The Jakarta Post: Lessons learned from China's ballet production

2016-11-12 16:00

Lessons learned from China's ballet production

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

The Jakarta PostJakarta | Fri, November 11 2016 | 10:48 am

Dramatic scene: Stunning effects during the theatrical ballet performance created a cinematic experience on stage.

Behind every great show lies hard work and dedication that can inspire audience members.

The performance in Jakarta of Raise the Red Lantern by the National Ballet of China wowed ballet enthusiasts and also those who specialize in traditional dances.

Ida Bagus K. Sudiasa, a lecturer in performing arts at the Jakarta State University (UNJ), was mesmerized by the training and rehearsals conducted by the ballet company before the first show on Nov. 2.

"They have a good training regime and they are very disciplined, one thing that our performers still lack. Our training ethos is far behind theirs," said the Balinese dance and music expert who invited 40 of his students to observe the training session.

Sudiasa praised the integration of ballet and traditional Chinese elements in the performance, saying that neither was overshadowed by the other.

"It's important for our dancers to learn about the traditional dances of their heritage. This can give their performance a unique character," he said.

Since the 1990s, the ballet company, established in 1959, has staged several contemporary ballets depicting the lives of Chinese people, including The Red Detachment of Women, Yellow River and Butterfly Lovers.

Raise the Red Lantern, however, is the first China-made ballet to employ a visionary, international crew, featuring China's new generation of competent dancers. The dance was initiated by Zhao Ruheng, once a dancer with the National Ballet of China and its former director.

The full-length ballet, often referred to as the Red Lantern, was first staged in May 2001 in Beijing. It's the stage production of Oscar-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou's 1991 film The Concubine, which is in turn an adaptation of Su Tong's classic novel The Wives and the Concubines.

The show tells the harrowing tale of a high-spirited and educated young woman during the 1920s in her struggle to take on feudal traditions.

The whole production created a new genre to the technical standards of the great ballet repertoires of the past. It combines old and new elements from the West, where ballet historically started, with age-old Chinese art and culture.

As the curtains raised, the stage was filled with Chinese characteristics and imagery such as the dragon-shaped torch stick and red lanterns.

In the overture, the heroine appears in school uniform carrying a suitcase, demonstrating her desire for a simple life in fluid motions followed by a pas de deux with her lover, a member of a traditional opera troupe dressed up as a "god" character. It is a farewell as she is about to live in the rich household of a master as his second concubine.

From then on, she enters a stifling world of jealousy and resentment where three women compete for the raised red lanterns, which signal that they are favored by the master.

The performance has an international feel to it as it features a diverse and talented creative team, both from China and abroad, who freely experiment with cutting-edge devices to create stunning effects on stage.

One of its two choreographers, Xinpeng Wang, is based in Germany. Its composer, Qigang Chen, is based in France, and Jerome Kaplan, who designed the lavish costumes with elaborate details, is French.

The seamless incorporation of ballet with Chinese music, traditional dance, martial arts and opera makes the spectacle both audibly and visibly captivating.

The free-for-the-public shows in Jakarta on Nov. 2 and 3 at the Ciputra Artpreneur Theater were presented by the Chinese Embassy with support from the Association of Indonesia-China Economic, Social and Cultural Cooperation. The shows were part of a cultural exchange program between the two countries to coincide with the celebration of 67 years of bilateral diplomatic ties.

- Photo by JP/Dhoni Setiawan



• Indonesian-born Elsie Tjiok San Fang reportedly visited Beijing in the 1950s to teach ballet at the National Ballet of China. Elsie was born in Magelang, Central Java, in September 1935. She studied at the Puck Meijer Dancing School in Jakarta for three years before continuing her training at the Legat School in Kent, England.

She joined the Legat Dancing Group and traveled around England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Elsie returned to Indonesia in 1953 for a few performances. She later studied at and graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London before beginning her teaching stint in Beijing. Source:

• Ballet master Xu Gang, 49, first visited Indonesia as a dancer to perform Swan Lake for a private event nearly 20 years ago.

He has supervised almost all of the more than 400 Raise the Red Lantern shows in different countries. The ballet has seen minor changes to its choreography, music and costumes since 2003.