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19 August 2022, 11:37

Fairy tale dances back

BEIJING, 19 August (BelTA - China Daily). - One of the most layered and fascinating fables of all time about a mythical sea creature willing to give up her identity to pursue her love for a human, The Little Mermaid by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen has seen myriad stage, art and movie adaptations, including Disney's popular 1989 animated romance.

However, very few have been able to combine dance and dramatic storytelling into a stunning spectacle like John Neumeier did. The US artistic director and chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet has done more than justice to Andersen's original tale by elevating a fantasy into a sophisticated portrayal of psychological transformation and resilience of the spirit, human or otherwise.

The prologue to Neumeier's The Little Mermaid production, premiered by the Royal Danish Ballet in 2005 to mark the 200th anniversary of Andersen's birth, embodies the poet's longing for a dear friend. During a voyage, when the poet recalls the wedding of his friend, a tear rolls down his cheek and falls into the sea, where it takes the form of a young mermaid.

In September 2012, the National Ballet of China worked with Neumeier to bring the production here. Ten years down the line, the ballet company will stage The Little Mermaid once more-this time at Tianqiao Theater in Beijing from Aug 26 to 30-to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show's premiere in China and the company's cherished friendship with Neumeier.

Ballet artists Wang Qimin and Ma Xiaodong, who played the lead roles in The Little Mermaid's performances after the premiere in 2012, will return to the stage to match steps with other dancers such as Sun Ruichen and Wang Jiyu, and the company's new principal ballerina Qiu Yunting.

Neumeier's tryst with Beijing is not new. In 1999, he toured the city with the Hamburg Ballet's choreographic take on Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream. During the trip, he met Zhao Ruheng, the former president of the National Ballet of China, who expressed her interest to invite Neumeier to work with the company.

Dancers from the National Ballet of China rehearse The Little Mermaid, which is to be staged from Aug 26 to 30 in Beijing.[Photo provided to China Daily]

In 2010, the Hamburg Ballet brought Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias, based on Alexandre Dumas' novel, to Beijing and the choreographer met Feng Ying, the new director of the National Ballet of China, who persuaded him to reproduce one of his works in China. After several days of observing the company and its dancers, Neumeier was convinced that a collaboration would be promising.

"Impressed by the serene and deep concentration of some of the dancers, their honest emotional quality and a unique aspect in their movement quality-certainly influenced by Chinese classical dance-my first choice is The Little Mermaid," he wrote in his letter before the 2012 premiere in China.

The ballet company and the choreographer worked together to reproduce the marvelous piece in China with music by the prolific Lera Auerbach, whose compositions, as Neumeier said in his letter, "have the universal human message that can be communicated to all audiences-young and old".

Neumeier heaped praise on local ballet artists in his letter. "It has been a pleasure to work with the Chinese dancers-their limitless efforts, enthusiasm and trust have inspired a new, different and unique version of my popular ballet," he wrote.

The premiere of The Little Mermaid in China was a huge success, with positive feedback from both audiences and dance critics. Ou Jianping, a critic and the former head of the Dance Research Institute, Chinese National Academy of Arts, said that "the collaboration between Neumeier and the National Ballet of China is a significant event for the company. The company has progressed to a higher level with The Little Mermaid".

Feng still vividly recalls Neumeier's visit to the company 10 years ago. She says his production not only stayed loyal to Andersen's fairy tale, but also revealed the depths of the choreographer's imagination.

"He (Neumeier) created a role for Andersen-the poet. The story doesn't end with the little mermaid dissolving into sea foam. The poet accompanies her to the stars, making her immortal, which is very poignant and thought-provoking," she adds.

A former ballerina, Feng had watched Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream and was deeply impressed. "Apart from choreography, he directs lighting, sets and costume designs, which all have his signature style," she says, emphasizing that the collaboration has been rewarding for the company and its dancers.

In 2017, Neumeier returned to work with the National Ballet of China, staging Songs and Dances of the Earth. "His work demands an incredible height of artistry from the dancers, who must venture into deeply emotional terrain in order to convey the choreographer's full message," Feng says.

Since its premiere, The Little Mermaid has been staged in China several times. The ballet company performed the piece during the China Shanghai International Arts Festival in 2017 and again in 2019 to mark its own 60th birthday in Beijing.

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