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Neumeier's Song of the Earth for National Ballet of China

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The world-renowned ballet choreographer, Hamburg ballet artistic director John Neumeier is invited by the Central Ballet of China (National Ballet of China) to stage his two ballet works, Song of the Earth and Spring and Fall. From 12th to 14th of May, 2017, the Chinese artists will perform these two modern ballet masterpieces for Chinese audience at Beijing Tianqiao Theater.


Master John Neumeier arrived in Beijing and directed the dancers during the early rehearsing. On April 7th, 2017 the Central Ballet of China held a grand press conference, in which Master John Neumeier gave detailed introduction of the creating background and artistic features of his ballets. At the same time, he talked to the media about his new creative ideas for the two ballets.




He said: The two ballets, Song of the Earth and Spring and Fall, would join to start with Spring and end with Spring in the upcoming ballet galas. This is original. It is also for the first time to show my works in such a way, which is a unique version made for the National Ballet of China. In English, the word "spring" is a season, and also means "spring up"; "fall" is a season, and also means "fall down", symbolizing the dancers kept jumping, falling, might fail, also try. So, the ballets not only show the cycle of seasons, moreover, also the cycle of lives.


For premieres in China, Master John Neumeier would combine some distinct Chinese cultural elements into the movements, costumes and up-stage backdrops of his ballet Song of the Earth. Therefore, the ballet is presented to Chinese audience a unique "NBC Version".


Song of the Earth
Music: Gustav Mahler (The six songs based on ancient Chinese poems)
World premiere: Paris Opera Ballet, 2015)


Spring and Fall
Music: Antonin Dvorak (Serenade for Strings, E major, op.22)
World premiere: 10 October 1994, Le Grand Theatre, Geneva


Director: John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballett


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Agnès Letestu
Paris Opera Ballet


In order to reproduce the original artistic style and unique charm of his ballet works, several "Stars" are invited by Master John Neumeier to come to National Ballet of China for rehearsals.


Among them, Agnès Letestu is one of the John Neumeier's favored ballet artist. She had been performing many roles in Neumeier's ballets.


In an interview Agnès said: The rehearsals are very interesting. The dancers in NB of China had played Mr. Neumeier's "Little Mermaid" before. Now there are many young new dancers having joined the team, whose classical ballet techniques are very strong. However, Mr. Neumeier's work is not only the composition of classical ballet vocabularies, but also with many "neoclassical"  steps and movements. For example, feet together in parallel, bow back (Bow Stance), hook foot, off-centered positions, turned-in legs and etc., which not everyone really got used to. At the beginning, they might move stiff. But soon, through the attempts, gradually they found the way to connect these movements.


The dancers of NB of China are willing to listen. For all the requirements, each amendments that I mentioned, they are willing to actively work out and complete. So I will try to help them to make progress, give hints how to improve the quality of action, then twice as much can be accomplished with half the effort. Sometimes with less strength, but relaxing little bit, that make the movements even more natural, easy and smooth (in silky & liquid movements). They all get the points and understand very well. from the first week till now I see everyone's efforts, they have made a very big progress.


To the understand the works, no need to tell them too much. I only give some tips to them, that include the creator's background,  spiritual (or mental) state, but not the narrative story. We know how to focus on the major and important things, but not pay too much attention on those minors, just show the most natural and pure side of the actors. This is a ballet about 'human'. We don't want to see the dancers deliberately acting as a man, but being themselves.


In NB of China, I keep close touch with dancers. They are all very curious.  If there is something they might not get it, they will not be so shy, but directly speak out to raise their questions. Sometimes when their movements are not done well enough, they always want to try again. This makes repetiteurs feel very reassuring. As a result, the rehearsal becomes a two-way process, a communication between us. So I appreciate the actors of NB of China very much.


