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China Daily

Asia Pacific> Global Weekly> Content
Monday, October 28, 2019, 16:06
Stealing the limelight
By Zhang Kun in Shanghai
Monday, October 28, 2019, 16:06 By Zhang Kun in Shanghai

New productions are using contemporary approaches to tell stories of China’s revolutionary history

A scene from the award-winning dance theater production The Eternal Wave, which focuses on a Communist underground telegrapher who works in the shadows against opposing forces. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

From the award-winning dance theater production The Eternal Wave to the new circus show Dawn of Shanghai, Shanghai has been seeing a growing number of new, successful performing arts offerings about the country’s revolutionary history.

Dawn of Shanghai is the new English name for the show Zhan Shanghai — literally “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 comprises 92 theater performances and runs until Nov 17.

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

By making a new circus production the opening show, the CSIAF hoped to take Chinese acrobat performances to new heights and introduce them to international audiences, said 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 Shanghai-based Wenhui Daily.

Huang compared the show’s emphatic reception with that received by The Eternal Wave, a Shanghai Dance Theatre production that was one of the 10 winning productions at the 12th China Art Festival in May. He said both are successful examples of revolutionary history told in contemporary aesthetics for today’s audiences.

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 said, explaining the choice of Dawn of Shanghai as the opening show.

“Over the past years, new circus as a performing genre has attracted wide interest on the global stage. There have been new circus companies and productions winning popularity around the world. This has become an international trend,” she said.

Acrobats perform in Dawn of Shanghai, which premiered at the opening of the 21st China Shanghai International Arts Festival on Oct 18. The acrobatic theater production tells a story of young revolutionaries on the eve of the Communists’ takeover of the city in 1949. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

As an example, she cited Cirque du Soleil, one of the world’s most acclaimed circus companies, which has made several tours in China. Last year, the company launched X, a resident show in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

“When I saw some of the successful new circus shows, such as Toruk by Cirque du Soleil and The House of Dancing Water in Macao, I often felt disappointment when I saw that there were some performers from China,” Wang said. 

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

Before Dawn of Shanghai, the most successful circus show in Shanghai was ERA. Since 2005, that show by the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe has been shown to tens of thousands of audiences, especially tourists from all over the world, at Shanghai Circus World.

“It was time we made a breakthrough. But this time around we wanted to tell a complete story,” said 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.”

Yu said the troupe was grateful for the opportunity to present the CSIAF’s opening show.

“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 win over more audiences.”

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

“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 happy. This time around, I must portray sadness, as my character loses his life and leaves behind the woman he loves,” he said.

Dawn of Shanghai was among the productions showcased at the performing arts fair from Oct 17 to 22. The fair is an annual fixture of the CSIAF, with theaters, arts festivals and live-show business leaders from all over the world shopping for new productions.

“Many theaters and institutions approached us at the fair, inviting Dawn of Shanghai to perform,” said Wang Jun, a spokesperson for the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. 

“I can’t disclose any deals yet before they are finalized. But we are planning for the performance schedules in Shanghai next year, such as on the memorial day of Shanghai’s liberation, May 27, and National Day.”

The dance theater production The Eternal Wave has seen a similar reception. Liu Kuili, a deputy director of Shanghai Dance Theatre, said the company is fully booked until 2021.

By December, The Eternal Wave will already have completed 100 performances, across dozens of cities in China. It is a story about a Communist underground 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 Shanghai Dance Theatre, the company was determined to create a revolutionary-themed production suited for the contemporary era. To achieve this, the theater hired a young director and choreographers Han Zhen and Zhou Liya, two female artists in their 30s.

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 said the success of The Eternal Wave proves 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.”

According to Huang of Wenhui Daily, these two outstanding shows demonstrate that Shanghai’s live-performance companies are making breakthroughs in creating new productions with a revolutionary theme.

He wrote: “While The Eternal Wave has changed people’s perception of storytelling in dance theater, Dawn of Shanghai has brought together colorful movements and performances that allow audiences to enjoy a highly entertaining show with war as a backdrop.”

zhangkun@chinadaily.com.cn


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