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Dancers from China?

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I was interested to see remarks on the IBC pertaining to the strong Chinese contingent on the competitive ballet scene.

I was curious about strong dancers coming from a country with a generally hostile attitude toward the West.

Does it seem strange to produce strong dancers in an environment lacking the ballet tradition found in other countries?

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We had a similar discussion about dancers from Asia in general and their success in competitions. Someone objected to it as racist and we closed the discussion -- simply, I'm sorry to admit, because that particular week I was on three deadlines and didn't have time to sort it out.

I think it's a legitimate question now, and was when Jeannie first raised it.

You might find some answers on that thread:

Those who'd like to rejoin the discussion could perhaps do so on THIS thread, which I'm about to move to the Competitions forum where it will catch the eye of those who follow competitions and know the history.

Thanks for the question :)

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I'm on a deadline right now so here's the short answer.

Ballet has enormous appeal to Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino & other Asian peoples. It has really 'clicked' with their sense of visual beauty.

Regarding the special case of the PRChina, their tradition in ballet is one of the newest on earth...but very strong. The Oxford Dictionary of Ballet & Dance will provide you with all the nitty-gritty details but, in essense, state-sponsored Chinese ballet began in the late 40s/early 50s with the help of the very best consultants & pedagogues from the Soviet Union...Pyotr Gusev - how can it get any better???!!!

The standard Western rep had to give way to revolutionary-Chinese dramballets during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s ('Red Detachment of Women', 'White-haired Girl' etc. stem from that era).

Since the early 80s (after the end of the Cult Rev), the rep reverted to the Western classics. Since then, Chinese dancers have competed & done very well at the major IBCs. They compete for gold - nothing more, nothing less! It's almost a continuation of their 'Olympic fighting spirit'!

I toured China -- east to west, north to south -- last year & was so very impressed by the high level of their dancers & the high amount of western-style ballet seen on national TV...not just the Shanghai IBC (complete with a panel of five or six 'color commentators' making detailed comments on each & every dancer, tearing apart/analyzing variations)....but every Sunday morning CCTV has a program spotlighting amateur dance groups fromall over the country, including ballet, acrobatics, tap, folk...but huge emphasis on ballet. Ballet & other forms of western dance are very ingrained into the culture of China. While I was there, a new pre-prof'l school was inaugurated in the NE (Manchuria area), a 'sister-academy' to Novosibirsk, Russia. A new prof'l troupe from Liao Ning has already produced several IBC medalists. And on & on. Beautiful, beautiful stuff. Ditto in all former Soviet Union countries.

- Jeannie (sorry for the mess...I'm really typing a mile a minute)

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Hmmm, not sure if this is the right place to reply, but....

For me, the question is related to what it means to develop an art form. Somewhere, some how, it seems to me that an art form should in some way reflect the general culture. Thus, for example, it is curious that Japan produces serious ballet dancers, yet (according to your thread reference) Japan did not have a ballet company until 1997.

It is somewhat like Jamaica providing a bobsledding team -- is the development of good ballet something that can be done anywhere with the right physique and good training? Or does "good ballet" require an environment that includes enthusiastic and educated audiences, choreography founded in a local tradition, and schools with a significant history?

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That's an interesting question, too. There is some criticism of Japanese and Chinese dancers as having learned ballet "externally" -- everything is from the outside, not the inside. As if Americans became suddenly enchanted with Kabuki or Chinese opera and wanted to put on a show, but didn't really know what was going on. But, then, there are plenty of dancers in countries with deep ballet traditions who give "external" performances, too. And one could argue that ballet has nearly nothing to do with mainstream culture in Western Europe or America, too.

I saw one of the most impressive, thoughtful performances in a ballerina role I've ever seen last spring, a young Korean ballerina (about age 21, if I remember correctly) in the role of Gamzatti in "La Bayadere." So even if the majority of the dancers are learning the steps and enjoying the virtuosity, can there not be individual artists who go beyond that?

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fendrock, Three years ago, I, as a Chinese, would almost incline to your view. I frequented the theatre for the overseas ballet companies, but never did I sit once in the theatre, watching my own companies' performances, until three years ago. I remember clearly that night it was La Sylphide by National Ballet of China. The performance by no means lost out to most of the overseas companies ever visiting China, neither technically nor artistically. That night became the turning point of my passion for the Chinese ballet companies. I admit that our Chinese dancers still need to improve themselves in lots of aspects, esp the inner side. The other problem we are facing is China failed to produce creative ballet choregraphers.

