Last Update 23:54
Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Chinese ballet in Cairo: On dance and its history

The Chinese Cultural Center in Cairo organised an evening showcasing the country's ballet skills topping it with a lecture introducing this art form's history in China

Samia Fakhry, Tuesday 18 Sep 2018
Chinese ballet
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
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Views: 2863

Earlier this month on 2 September, the Chinese cultural attaché and the head of the Chinese Cultural Center, Shi Yue Wen, hosted a ballet show and lectures by the National Ballet of China (NBC).

NBC, known in China as the Central Ballet Troupe, was founded on 31 December 1959. Its visit to Cairo was accompanied by a lecture given by Xu Gang, the ballet professor and assistant artistic supervisor, who came with four of the ballet dancers.

The evening started with pas de deux from Swan Lake, then an interesting lecture of what every move in ballet means, and how ballet is actually a play without words. While explaining this vocabulary, the dancers showed how they would say handsome, beautiful, tall, and other expressions.

The instructor then invited the audience to actively participate by asking them to move with her. Some reacted enthusiastically, while some took videos with their mobile phones, and others just watched with a smile.

Chinese ballet
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

This was followed by a talk about history of ballet, where the instructor discussed its beginnings in Italy as a representation a creative fusion between music, dance and fine arts, before it gained popularity in France and Russia.

The lecturer explained that, in the middle of 19th century, the art of ballet went through many changes, underscoring two crucial names that contributed greatly to its development: the French-Russian choreographer Petipa and Russian composer Tchaikovsky, who wrote music to many iconic classical ballet pieces.

Moving from Europe towards the East, the classical ballet reached China, just five years after the founding of "new China", which brought along international scholars to the country.

In 1954, the first institution for the talented dancers, the Beijing Dance School, was founded and the classes were led by the best Russian dancers of the time, such as Pyotr Gusev.

Chinese ballet
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

The establishment of the academic ballet school soon led to the first performance of the ballet Swan Lake (1959) with a full cast consisting of Chinese dancers.

This was followed by the Experimental Ballet Company of the Beijing Dance School, which finally became the National Ballet of China. Dai Ailian was the principal of the school and one of the ballet company directors.

Through constant Russian training and meetings from other schools across France, Britain, and Denmark, the company built a great repertoire, until it finally started to develop its own national character by introducing the Red Detachment of Women, a work which is based on real historical stories, telling how women went through actual struggles to change their fate and follow their dreams.

In preparation for the Red Detachment of Women, the most famous Chinese choreographers, directors and musicians went to Hainan Island where the actual incidents and story took place, to be inspired by the reality and the fascinating landscape. This inspiration led to the final production of the ballet, which was presented in 1972 during Richard Nixon's visit to China.

Chinese ballet
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

In this ballet, the choreographer and the costume designer introduced some bold variations to the usual western traditional ballet, including traditional Chinese cultural elements and a new experimental spirit. That performance was presented more than 4,000 times across 13 countries, including China, USA, France, Russia, and Singapore on the stages of renowned institutions such as the Lincoln Center, and within the Helsinki Festival and the Opera Paris Festival.

The lecturer then added that while they were trying hard to have a national ballet character, they were also trying to explore different styles from different countries with an open mind. Soon, the NBC was recognized by all the international ballet choreographers.

In the end, the evening at the Chinese Cultural Center saw numerous dances performed showcasing the skills of the Chinese dancers, including dances from the Song of the Earth, the Song of the Yimeng Mountain, and the Crane Calling.

Chinese ballet
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)
 

Chinese ballet
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

Chinese ballet
(Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

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