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A performance for endangered birds debuts at NCPA

A dance performance titled Crested Ibises, created by the Shanghai Dance Theater, recently debuted at the National Center for the Performing Arts.

The dance highlights the importance of environment protection by focusing on the Zhu Huan, or crested ibis, an extremely endangered bird in China.

By combining traditional Chinese dance with classic ballet and modern dance, the performance tells the true story of the international protection of this endangered species.

“If the swan represents the West, then the crested ibis must represent the East, because of its unique beauty and allure. That’s why we’ve decided to create this dance. It might not be as dazzling as the peacock, but it is beautiful in its own way,” said Tong Ruirui, director of Crested Ibises.

“I don’t want to just to imitate the bird’s movements, it must be something more than that. My performance has to touch the audience, and resonate with them,” said dancer Zhu Jiejing.

Animals are a common inspiration for stage productions, but this one is hoping to give people the chance to see the bigger picture. The show begins with the crested ibis living in harmony with people, an auspicious sign in China.

Gradually, as modernization and urbanization speed up, their natural habitat deteriorates, which eventually leads to its extinction, and then the birds can only be seen in museums.

“With this dance, we want to call for the protection of the endangered species and to achieve a harmonious coexistence between people and nature. We’re not superior to any other creature, and we only have one earth, so it’s up to everyone to protect it,” Tong said.

To make the show more authentic, the team researched and even visited the crested ibis reserve several times, to get a closer look at the birds in their natural habitat.

“Usually, when playing a bird, you would wave your arms like this. But after closer observation, we’ve realized it’s quite different from what we thought. I have to act like my hands are tied, to make small movements with my hands and shoulder. It doesn’t stare at you right in the eye, instead it would tilt its chin up, proud and aloof but very sensitive at the same time. To capture that is really hard work,” Zhu said.

The crested ibis, widely seen in northeast Asia, was declared extinct in the first half of the 20th century, until seven of the birds were found in Yangxian county, in northwest China’s Shaanxi province in 1981.

The government has worked to ensure that this beautiful animal is around for a long time, and the Shanghai Dance Theater is doing its part to help.