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Blending the past with the modern

2019-11-25 Source:China Daily

Dancers from the Shanghai Dance Theatre perform The Eternal Wave, a successful show staged recently in the city. [Photo provided to China Daily]

New productions that tell of China's revolutionary history with contemporary approaches have been sprouting up in recent years, withDawn of ShanghaiandThe Eternal Wavestealing most of the limelight, Zhang Kun reports.

From the new circus productionDawn of Shanghaito the award-winning dance theater productionThe Eternal Wave, Shanghai has in recent years witnessed a growing number of new successful performing art shows about the country's revolutionary history.

Dawn of Shanghaiis the new English name for the showZhan Shanghai-which literally means "Battle of Shanghai"-that was created by the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe and the Shanghai Circus School. The production made its premiere at the opening of the 21st China Shanghai International Arts Festival on Oct 18. The festival consists of 92 theater performances running from Oct 18 to Nov 17.

The premiere marked the first time a new circus production was presented as the opening show of the CSIAF, an annual celebration of the performing arts in Shanghai that features new creations by artists and institutions from home and abroad.

A fight scene in the battle to liberate Shanghai from the new circus production Dawn of Shanghai, which opened the 21st China Shanghai International Arts Festival on Oct 18. [Photo provided to China Daily]

By making a new circus production the opening show, the CSIAF hopes to take Chinese acrobat performances to new heights and introduce it to international audiences, says Wang Jun, president of the CSIAF organizing committee.

The acrobatic theater production tells the story of young revolutionaries on the eve of the Communists' takeover of the city in 1949. "The greatest surprise is how the heroic story is told so strikingly and thoroughly through circus performance," wrote cultural critic Huang Qizhe in an article published by the Shanghai-based Wenhui Daily.

Huang compared the emphatic reception of the production to the one received byThe Eternal Wave, a dance theater production by the Shanghai Dance Theater which was one of the 10 winning productions at the 12th China Art Festival in May, saying that both are successful examples of revolutionary history presented using contemporary aesthetics for today's audiences.

Dancers from the Shanghai Dance Theatre perform The Eternal Wave, a successful show staged recently in the city. [Photo provided to China Daily]

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, and many new productions have been created to commemorate the event.

"The revolutionary and patriotic theme is the greatest highlight of the festival this year," Wang says, explaining the choice ofDawn of Shanghaias the opening show.

"Over the past few years, modern circus as a performing genre has attracted wide interest on the global stage. Several new circus companies and productions have been gaining in popularity across the world. This has become an international trend," she adds.

She cites Cirque du Soleil, one of the most acclaimed circus companies in the world, which has made several tours to China, as an example. Last year, the company launched X, a resident show in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

A fight scene in the battle to liberate Shanghai from the new circus production Dawn of Shanghai, which opened the 21st China Shanghai International Arts Festival on Oct 18. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"When I saw some of the successful new circus shows, such asTorukby Cirque du Soleil andThe House of Dancing Waterin Macau, I often felt disappointment when I saw that there were some performers from China (performing less important roles)," Wang says.

"Chinese acrobats are known internationally for their superb skills and incredible stunts. I wanted to create outstanding shows of our own, and provide a platform for Chinese acrobats."

BeforeDawn of Shanghai, the most successful circus show in Shanghai was ERA. The show by the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe has been shown to tens of thousands of audience members, especially tourists from all over the world, at Shanghai Circus World since 2005.

"It was time we made a breakthrough. But this time around we wanted to tell a complete story," says Yu Yigang, head of the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. "We wanted not only to present the stunts and skills, but to also create some good characters and tell a good story."

Dancers from the Shanghai Dance Theatre perform The Eternal Wave, a successful show staged recently in the city. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"We are grateful for the opportunity to be the opening show for the CSIAF," Yu adds.

"To make it more enjoyable for international audiences, we decided to highlight the heroic deeds of a soldier stopping the enemy's destruction of the Shanghai Power Plant and downplay the confrontation between the Communists and the Kuomintang army. This is a story of love, devotion and sacrifice. We hope this can help the production attract a wider audience."

Wang Huaifu, 35, plays the lead role in the production in which he performs a variety of stunts, including climbing ladders unsupported, hanging from the ceiling and jumping off trampolines. But these are easy tasks for a man who started training as an acrobat at the age of 9. The most difficult part of the role, he says, is portraying the character.

Dancers from the Shanghai Dance Theatre perform The Eternal Wave, a successful show staged recently in the city. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Usually, when we perform on the stage, we just do it for the entertainment value. We want to be enthusiastic, excite the audience and make them feel happy. This time around, I must portray sadness as my character loses his life and leaves behind the woman he loves," he says.

Dawn of Shanghaiwas among the productions showcased at the performing arts fair from Oct 17 to 22. The fair is an annual fixture at the CSIAF, where theaters, art festivals and live entertainment professionals from all over the world come to shop for new productions.

"Many theaters and institutions approached us at the fair, invitingDawn of Shanghaito perform," says Wang Jun, a spokesperson for the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe.

"I can't disclose any deals yet before they are finalized, but we are currently planning the performance schedules for Shanghai next year, such as on the memorial day of Shanghai's liberation, May 27, and National Day."

Dancers from the Shanghai Dance Theatre perform The Eternal Wave, a successful show staged recently in the city. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The dance theater productionThe Eternal Wavemet with a similar reception. Liu Kuili, a deputy director of the Shanghai Dance Theatre, says that the company is fully booked until 2021.

By December,The Eternal Wavewill have completed 100 performances across dozens of cities in China. The production by the Shanghai Dance Theatre is a story about an underground communist telegrapher who works in the shadows against opposing forces. He is later murdered on the eve of Shanghai's liberation.

According to Chen Feihua, director of the Shanghai Dance Theatre, the company was determined to create a revolutionary-themed production suited to contemporary tastes. To achieve this, the theater hired Han Zhen and Zhou Liya, two female artists in their 30s, who are jointly responsible for the directing and choreography.

A fight scene in the battle to liberate Shanghai from the new circus production Dawn of Shanghai, which opened the 21st China Shanghai International Arts Festival on Oct 18. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Feng Shuangbai, chairman of the China Dancers Association, praised the montage structure, intricate narrative and ingenious use of video projection and other stage effects. He says that the success ofThe Eternal Waveproves that "great artistic success can be achieved by adapting the spirit of traditional Chinese aesthetics for the modern age ... The production has raised the bar and successfully set a new direction for contemporary Chinese dance theater".

These two outstanding live productions in Shanghai have shown that the city's performing companies are making breakthroughs in creating new productions with a revolutionary theme, Huang wrote. "WhileThe Eternal Wavehas changed people's perception of storytelling in dance theater,Dawn of Shanghaihas brought together colorful movements and performances that has allowed audiences to enjoy a highly entertaining show with war as a backdrop," he added.

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Editor:Catherine