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Ballet in China?


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#1 Globetrotter

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 01:45 AM

Here's an odd request. It seems I will be traveling to China over the next year or so. I spent many years traveling around the US and Europe (hence my 'handle') and was able to see some great ballet. Now I'm at a loss. Does anyone know of opportunities for me to see good ballet in China? I spend time in and around Shanghai and Hong Kong. Help!

#2 carbro

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 02:53 PM

A friend of mine was delighted to find Sofiane Sylve guesting with Hong Kong Ballet during her summer visit. John Meehan, whose work with ABT's Studio Company was exceptional, is how HKB's Artistic Director. He showed a real gift for identifying and developing promising young dancers and choosing rep that showed them off to advantage. Here's a link to Hong Kong Ballet's English homepage.

#3 CeC

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 03:06 PM

Globetrotter, I so envy you!!

Here is the Shanghai Ballet. I have a very strong feeling I have seen a guest artist from that company visit my home town of Vancouver, but I cannot remember who it was ... a very beautiful dancer too. They seem to be a mix of classical, Chinese (I do not envy you The White Haired Girl or the Butterfly Lovers, the music drives me batty!) and contemporary. I would be very interested in hearing how the contemporary was, I have heard reports that the majority of the Chinese companies have seen huge improvements in their contemporary dancing in the last couple of years.
http://www.shanghaib...com/en/main.htm

Hong Kong Ballet I would really love to hear about. The AD, John Meehan is from Australia, danced with ABT, NYCB and NBoC and was AD of both Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and ABT Studio Company so the company may have more of a north american feel ... The senior ballet mistress, Lin Mei-fang, worked in my city for a great many years as a teacher of the Goh Academy, and two of the corps de ballet, Ye Fei Fei and Kostyantyn Keshyshev, are also from my home so I would love to hear how the company is looking.
http://www.hkballet..../eng/index.html

Hong Kong is also a tour stop for many companies, I believe. Hopefully someone else has seen the companies - there was a member here reporting from Hong Kong, but I haven't read any recent posts. It would be wonderful if you could report on them. I have been fortunate enough to have seen several ballet dancers from the Chinese companies in my life, and would love to have more knowledge of ballet there.

Oops, posting at the same time as carbro ...

#4 carbro

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 03:11 PM

Hi, CeC.

Don't mean to be picky, but I don't recall Meehan ever dancing with NYCB. He may have done a guest appearance or two, but he is not listed among the NYCB alumni.

#5 CeC

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 03:17 PM

Sorry, carbro, I should have been more explicit in my quote from his bio. It said he "joined The Australian Ballet in 1970 and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1974. He joined American Ballet Theatre as Principal Dancer in 1977. He was also a frequent guest artist with New York City Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada and toured with Stars of World Ballet." So you are correct, he was not a regular dancer there or at NBoC. Thank you for correcting the implication.

#6 Mike Gunther

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 05:22 PM

I seem to remember Shanghai Ballet brought White-Haired Girl here to D.C. a couple of years ago. That dance is just Maoist kitsch, but the company danced really well. I missed them not once but twice when I was in China last year, so I hope your timing is better. Anyway let us know what you see when you're over there, a lot of us would be interested. Good luck!

#7 emilienne

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 05:52 PM

Many Russian and Eastern European tour groups also make passes through the big cities, as do some smaller regional touring dance groups (Liaoning, etc). You can check online as well - ticket services will usually have someone speaking English on the telephone hotline. They will arrange to deliver tickets to the door and the usual practice is cash on delivery (though no guarantee that anyone delivering will speak english).

There are two primary ticket websites for mainland China: Piao.com and Piaowutong. Piaowutong's website hangs on a lot of browsers, but I find that piao's offerings are often out of date.

Piao Beijing is at http://www.piao.com and Piao Shanghai is at http://www.piao.com/...hu/index-sh.asp

This place does not have an English website but the Shanghai hot line is at 021-58873272

For Piaowutong:
There is an English site: http://en.piaowutong.com (this only goes to the Beijing website)

The Shanghai website is here: http://sh.piaowutong.com (only in Chinese)

The Shanghai's reservation hotline is 021-51086048...I seem to remember an English speaking service, but I'm not positive.

Beijing and Shanghai have been competing in recent years to bring "the arts" to their respective cities. I saw the Bolshoi and Paris Opera Ballet in Beijing. I've also seen the Central Ballet, and I do hear that the Shanghai Ballet is quite good. Their training is basically Soviet, and their body types have become more...Mariinski-like (think very long and very lean) in recent years. Aside from a few 'modern' pieces and revolutionary ballets, the core repetoire of the bigger companies is actually very traditional (Swan Lake &tc, though no Sleeping Beauty).

