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National Ballet of China celebrates 55th anniversary

Having been staged numerous times in China and around the world, Raise the Red Lantern by the National Ballet of China is returning to the capital’s Tianqiao Theater, the very place where it made its debut in 2001. It will kick off a series of performances to celebrate the troupe’s 55th anniversary.

Adapted from Zhang Yimou’s 1991 movie of the same name, Raise the Red Lantern takes a critical look at the struggle for survival of Chinese women in feudal China through the complicated relationships between a woman and her husband’s younger concubines.

A modern ballet of cinematic range and with exquisite costumes, the piece is a milestone in the company’s 55-year history.

“I’m playing the heroine for the show on Dec 4 and I’m honored. It’s one of the most important pieces the troupe has ever produced. And I’ve spent a lot of time studying my character as well as the performance of my predecessors to bring out something that would touch the audience,” said Liu Qi, ballet dancer.

Highlighting the show are other Chinese elements sprinkled throughout the ballet.

Peking opera scenes mixed with ballet moves and a wedding night are presented in a shadow play full of tension and sensuality.

The rattling sound of a mahjong game and the clanging percussion of a traditional Chinese orchestra are also infused into the original score by Chen Qigang.

“Like the Red Detachment of Women, it’s a repertoire that has a strong presence of Chinese elements. So there’s always room for improvement. When you have new ballet dancers, they bring something new to the stage. Through every rendition, whether it’s the dancers, the orchestra, everyone is constantly perfecting the show. And I think that’s the beauty of it,” said Feng Ying, artistic director of the National Ballet of China.

“For ballet to thrive in China it has to reinvent itself. It cannot rely solely on Western influence; it must find resonance in Chinese traditions in an era of rampant consumerism and constantly emerging forms of entertainment. And that’s what the troupe is striving to achieve, to explore traditional Chinese culture and present more quality shows in the future,” Feng said.

Raise the Red Lantern is just the beginning of a grand ballet feast. The troupe’s version of The Little Mermaid will be staged at the National Center for Performing Arts over the weekend starting Dec 6.