Chinese Ballet In Danville

By Kyra Marie Landzelius. Centre College Faculty

On November 2 the community and guests of Centre College, Danville, were honored with a rare dance and choreographic spectacle from the Central Ballet of China, performed at the Norton Center for the Arts.

The evening opened with Act II from the ballet "Giselle," the definitive masterpiece of the French Romantic theater and one of the greatest ballets of all times.

With their polished rendition of Giselle the Beijingbased company unequivocally demonstrated a refined mastery of the European canon of classical ballet. Giselle, originally choreographed by Jules Perrot, Theophile Gautier and Jean Coralli in 1841, with music by Adolphe Adam, portrays the tragic story of a peasant girl, Giselle, who is betrayed by her suitor, young Duke Albrecht, revealed to be betrothed to Princess Bethilde. Giselle's untimely, lovesick death from heartbreak destines her to join the Wilis — spirits of forsaken maidens destined to roam beyond the grave and ensnare unwary travelers in a frenzied dance of death.

Central Ballet of China Prima Ballerina Li Yan danced the lead role with a graceful fluidity and emotional intensity befitting the youthfulness and tender innocence of Giselle's character. She was partnered in several lovely pas de deux movements by four different male danseurs who shared the role of the Duke. The Queen of the Wilis also gave a strong, if somewhat stiff, performance. Company Director and Artistic Director Zhao Ruheng adopted a traditional interpretation of the dance's choreography, resulting in a bittersweetly danced tale of tragic young love.

The ballet Giselle, a pinnacle of bourgeois sentimentality and European folklore, provided a sharp contrast with the second and final ballet of the evening, a revolutionary narrative entitled "The Red Detachment of Women." Set during the ten-year civil war on Hainan Island, the piece opens with the savage beating of a peasant daughter, Qonghua, by an oppressive landlord intent on enslaving and selling her. Taken for dead, she is abandoned by the landlord and his evil lackeys and is rescued by a Red Army cadre and his messenger, who engage her in the revolutionary movement to fight for the liberation of the country.

In the festive and almost gala finale, Qonghua has taken up arms with the women's troop and the entire ensemble dances with collective purpose, power and joy, wielding guns, swords, flags and related Communist paraphernalia which twirl and swirl colorfully across the stage. Indeed, the innovative choreography for this piece was a refreshing tour de force following the rather antiquated, but pleasingly simple beauty of Giselle. The choreography employed the traditional vocabulary of ballet movement, yet freed the linearity of the body by letting the spine pivot around its axis. The gyrating movements thus provided a sense of corporeal power and depicted the resistance and counter-resistance within the process of movement itself, which provided an apt metaphor for the ballet's theme.

The Red Detachment of Women, originally premiered in 1964, was adapted from a film of the same name by Liangxin and presented choreography by Jiang Zuhui and Li Chengxiang and music by Wu Zuqiang. In its homage to communism and the special appeal to women's emancipation, "Red Detachment" presented a starkly competing ideology and radically different perception of women than that in the aesthetic of Giselle. The ironic, if somehow provocative, juxtaposition of these differing ballets framed the evening with ample contrasts and contestations for interpreting the complex messages of the Central Ballet of China dancing in the United States.