Japan's Matsuyama Ballet Troupe will tour China with its signature work, The White-Haired Girl.
For Japanese ballerina Yoko Morishita, performing "The White-Haired Girl" went way beyond an intriguing mix of Western art and a Chinese story.
In Morishita's words, playing the lead role in the ballet is her very own way of expressing repentance over Japan's war past and her gratitude for the amicability of the Chinese toward her and the Japanese people at large.
The 69-year-old internationally acclaimed ballet dancer and her husband, Tetsutaro Shimizu, co-director and choreographer of Japan's Matsuyama Ballet Troupe, have taken their signature work to Beijing and Shanghai on their China tour this month.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of relations between China and Japan.
The ballet company, founded by Shimizu's parents, Masao Shimizu and Mikiko Matsuyama, started adapting the Chinese story after they watched a film of the same name, a gift for Japan from then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai more than six decades ago.
The film, set in the early 1940s, tells the story of a peasant girl named Xi'er, who fled to live in hiding in a mountain after she was forced to work day and night as a slave in a landlord's home following her indebted father's death.
Masao Shimizu, an architect by training, described himself as "a Japanese who loves China and Chinese culture the most."
Indeed, the couple, their son and daughter-in-law have left an indelible mark on the friendship between the Chinese and Japanese and over time built a special bond between the two peoples.
Mikiko Matsuyama was invited to China and attend the National Day parade and celebrations in 1955, when Zhou Enlai asked her to perform "The White-Haired Girl" in China on her next tour.
The couple brought the dance to China for the first time in 1958. The ballet troupe in following tours traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Wuhan, attracting large audiences every time. Chinese leaders were among the audiences and met with members of the ballet company.
Last year, Yoko Morishita took her fellow dancers to Yan'an, the "Red Cradle" of the Chinese revolution in northwest China in a visit she hoped would help them better understand China.
For the dancers and choreographers, young and old, atonement is what it is all about.
"When on earth do we Japanese speak out our gratitude and repentance?" All ballerinas said in chorus at the end of the ballet show at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday.
Their message was well received, drawing applause among Chinese viewers.
Speaking to reporters, Morishita said everything she did was for the good of Chinese-Japanese friendship. "It's gratitude and repentance," she said.
Her husband agreed. "Touching the hearts of Chinese spectators with the ballet 'The White-Haired Girl' -- it is our way of atonement," he said.
This time, Morishita and her husband were joined in Beijing by Tian Hua, the Chinese actress who starred in the film "The White-Haired Girl."
"Anyone who has no respect for history is not living a significant life. The Matsuyama Ballet Troupe respects history," Tian said.
The two hugged upon meeting, flanked by a group of young Japanese ballet dancers who had trained and performed with Morishita.
Performing in China, Morishita said, brings "unparalleled happiness" to her.