The second act of the ballet "The New Year's Sacrifice" had a strong rural flavor The wonderful pas de deux and the touching plot made it a famous dance. (Fig.3-36)

"Lin Daiyu" premiered in 1982. (Directors and choreographers: Li Chengxiang and Wang Shiqi; composer: Shi Fu; first performed by the Central Ballet Theater of China: prima ballerina: Wang Pingping as Lin Daiyu, Feng Ying as Xue Baochai; danseur noble: You Guoqing as jia Baoyu.) "A dream of the Red Mansions" is the most important literary work of China in the 18th century. By telling the story of a grand feudal family from prosperity to destitution, the novel sounded the death knell of the feudal society. There are over a hundred figures in the novel. Each of them, with a different character, is vividly described and presented to the readers in a lively manner.

The ballet "Lin Daiyu" selected from the lengthy novel is a moving story of love between Lin Daiyu, Jia Baoyu and Xue Baochai, and follows their conflicts and tragic fate. The fourth act "The Death of Lin Daiyu" shows great originality. Daiyu was dying, but she's still deeply in love with Baoyu. She had the illusion that sometimes, Baoyu was around and talking to her; while at other times he Suddenly vanished and left her with nothing but darkness; sometimes, she saw the wedding of Baoyu and Baochai while she herself was drifting between them. The wedding music from afar brought Daiyu back to cruel reality and she burnt the silk handkerchief that had been the token of her love with Baoyu. Finally Daiyu died of grief. The choreography was full of Chinese flavor and revealed the mind of Daiyu, which was very appealing to the audience. This act also became a famous dance which would later be staged independently.

Many other representative ballets appeared in developing the Chinese ballet with its own characteristics. Included are "Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai (Butterfly Lovers)"(1983) by Zhang Huli and Ali of the Liaoning Ballet Troupe; "Trilogy of Seeking Light" (1985) and "Lan Hua Hua" (1988) by the young choreographer Shu JunJun, as well as "Fantasy of the Red Mansion" (1992) by Xiao Suhua.

In addition to Beijing and Shanghai, the two major ballet centers in China, the Tianjin Ballet Troupe was established in 1992 and presented such ballets as "The Arabian Nights" and "Swan Lake'. In 1995 the Guangzhou Ballet Troupe premiered "Anna Karenina". The past half a century witnessed the rapid development of ballet in China, a country which is working hard to become a major ballet center in the world.

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