I do not agree with you on the preconditions of "good ballet". If so, what do you think of ballet in Cuba? Here in China, we have a comparatively young history but we have great potential, full of vitality and enthusiasm. Isn't that promising enough? What makes you so repelling?

True that nowadays our Chinese dancers pay too much attention to the ballet competition, which I am not for it. Ballet is not meant for the dancers to compete, but to perform; it is not meant to stimulate the audience but make them enjoy. However I fully understand their feeling, that is to be recognized by the western world through the competition.

frendrock, if you have chance, do have a ballet trip to China as Jeannie did. I think you will have a different view then.

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Dear fendrock

You said

Does it seem strange to produce strong dancers in an environment lacking the ballet tradition found in other countries?

I would like to ask you a question.

Do you know where did the legend ballerina Margot Monteyn start her ballet training?

In Shanghai, China.Actually, I don¡Çt think China¡Çs ballet tradition is the newest in Asia or in the world.

I would like to tell you some stories.

Some Russian people came to China after the October Revolution in 1910s, some of them were teaching ballet to make their lives, and Margot Fonteyn was among their students..

In early 1940s a Trinidad-Tobago born and Rambert trained female dancer called Dai Ailian (she is still alive) came back to China to join the Anti-Japanese War, and founded the first company in China (so far as I know). In 1950s, the country was the friend of the Soviet Union. Many professional experts came from the Soviet to help China¡Çs construction; among them were some ballet teachers. A Russian method ballet school was founded in Beijing to train our own dancers and the Central Ballet of China was founded in 1959, which has presented many productions of Chinese and Western ballet ever since.

The golden age of China ballet was 1980s. Rudolf Nureyev came to teach his production of Don Quixote without getting any pay, and after some successful performances, he invited some of our best dancers to guest at the Paris Opera.

Now there are 5 ballet companies in PRC. They are smaller in number but they are quite good companies. I have seen quite a lot of ballet performances in USA, Japan and European countries, I don't think the Chinese dancers are inferior to the western dancers at all.

Look at Tan Yuan Yuan (with SF Ballet) and Chen Yan (of ABT). Aren't they excellent dancers?

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Hello, Xin Xin & Helen. Thanks for visiting. :)

Excellent points on all sides. Thanks for the input/feedback! I had forgotten that Mme Dai was born in Trinidad/Tobago in the Caribbean...not so far from my own Puerto Rico, in fact, and she became the founding mother of Chinese ballet!

The point made about the Ballet Nacional de Cuba & its excellence in the grand scheme of ballet, makes me wonder further: how can American Ballet Theater -- so representative of this hemisphere's melting pot -- continue to hire/promote/foster the dancing of such non-Europeans as, say, Paloma Herrera & Hernan Cornejo (Argentina), Stella Abrera (Philippines), Xiomara Reyes (Cuba), Renata Pavam (Brazil), etc, etc.? Do these dancers *truly* capture the essence of ballet, both inside & outside?

The Royal Ballet of the UK has quite a few non-Europeans in its ranks, too, at last count. Do *those* non-European soloists capture the essence of ballet?

- Jeannie

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Don't think for a minute I was suggesting that non-Western dancers are not of the same calibre as Western dancers.

I am pondering the process as much as the product, I guess. If a culture has a long tradition in any specific art, that should mean that more people in the general population participate, and, by force of sheer numbers, the result should be a high competency rate in that art.

Thus, the odds are highly against an American child gaining exposure to Kabuki theater, finding the proper training, and succeeding in the field. And, even if he did, he would probably have to leave the country to find employment opportunities.

I was also thinking that one probably needs to differentiate the ability of an individual to succeed in an art form (even our hypothetical American Kabuki actor), and the popularity and quality of an art form in a given society. The latter can enrich the individual artist and give him/her greater opportunity to perform, but is not a prerequisite to creating a gifted artist in the first place.

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Hello, Helen and Xinxin!

Fendrock, I understand your point and think it's a good one. There is the issue of "available talent pool" -- and it cuts both ways. In the early days of ballet in this country, companies were made up of people who loved dancing, but did not necessarily have the best bodies and strongest technique. And there's a school of thought that this was our most creative period -- you had artists who gave exciting, thoughtful performances. When the art form became more institutionalized and the companies could be more choosy -- only this certain length of leg, perfect turnout, etc -- we began to get less individualized performances.

