When dancers from the National Ballet of China depicted scenes from Raise the Red Lantern, audiences in Tokyo, Japan were left thrilled by the performance.
In order to illustrate the classic story in an artistic form, the performers were dressed in exquisite traditional Chinese costumes of bright colors for the performance on Friday. Their equally delicate dance moves also won the appreciation of the audience.
According to Feng Ying, director of the National Ballet of China, a troupe of 120 performers came to Tokyo to put on shows of Raise the Red Lantern and Swan Lake, the largest-scale performance in Japan since the ballet company was established 60 years ago.
Adapted from renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou's film, Raise the Red Lantern tells the tragic tale of women struggling in a traditional feudal family.
"The play tells the powerful story in a similar way to films and dramas-its plot is unveiled in a theatrical way-breaking away from traditional ballet forms," says Feng, who was herself once a dancer with the National Ballet of China.
Unlike classical ballet, Raise the Red Lantern incorporated various traditional Chinese elements such as Peking Opera, folk music and traditional instruments to deliver a creative form of performance imbued with Chinese culture. The music was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic and conducted by Zhang Yi, head of the China National Symphony Orchestra.
Because of the unique aspects of the show, performers had to employ a clever use of dance and props, such as square tables and specially-developed moves to illustrate people playing mahjong, for instance.
The dancers swirled around the tables, sometimes hopping on top of them and ducking underneath, vividly depicting the relationships of the characters. The clattering sound of mahjong tiles impacting one another was produced by using several abacuses.
To depict the oppression of the heroine by her male master, shadows of the two characters dancing together were cast on a large paper screen with the male shadow evidently larger than that of the heroine. The two shadows writhed and twisted around each other, against a tense musical backdrop, with the whole sequence reminiscent of Chinese shadow puppetry.
These techniques added depth to the performance of the play, which is itself rich in traditional cultural elements.
The performance of Swan Lake on May 12, on the other hand, maintained the standard style of classical ballet and the troupe delivered a high-level of performance to the Japanese audience.
"The two plays of different styles represent the inheritance and innovation of traditions in the ballet field since China's reform and opening-up," Feng says.
Speaking about ballet exchanges between China and Japan, she says, "It should be about exploring how to carry on the tradition while also taking the path of innovation, especially in how to express Asian culture."
She says she was more than impressed by the hospitality and friendship from the Japanese dancers and the Japanese people.
"We communicate not only with the Japanese ballet circle, but also with the Japanese theatrical circle," Feng says. "I remember when I came to perform in Japan in the 1980s, Japan celebrated a coming-of-age ceremony. The Japanese troupe that received us also held a coming-of-age ceremony for the young girls around the age of 20 in our ballet group.
"I still remember the clothes and makeup, the genuine enthusiasm and concern from our Japanese friends," she says.
"In recent years, the National Ballet of China has created many works with traditional Chinese cultural characteristics and also with the spirit of the contemporary era. We hope they can be staged in Japan in the future," Feng says.
"Our Japanese ballet peers have also been exploring how to express Asian culture through the medium of Western dance forms. I've seen them do ballet in kimonos, and they're also exploring new things," Feng says.
"I hope the Chinese and Japanese ballet circles will continue to strengthen communication and learn from each other. I also hope that such ballet exchanges will further promote communication between Chinese and Japanese people, as well as people around the world, and make a contribution to the building of Asian culture and world civilization," she says.