Although the ballet Song of the Earth was created at the Paris Opera Ballet, but the Master is re-creating it for NB of China. The third section of Song of the Earth is the most Chinese-style part. The actors will hold the bowl to perform. Master Neumeier would make some changes according to the Chinese actors' technique and style.


Agnès said: I eagerly looking forward to that the ballet Song of the Earth can become the NBC dancers own ballet. Therefore, they are not putting on others' clothes, but it will become their own clothes. Hope to see very good communication between the actors on the stage and the audience, the actors winning the audience through their performance, in which they have made a great deal of effort. Finally, I wish the premiere event with great success.


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Thanks for these reports. I would be very interested in seeing Neumeier's--and National Ballet of China's--take on Song of the Earth. (I saw Macmillan's for just the first time a couple of years ago and quite liked it.)


Happy to read about Letestu's involvement as well.

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I am a little surprised that Neumeier should have chosen Letestu to rehearse these ballets, as she never danced in Song of the Earth. Neumeier created it for the Paris Opera Ballet, but after Letestu had retired from performing. Had she acted as an assistant during its creation?

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3 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

I am a little surprised that Neumeier should have chosen Letestu to rehearse these ballets, as she never danced in Song of the Earth. Neumeier created it for the Paris Opera Ballet, but after Letestu had retired from performing. Had she acted as an assistant during its creation?


Yes, Agnès Letestu was the repetitor already at the creation

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Premiere of Neumeier's Song of the Earth in Beijing


In the evening of May 12, 2017, The National Ballet of China presented Master John Neumeier's two modern ballet works Song of the Earth and  Spring and Fall to 2,000 audiences in Beijing Tianqiao theater, as well as about 200,000 on-line subscribers through webcasting. Master's devotion and dancers' amazing performance were imprinted in the success of Neumeier's masterpieces premiere in China, reflected in a wave of applause from the audiences.




The poems from beautiful and mysterious Chinese Tang Dynasty in eighth century had inspired the composer Gustav Mahler. Master John Neumeier said: during the time when I created the ballet Song of the Earth at Paris Opera Ballet, these poems were constantly and brightly waked my memory of China. I feel particularly impassioned for this ballet production lets me bring the great literary treasures back to their birthplace in the form of dance art.


After the premiere, Master John Neumeier was very excited. He spoke in front of artists of NB of China and participants who worked together with him: Thank all departments, all of you! Your cooperation and efforts made performances successful tonight. The actors of NB of China have perfectly presented such a vivid art, as well as the Symphony Orchestra of NB of China. In both ballets, music is very important. Thank for the efforts of conductor Zhang Yi and the Symphony Orchestra under his leadership, so that we can be touched in music!














References: (more photos)



【Note】I am pretty sure that Master Neumerier's speech was made in English. But the translated Chinese from his words are in written language and flowery expressions. There is no way for me to get the original recording. So, I am just trying to translate the published Chinese text back into English without loosing Master's meaning, make it simple and straightforward, sound like amiable talking , not an exquisite writing.

Hope this helps. :thanks:


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Casting and Credits

for Premiere of Song of the Earth by the National Ballet of China


Choreographer: John Neumeier


Composers: Gustav Mahler (Song of the Earth), Antonin Dvorak (Spring and Fall)


Artistic Director: Feng Ying


Song of the Earth:
    Cao Shuci, Sun Ruichen, Ma Xiaodong and Corps de Ballet
Spring and Fall:
    Wang Qiming, Ma Xiaodong, Zheng Yu, Wang Jiyu and Corps de Ballet


Conductor: Zhang Yi
Tenor: Carlos Fidalgo
Mezzo: Zhu Huiling
Music: Symphony Orchestra of National Ballet of China
Repetitors and Rehearsal Assistants:
Agnès Letestu
Zhu Yan
Alison Sandgren
Janusz Mazon


Stage Supervisor: Qi Jinsong
Stage Producer: Gong Xun
Executive Lighting Design: Liu Zhao
Costume: Yue Songshan
Make Up: Xu Bin


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