Wednesday, June 29, 2011

REVIEW: White Haired Girl by the Shanghai Ballet Company (Guangzhou)

Guangzhou Opera House (Guangzhou), Sunday June 19

Ballet in China is defined by two works: The Red Detachment of Women and The White Haired Girl. The former one, I saw about 14 years ago in Beijing, while the latter one, this was going to be my first time.

Overall, the experience was not a pleasant one. It was very difficult to concentrate on the ballet when the people around me were talking; and I didn’t mean one or two, it was about 30% to 40 % of the audience. As for the older audience, who practically grew up and were programmed by this ballet, some of them actually decided that it was a chance for some sing-along.

On whatever energy I was able to summon to appreciate the ballet, the ballet was as clear as a ballet can be. Clarity of intention and character came with the help of songs that relate the story and emotions, while the music echoes the movements and purpose of the characters. Mime, inevitably, became an integral part of this performing art.

To judge the ballet using a western standard would be the biggest mistake one can make. This ballet was not meant to be an artistic achievement of technical difficulties or subtle dramatic display. It was, after all, one of the Eight Model Plays (6 operas and 2 ballets) planned and engineered by Jiang Qing (wife of Mao Zedong) during the Cultural Revolution based on Mao’s idea that “art must serve the interests of the workers, peasants and soldiers and must conform to proletarian ideology”.

With the above context, the ballet was a good study of how this Western art form got a Chinese treatment. Martial art and Peking opera gesture were heavily used and blended seamlessly. Love story between opposite sex were pushed to the back, denying the piece the typical pas de deux found in Western ballet.

The Shanghai Ballet Company was in autopilot. In some instances, I feel that they can do significantly better. For some reason, if the choreography requires two grand jete, the second tends to suffer and I sincerely believe that it was plainly out of laziness rather than skill. Can I blame them? Maybe not; with the kind of audience Guangzhou has, it was very difficult to take the performance seriously. All I know was that the Shanghai Ballet Company was performing. There was no program telling me who were in the Company and who was performing which role.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home