National Ballet of China in The Red Detachment of Women, Courtesy Lincoln Center Festival

 

This July, the National Ballet of China tours New York and the D.C. area with two of the company’s original productions: The Peony Pavilion and The Red Detachment of Women.

 

Choreographer Fei Bo based his 2008 production of The Peony Pavilion on the classic Chinese love story of the same name. Though distinctly Chinese, the work is reminiscent of the stories that have inspired Western ballets. Like in Romeo and Juliet and Giselle, The Peony Pavilion’s heroine experiences young love, heartsickness and death—themes that transcend generations, languages and cultures.

 

The Red Detachment of Women, however, was not created with universal themes in mind. China’s balletic tradition has been inextricably tied to the nation’s turbulent politics. A Russian teacher co-founded NBC’s first company and school, which he based on the Russian model, but the partnership crumbled when China’s relations with the USSR broke down in 1960. During the Cultural Revolution that followed, Chairman Mao’s third wife took control of NBC. She slashed the repertoire to only two ballets featuring communist revolutionary themes—The Red Detachment of Women was one of them. The ballet’s heroine escapes a life of imprisonment under an oppressive landlord by joining an all female division of the Red Army. With her fellow soldiers, she vanquishes the tyrant, emancipates the other slave girls, rises to leadership within her detachment and dedicates her life to the Red Army’s revolutionary cause—a political message, indeed.

 

Since China opened to the West in the 1980s, the cultural exchange in dance and other art forms has flourished. Chinese companies now incorporate works by Balanchine, Forsythe and others into their repertoire and, this summer, NBC brings two of its most unique and heritage-steeped productions to America.

 

See National Ballet of China live at the David H. Koch Theater for the Lincoln Center Festival from July 8-12, at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia on July 14 and at Saratoga Performing Arts Center July 21-22.

 

Check out a trailer for The Peony Pavilion here.

 

And for The Red Detachment of Women here.

 

For more cultural background on ballet in China, click here.

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