Wuju

(dance drama)
‘Dance drama’ is a comparatively new Chinese theatrical form, which integrates Chinese dance with Western ballet techniques and Chinese melodies and styles with Western harmony. Western instruments usually predominate in a fairly large orchestra. The décor is elaborate, and pieces are structured so as to reach a climax and dénouement and to last a full evening. These features apply also to ballets that have adopted Chinese melodies and characteristics. Soviet artists introduced ballet into China in the late 1950s, including such classical works as Swan Lake and Giselle. The PRC set up a dancing school in 1954 and a ballet company in 1959. Meanwhile, the Central Ethnic Song-and-Dance Troupe (Zhongyang minzu gewutuan), which also collected, preserved, adapted and performed ethnic dances, was established in September 1952.
The piece that launched the dance drama as a new large-scale performing art was the ballet-influenced The Precious Lotus Lamp (Baolian deng, 1957), a fantasy based on an old Chinese legend in which the hero, born of a goddess and a mortal, rescues his mother, who has been imprisoned for marrying the mortal. Another early dance drama was The Small Sword Society (Xiaodao hui), about an incident in Shanghai during the Taiping uprising (1850–64). Though Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing (1913–91), had traditional themes banned during the Cultural Revolution, two of her ‘model plays’ were ballets: The White-Haired Girl (Baimao nü) and The Red Detachment of Women (Hongse niangzijun). The dancing style and movements were clearly ballet, but also had strong Chinese elements: both stories were set in China, the CCP propaganda content was very strong, and the melodies were Chinese. After 1976, older pieces that pre-dated the Cultural Revolution were restaged and many new items created. Traditional themes proved most popular: Tales of the Silk Road (Silu huayu) is set in the Tang dynasty (618–907) and its movements copy images found in the famous Dunhuang Caves, in the west of Gansu province, while the classic novel A Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng) became a fertile source of material for dance drama.
Since most of China’s minorities have distinguished dance traditions (see dance (ethnic)), choreographers were happy to use stories based on their experiences to create new dance dramas. A good example was Princess Wencheng (Wencheng gongzhu), about the marriage of a Tang-dynasty princess to a seventh-century Tibetan king. The first dance drama actually to be written, choreographed and performed by an ethnic minority troupe was Zhao Shudeng and Nanmu Nuonuoc—a Tai piece from the late 1970s concerning the love between a mythical prince and a peacock princess. Some dance dramas have contemporary themes, including those featuring the minorities. In addition, there are dramas in which dance and song are of approximately equal importance, termed gewuju (song and dance dramas). Though ballet is not a particularly popular genre, it is still professionally performed and has produced some innovative items. In 2001, the National Ballet of China premiered Zhang Yimou’s adaptation of his own film Raise the Red Lantern (1991). The piece is called a ballet. It includes Jingju (Peking opera) music with a score composed by Chen Qigang, and has numerous other stylistic elements that are recognizably Chinese, as well as a Chinese story set in China and a Chinese choreographer, Wang Xinpeng.
See also: dance troupes; Geju
COLIN MACKERRAS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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