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10 February 2023, 12:28

Dancers put new twist on a classic


BEIJING, 10 February (BelTA - China Daily). - Dream of the Red Chamber, also known as A Dream of Red Mansions, written by Cao Xueqin during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is considered to be one of China's greatest novels. It chronicles the downfall of the wealthy and influential Jia family, and is set against the backdrop of social and political upheaval. There are hundreds of characters in the novel, including Lin Daiyu, a beautiful and sentimental young woman, who moves into her grandmother's family — the Jia family — after the death of her mother. There, she meets numerous relatives for the first time, one of whom is Jia Baoyu, her mother's nephew, a rebellious and pampered young man.

When Lin and Jia fall in love with each other, they have to face the fact that the family prefers Xue Baochai, one of Jia's cousins, to be his future wife. Jia and his ill-fated love interest, Lin, are destined by fate to be apart.

The novel has been adapted into a lavish new ballet production by the National Ballet of China, which will have its world premiere at Tianqiao Theater in Beijing on Friday, with performances to be staged until Feb 18.

"For many directors, it's a dream job to direct stage productions based on the epic novel," says Tong Ruirui, director of the ballet production. "It's daunting and challenging on so many levels, such as how to narrow the hundreds of characters in the novel down, and how to tell the story when so many people already know it incredibly well."

Tong is known for directing and choreographing award-winning dance dramas, such as Silky Fan and Ribbons featuring dancer Wang Yabin and Goddess of the Luo River, featuring dancer Tang Shiyi.

This is the first time that Tong has worked with the National Ballet of China and also the first time that she has directed a ballet production.

The novel's importance and place in Chinese culture is also reflected in Redology, the academic study of Cao's Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the four great classical novels of China.

The story of Dream of the Red Chamber has been told through various art forms. In 1958, the Shanghai Yueju Opera House produced its first production of Dream of the Red Chamber, which achieved huge success. In 1962, the production was made into a two-episode film featuring the same cast. Yueju Opera is the second-most popular type in the country, and combines singing, dancing and acting.

In 1987, a 36-episode TV series based on the novel was aired, and appealed to viewers of all ages.

In 2010, director Li Shaohong helmed a 50-episode remake. Though it gained a lot of attention — a televised contest was even held to select actors and actresses for the TV show, it remained eclipsed by the 1987 version.

"For the ballet production, it's about using ballet language to tell the classic story," Tong says. "We spent lots of time talking to experts and scholars who provided us with information about their research of the novel and the characters, as well as reading the novel ourselves over and over again. The interpretation of the novel is varied, which allowed us to imagine and create. Hopefully, the audience, who may already know the story well, will gain a unique perspective.

"The novel mirrors Chinese society then, from politics and social rules, to food, fashion and architecture. People will reengage with this novel on a different level," the director adds.

Tong says that there are lots of well-known scenes in the novel, which will be presented onstage, such as Jia being summoned to his father's study and his father questioning him and giving him a severe beating for his offenses, as well as the weeping Lin, who feels sentimental upon seeing the falling of flowers and buried the petals in the garden.

Besides the love triangle among Jia, Lin and Xue, there are portrayals of the Jia family and its downfall. Jia also observes his family and recalls his life through his dreams, before the ending of the story, with him wandering aimlessly in the snow.

With Feng Ying, president of the National Ballet of China, initiating the idea of the ballet production and working as the chief producer, the work also features some of the country's top artists, including veteran composer Ye Xiaogang.

Ye has written music for the company's ballet piece, Across the Water, which premiered in 1986, and The Last Paradise, which, choreographed by French dancer and choreographer Roland Petit, premiered in 2008.

Ye says: "Lyricism and romanticism are at the core of the ballet production Dream of the Red Chamber.

"Although there is no traditional Chinese musical instruments involved, the music pieces are based on a Chinese aesthetic."

The symphony orchestra of the National Ballet of China will perform under the baton of conductor Zhang Yi during the premiere and the following shows.

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