Weaving the West and the East; The National Ballet of China debuts at the Vail International Dance Festival
As two rivers meet, and gracefully flow together, the union creates a new body of water at once identifiable and distinct from its origins.
As two cultures intertwine, on stage with the National Ballet of China, beautiful elements of Eastern culture and classical ballet create a new art form, true to its roots and explorative of the West.
Bringing proof to Vail that ballet embodies a living art form, dancers of the Ballet of China will breathe new life into the genre as they perform a pas de deux excerpted from the Chinese fusion ballet “Raise the Red Lantern.”
As the dancers float across the stage on pointe shoes, draped in dramatic, vibrant red costumes through a vivid set reminiscent of 1930s China, they enrich the technical standard of classical ballet with folk dance vocabulary, martial arts and Peking Opera movements.
Chen Qigang, a famous Chinese composer who lives in France, composed the music of the famed ballet by weaving together pieces inspired by the old tradition and Peking Opera.
Since the 1990s, the Ballet of China, which was established in 1959, has staged several contemporary ballets, including “The Red Detachment of Women,” “Ode to the Yimeng Mountains,” “The Son and Daughter of the Grassland,” “The New Year’s Sacrifice,” “Lin Daiyu” and “The Yellow River” to depict the lives of Chinese people.
“China is a country with rich historical heritage both in history and art,” said the ballet’s assistant director Peter Shi. “We have a good soil for all kinds of dance styles and theatrical productions. This is a great advantage when we are creating a Chinese ballet.”
The Ballet of China, who festival artistic director Katherine Kersten calls “one of the greatest companies of the world” will also be performing the Chinese ballet “Butterfly Lover,” as well as the French ballet “L’Arlesienne” by Roland Petit.
“What’s been happening over in Beijing is that they have been evolving from a company that was very Chinese-oriented with the Chinese culture, and over the last few decades they have been bringing in many Western choreographers and melding techniques,” said Kersten, who has seen the ballet company perform in their native country. “These dancers are all beautifully and classically trained. And while they do many of the Western ballets like ‘Swan Lake,’ there’s a fusion of Chinese elements.”
Artistic Director Zhao Ruheng, instrumental in creating the revolutionary works in the company’s repertoire, defines the evolution of East meets West as “making new languages of dance.”
Ruheng began her career in 1961 as a principal dancer for the company. When she suffered an injury in 1972 and could no longer perform, she devoted herself to teaching, rehearsing, artistic research and external cultural exchanges of the company. Her contributions were so great, the Chinese Ministry of Culture appointed Ruheng deputy director of the National Ballet of China in 1993 and executive director the following year.
Now as artistic director, Ruheng leads the ballet to continue to present original works representing Chinese culture, as well as classical and contemporary ballet. The day of the performance, from 11 a.m.-noon at the Ford Amphitheater in Vail,
Ruheng will host a Dance Dialogue discussing the “new language.”
Through this avenue, they hope to gather even more international acclaim, acclaim that holds universal appeal in their own country.
“Unlike the audience in the West, the ballet audiences in China are all kinds of people from every field of the society. The only thing they need to approve is the passion and professionalism.”
Perhaps through ventures such as National Ballet of China, Western audiences will forge new rivers, too.