Hope this is of some use.
emi

#8 CeC

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 06:58 PM

Hi emilienne! Have you seen Central Ballet recently? That is another company I would love to hear more of, I have known many ex-dancers from there and have actually been taught by many over the years in various schools and master classes ... amazing stories (and teachers). One thing a lot of them had in common was that they were extremely tall and russian looking ie. northern chinese looking, so I guess Mariinski-like.

Grant Strate has been one of many ambassadors between Beijing and Vancouver over the decades http://www.dcd.ca/catalogue/china.html http://www.straight....nt-strate-at-80 He says "The thing that came out in the ballet classes that I was teaching [in China] was that they had somehow mixed the Russian method with their own, and it looked like calligraphy to me," he says. "It was more gentle, it was more poetic, it was more beautiful. I liked what they had evolved."

One of my summer school teachers was Choo Chiat Goh who was trained by the Royal Ballet but was the former principal dancer for Central Ballet and according to his bio "Mr. Goh created lead roles in The Red Detachment of Women and The White Haired Girl." http://www.gohballet.com/faculty.htm (I think his wife Lin Yee created the female lead roles, but can't find that written anywhere ...) According to him, he got so tired of performing them, he emigrated. Don't much blame him, lol!

It would be hard actually to picture Vancouver dance today without the Beijing influence, I think it is as important as the English influence from all of our old RAD teachers ... There are many dancers, teachers and choreographers from Central Ballet in Canada, especially Vancouver. From what I have seen, they raise the bar wherever they go. If you still see the company or remember a performance, a review would be wonderful ... :smilie_mondieu:

Does Tetsuya tour to Hong Kong regularly? I thought I heard that he did, but I cannot find a K-Ballet schedule in English. That would be expensive but brilliant.

Hong Kong is also close to Guangzhou Ballet; I had an opportunity to see principal dancer Huang Yi perform Albrecht with a local company last year and was completely taken with his entire performance, partnering, acting and ability ... I know nothing of the company, but it was apparently established in 1994 and performs "Western classics and original ballets based on Chinese themes". http://www.calperfs....07/dance/gb.php

#9 emilienne

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 08:27 PM

Unfortunately the last time I saw the Central Ballet was in 2006. To the best of my recollection I guess I'd describe the style as being restrained Russian with less emphasis on the port de bras. I was struck mostly by the fact that they weren't as 'floppy' as when hyperadagio goes horribly wrong. Unfortunately I've noticed that limbs tend to get out of control once in a while, though I think that's more a function of the body types that ballet seems to favor nowadays (darn it, I want a fireplug!).

I'd probably have more to say about the Revolutionary Ballets (Red Detachment, White Haired Girl) but it'd be off topic here so I won't. It is, however, a great throwback to the Cultural Revolution and definitely a symbol of what ballet could be if only geared toward the (Socialist) masses.

#10 CeC

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 09:44 PM

I'd probably have more to say about the Revolutionary Ballets (Red Detachment, White Haired Girl) but it'd be off topic here so I won't. It is, however, a great throwback to the Cultural Revolution and definitely a symbol of what ballet could be if only geared toward the (Socialist) masses.


Well, the heading is Ballet in China, and I'd love to hear what you think, especially if you saw them in situ. My perceptions of Chinese dance are unfortunately all out of context and out of date. What I have pieced together is: they are very flexible. Many Vancouver schools offer acro as an elective, but here the gumby tendency is rigidly opposed by the English RAD influence, so I don't know what it would look like there? The dancers I have seen have not been floppy, but they have also been the best dancers, I would love to see one day what the corps looks like.

I have heard the acting accused of being expressionless, but to me it is just very Chinese, restrained and subtle and more sweet and sentimental than russian dramatic. (In Vancouver a lot of the dancers have been influenced by Mr. Goh's extremely dramatic old Royal Ballet acting, or a similar style from RAD, which is not what I see in the guest dancers from China at all.)

The port de bras I find to be more like the Japanese, very liquid arms that are continually moving, including fingers (slightly). The attack (or lack of it) would probably be the biggest weakness in some roles - compared to Russian or American (or Cuban, or Brazilian ...) dancers they do not look nearly as athletic. That is why I was very interested to hear that they were coming into their own in modern and contemporary and using that type of expression and attack. (Although there are many born in China dancers here that are doing that wonderfully, ie. Wen Wei Wang.)

So until I get rich and get over there to see for myself, I would love to have someone confirm or reject my impressions ...

#11 emilienne

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 12:21 AM

I was referring more to the filmed and historic versions as danced by people's troupes during the Cultural Revolution. I did quite a bit of history and film work at university on Cultural Revolution media. However, it's not quite relevant to ballet in China, as I don't really consider it...Ballet, in China. It's more mass dance with rather terrible ballet technique. Basically, if you can dance en pointe, you can perform for factory workers and peasants in the countryside. Ability to turn out was not a stringently enforced requirement.

