Disciplined and daring, the Chinese ballet has progressively become a powerful artistic force in the world of classical dance. While China's ballet tradition may be younger than those in some western countries, China now has many accomplished ballet dancers.
The History of Chinese Ballet
Previously regarded as strictly a Western art form, the Chinese first got a taste of ballet in their own culture with the Beijing Dance Academy opening in 1954. A few years later, in 1959, the Central Ballet Troupe of China debuted. This was the first Chinese ballet dance company to exist, and intense effort was dedicated to developing a solid repertoire of original pieces. Today, ballets such as The Red Detachment of Women and The White-Haired Girl are considered Chinese dance classics.
The current goal of Chinese ballet companies is to more closely align classical ballet dance with Chinese culture. The China Central Ballet Troupe, now called the National Ballet of China, defines the new century of ballet as an art form geared toward expressing the emotions of culture and the feelings of the Chinese people. This has been a daunting task, as ballets must not only capture audiences at home, but also abroad in order to reach success equal to Western counterparts. However, Chinese choreographers are far from distancing themselves from the rest of the world. Often, professional Chinese dancers and choreographers are sent abroad to learn from Western teachers and productions hoping to continually bring back more experience to reinvent a taste of their homeland.
Chinese Ballet is now recognized on an international level. Chinese dancers have won gold medals at every world ballet competition, including major events held in Moscow and Helsinki. They have also successfully infused ballet with the Asian form of acrobatics, creating the Chinese Ballet Circus. In addition, Chinese dancers have taken classic pas de deux sequences like the one found in Swan Lake, and reworked them with a twist of Chinese physical strength and agility.
The National Ballet of China enjoys an international tour each year, and has performed in the United States, Europe and beyond. They continue to perfect what they refer to as 'artistic experimentation', combining high-profile ballet coaches and choreographers with young students who represent the heartbeat of the current Chinese people.
A small handful of Chinese ballet dancers have gained worldwide recognition in their own right, many opting to dance out their careers in their native country.
Chen Zhenrong is a principal dancer for the Shanghai Ballet Company. He was promoted to principal dancer within the company at the age of 12; Zhenrong is a good example of how Chinese ballet dancers tend to lead companies at much younger ages than their Western counterparts.
Leung was a senior principal dancer of the Hong Kong Ballet for 12 years; she was dismissed at the beginning of the 2009 season. She is fluent in English, and was often recruited for overseas opportunities, though she chose to stay in China. She has been offered acting and modeling contracts, but has usually chosen to further her ballet career over these opportunities. She now dances both throughout China and overseas.
Xue Jinghua was born in the 1940s and was one of the original ballerinas to perform in the now world-renowned Red Detachment of Women. She danced for President Richard Nixon, and she achieved nationwide fame in her home nation after dancing in a film version of the same ballet. The Chinese government sent Xue Jinghua as an artist delegate in 1979 to the U.S., and she retired from performance in 1990 to move to Hong Kong to coach the next generation of dancers.
Recent independent films, such as Mao's Last Dancer, have provided Western audiences a look into the lives of Chinese ballet dancers and their struggles to gain international acclaim. Despite the long struggle, the Chinese ballet companies are now riding a trend of popularity that will undoubtedly bring them an unshakable position in the history of 21st century dance.