Thursday, 20 October 2016

The National Ballet of China is coming to the Lowry

Lowry Centre
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

In Al Jazeera features the Ballet Class in the Nairobi Slums 19 Oct 2016 I referred to the comments on Al-Jazeera's Facebook page about a remarkable ballet class in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Nairobi. While most of the comments were favourable there was one that was not:
"Ballerina? Very good dream but it must be stopped! Kenya is an ancient land with a rich and colourful past, there are many aspects of Kenyan culture that can be embraced by Kenyan youths. Why are Africans still living like colonial subjects? Helping sustain European language, religion, culture, economy at the expense of Africa and African culture! Stop."
Well, Kenya is indeed "an ancient land with a rich and colourful past" but then so is China.  No one would dispute that "there are many aspects of Kenyan culture that can be embraced by Kenyan youths" and I hope that many of them, including, perhaps, some of the kids in the ballet class in Kibera as well as other students around the world, will do just that. But embracing and contributing to an art form that began in the courts of renaissance Italy and has now spread across the world is not a rejection of any other art from any other culture. Indeed, there are instances where the confluence of two cultures influences both for the better.

A good example of such confluence and mutual influence appears to be The National Ballet of China which describes itself on the "About Us" page of its website as follows:
"The National Ballet of China was founded in December of 1959. All of The National Ballet of China’s outstanding artists come from professional academies. During decades of care and support from the government and friends from all social sectors, the company has never ceased enriching its solid Russian foundations with works of different schools and styles. The company’s repertoire includes classics like Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Giselle, Carmen, Onegin, and The Little Mermaid, as well as original creations like The Red Detachment of Women, The New Year Sacrifice, Yellow River, Raise the Red Lantern, The Peony Pavilion, and The Chinese New Year. By both performing Western ballets and creating works of its own with distinct national characteristics, the company has found a successful path for the development of Chinese ballet. It is fusing the classical and the modern, and cultures from all over the world."
Now with all due respect to the critic of the ballet class in Kibera, the artists of one of the world's most powerful nations and one of its oldest and most brilliant civilizations do not live like colonial subjects. They are creating something magnificent which may use the vocabulary of classical ballet but remains authentically Chinese.

The National Ballet of China will bring one of those Chinese creations to The Lowry when it performs The Peony Pavillion between the 22 and 26 Nov 2016. The ballet is described on The Lowry's website as
"one of the most enduring love stories in Chinese literature. Adapted from Tang Xianzu’s play of the same name, The Peony Pavilion is a ballet telling a 16th-century story of passion pitted against impossible odds, an Eastern contemporary of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'."
Further information on the ballet and the play appears on Wikipedia:
"In May 2008, the National Ballet of China premièred a two-scene ballet adaptation of The Peony Pavilion in Beijing. For this adaptation, the play was rewritten by the opera's director Li Liuyi; the ballet was choreographed by Fei Bo, and the music was composed by Guo Wenjing. The adaptation had its European premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2011."
The Wikipedia description may be a little inaccurate in that it refers to "two scenes". I think the author must have meant to say "two acts". The Lowry describes it as "A Ballet in Two Acts and Six Scenes (Adapted from Tang Xianzu’s play of the same name)" on its website and I have to say that that seems rather more likely.

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