I do think it's worthy of note that Chinese dancers are doing so well in competitions so quickly. Perhaps they have skipped this initial stage because the state is willing to put money into ballet and provide the train necessary? China also had the historical handicap that, just when their tradition began to develop, political events interrupted it for a generation. So the recent success is all the more noteworthy.

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Dear Jeannie, dear Alexanrda, nice to see both of you here.

Yes Jeannie, we take Madam Dai as the mother of Chinese ballet.

I agree with Helen that some of our dancers and companies have paid too much attention to the international competitions. I think one of the problems with the Chinese ballet companies is that they cannot get sufficient financial supports. The Chinese companies do not tour very often, they take part in the international competitions instead. I guess the companies and the dancers are trying this way to keep the connection with the international stage.

I would like to give you some information on the repertoire of the National Ballet of China.

I think the first full length classical ballet ever staged in China was Swan Lake, which was premiered in 1958 with Pytr Gusev as the artistic director. Then Gusev staged Le Corsaire in 1959 and Giselle in 1960 for NBC.

Alicia Alonso staged La Fillr mal Gardee for the company in 1961.

Then it was production with our own director: the Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1962) choreographied by Wang Xixian (after Zahkarov) and Notre Dame Paris with Jiang Zuhui as the choreographer (after Marius Petipa) in 1963.

The Red Detachment of Women, which was premiered in 1964, was the first (so-called) Chinese ballet ever performed by NBC. (Beijing Dance Academy had produced the Maid of the Sea before it, but it was with the Chinese fork dance style).

There are more Chinese works in the company¡Çs repertoire, including Ode to the Yimeng Mountains (1973), Sing and Dancing under the Camphor (1977), The New-Yaer Sacrifice (1981),Lin Daiyu (1982), Little Blue Flower (1988) and The Yellow River (1999), among others.

After (so-called) the Culture Revolution (as At mentioned above), ballet stage flourished once again and NBC introduced more productions, the major ones were Sylvia (Lous Marante/ Lycette Darsonvai, 1980), Don Quixote (Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, 1985), Romeo and Juliet (Norman Walker, 1990), The Sleeping beauty (staged by Monica Parker, 1995)), La Sylphide (Bounonville, staged by Franck Andersen, 1999), and the Chinese Nutcracker (Zhao Min, Feng Ying and Wang Yuanyuan, 2000).

Also, new productions of Giselle (Staged by Belinda Wright and Jelko Yuresha in 1984) and Le Corsaire (staged by Marina Kondrateva in 1998).

The shorter pieces:

Three Preludes (Ben Stevenson, 1979)

G. Balancine¡Çs Serenade (1981), Allegro Brilliant (1996), Theme and Variations (1998) , Who Cares (2002)

Pas de Quatre (Anton Dollin, 1984)/ Variantions for Four (Anton Dollin, 1983)

The Chairman Dance (Wang Xinpeng, 2000), Rite of Spring (Wang Xinpeng 2000)

Concerto (Kenneth MacMillan, 1994)

Four Last Songs (Rudi van Dantzig, 1999),

Among others.

The newest ones:

Red Lantern (Wang Xinpeng 2001), Coppelia (2002)

Also, during last 5 years, we have seen some nice shows by the visiting companies such as Paris Opera, Das Hamburger Ballet, the Royal Ballet(UK), Kirov Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet, ABT, Stuttgart Ballet Bejart Ballet Lausonne, Bolshoi, Moscow Musical Theater Ballet , National Ballet of Marseille, National Ballet of Cuba and Compania Nacional de Danca.

We have seen Asian companies as well, including the National Ballet of Korea, Tokyo Ballet and others.


Have a cool weekend.


What I want to say it that if you look at NBC¡Çs repertoire, you would see there are more classical works than contemporary works. Because the Chinese companies usually do not have enough money to buy the copyrights. So unlike most of the European companies, the Chinese companies have to perform more classical pieces. I think this is the reason why the Chinese young dancers can keep a relatively pure classical style than many (so-called) western dancers. We have some very good ballet schools and only the selected children can get professional training at these schools. The Chinese ballet education system is more like Vaganova Academy in Russia. I think this is the reason why the Chinese dancers are strong in the competitions.

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Xinxin, thanks for your detailed information on the National Ballet of China. I am really impressed by the diversity of its large repertory, and note with interest its Balanchine repertory. I long to see the company do "Who Cares?" which you said was just acquired this year.

Do you know if the National Ballet will undertake any overseas tours later this year?

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