Dance schools in China have the luxury of selecting body types (as do the most selective in the rest of the world), and they've definitely followed the Russian trend in selecting the more elongated bodies. Many of the dancers are still selected from lower income families, with the understanding that the dancers will have better lives (dancing for the sake of enriching one's academic resume is a relatively new thing). Sometimes it's not really about love of dance as it is about sticking it out for the eventual benefits, unfortunately.

It is true that the acting is more introverted, but then the dancer runs the risk of being stone-faced. It's one thing for the dancing to tell the story entirely, but there's also the risk of disconnecting the face entirely from the action, which happens sometimes. I'm not sure I'd call it Chinese, so I'll just leave it as introversion.

I'm not sure about the politics behind this, but there has been a rash of officially approved modern works lately. However, they are very much in the soviet mode of unitard ballets with rather gymnastic lifts. Most of them are set to traditional Chinese themes and music but unfortunately have very little lasting value. The music situation seem to mirror that of artistic gymnastics floor music from the 1990s, in which many of the former Soviet countries encouraged their gymnasts to use 'traditional' folk music in order to show solidarity or identity, something like that.

Youtube has some interesting clips from national dance competitions and modern pieces that have been broadcast on Central Television - searching for Central Ballet in English should turn up the terms, and more clips will pop up in associated searches.

#12 carbro

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 11:01 AM

My friend from post #2 on this thread, a frequent traveler to China, sent me some fascinating background. With her permission, I am posting some other recollections she sent me last night:

I had just started and we were going to China on vacation...must have been around 1990. Went every year and would go to the Beijing Dance Academy to watch the ballet classes. We also were able to watch Beijing's Central Ballet Company classes (they sometimes call it National Ballet of China). Of course, you could only get in if you had connections - that is the way it is in China (even now, I believe). In Shanghai, we would watch classes at the Shanghai Dance School as well as watch the Shanghai Ballet Company.

Beijing's Dance Academy picked from all over the country, while Shanghai's school picked from the greater Shanghai area. They would select children with good facility and also check their family (extended) for things like overweight tendencies :smilie_mondieu: In Beijing, the chosen students would board there starting at age 10. Those with better facility would learn ballet while the slightly less "perfect" facility students would be minority dance students.

Anyway, it was fascinating. The teaching was totally Russian - Pyotr Gusev had gone to teach the Chinese Russian ballet, but only was able to teach 6 of the 8 year "syllabus" because China and Russian relations broke off.

The students were incredibly disciplined and kind of cookie-cutter. But, of course, in each class there were always 2 who would stand out.

What I hear is that recently fewer students were really dedicated - they were more interested in a less tough life and making more money:) That was about 2 or 3 years ago. I don't know what the situation is this or last year.

Presently, Liaoning and Guangzhou also have good companies. I heard that Guangzhou's company is quite good.

The body type for the girls is tall and lean(!). For boys, the same - but they often are lacking in strength because they are almost too lean (even when they are wearing all white they look too skinny). The training lacks the quickness and attack and the articulation that you see in NYCB dancers.

The HK Ballet is located in their own performing arts building which has studios and auditorium and all. The dancers were especially lively in the more contemporary piece. Not so polished or sophisticated in the ballet pieces that we saw. There is not much of an audience for the ballet in HK, from what I could see...just a lot of young female students and their families. we got our tickets thru the concierge at the hotel.

I think it would be great for more US teachers/choreographers to go to China to share and expose the Chinese dancers to new ways, etc. But they must have an interpreter and not just an "interpreter". We watched a class where an American taught (once I saw Ib Anderson there, but this time was someone else - I would have to look it up in my notebook) and they just called in some interpreter. That did not work. She translated the words but often got it totally wrong - I ended up doing some of it.



#13 jeff-sh

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 01:39 AM

here is something I posted last year. fyi
Shanghai Ballet

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 04:12 AM

A general note about Chinese culture: If anything goes there, and develops a local following, whatever it is becomes Chinese. It holds with graphic arts, useful arts, ballet, and even economics. If Marx, Engels and Lenin were to visit the China of today, they would probably hide behind a tree in fright at what "Communism" has morphed into there. 'Twas ever thus, and holds for other countries, too, but it is so pronounced in China that it has its own particular branch of political, cultural, economic and social studies.

#15 Marga

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Posted 29 September 2008 - 12:20 PM

According to this ad in Dance Europe magazine, a successor is being sought to replace AD John Meehan. Scroll down to "Hong Kong Ballet":

Dance Europe Ad


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