Acrobatic swans aim to make splash in London

2024-06-18 08:18:02China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Dance lovers in the United Kingdom capital will have the chance to see an imaginative take on a familiar favorite later this month when the 100-strong cast of the Xi'an Acrobatic Troupe brings its production of The Acrobatic Swan Lake to the Sadler's Wells dance theater in London.

The production, which first visited the UK in 2008, has previously played at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and London's largest West End venue, the London Coliseum.

It blends the beloved classical ballet with the spectacular skills of Chinese acrobatics, and has already been enjoyed by millions of spectators all over the world, most recently at the Esplanade Art Center in Singapore and the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman.

Now it is London's turn again, with a 13-performance run, from June 21 to 29 at Sadler's Wells theater, directed by Yan Hongxia and choreographed by Zhang Yuan and Liu Xin.

Show producer Zhang Quan said it was a great honor to make Chinese acrobatics appear in the world's capital of performing arts once again, and to help promote China's excellent traditional culture overseas.

"Acrobatics going overseas has always been the most important part of our cultural exchanges," he said. "So, every time the team walks out of the country, with professionals around the world and face-to-face communication with the audience, (it) is a kind of learning and inspiration."

For some ballet purists, the mixture of dance and acrobatics, particularly such routines as the lead ballerina standing on her partner's shoulders, might seem strange, but Zhang said the combination worked well to produce something distinctive and exciting to watch.

"There are many art forms today that use fusion and innovation," he explained.

"Acrobatics and dance are both technical skills that can be choreographed according to the requirements of the story, but also can be used to tell the story and express emotions. The development of modern 'new circus' techniques, such as the ballet on the shoulders, is a good example of this.

"This fusion requires constant exploration and practice to create a unique artistic effect, and only by skillfully combining the essence of the two art forms can we create works of real artistic value and appreciation."

The dancers trusted with performing this perilous set-piece routine are male lead Zhou Jie and ballerina Sun Yina, who joined the Liaoning Ballet Theater at the age of 11 and three years later began training with the Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe before making her stage debut aged 17.

"I think of myself as an acrobatic ballet performer," Sun said. "Acrobatics is an excellent traditional Chinese culture and one of the oldest performing arts in the world, while acrobatic ballet is an art form formed by Chinese acrobatic artists who try to combine the romance of Western ballet with the thrill of Oriental acrobatics.

"I am privileged to be able to carry this artistic inheritance and help develop the art form on stage."

In their own right, ballet and acrobatics are both extremely demanding, so blending the two requires a special type of physical and mental strength.

"The combination has higher physical requirements from performers. And switching smoothly between the two disciplines during the performance also requires more energy and attention," Sun said.

She said acrobatic ballet takes a lot of ballet movements on the ground onto the very small space of the male dancer's shoulders to make them into acrobatic movements, so there is greater risk for injury.

But once audiences adapt to the combined art forms, people from South America to southern Australia have been enthusiastic and appreciative.

"Acrobatic ballet shows artistic charm crosses national boundaries," Sun added. "Audiences from all kinds of different cultural backgrounds all over the world have really enjoyed the performances."

Overseeing the production's third London visit in its 20-year history, Jurek Zhang, chairman of Beijing Joyway Culture Media Co Ltd, said he has taken many popular Western shows, including Riverdance and the Notre Dame musical to audiences in China but is now genuinely excited to be taking one of China's showcase pieces to a global audience.

"China has been facing the world with an open mind to learn, so there's been a lot of interest in all kinds of Western cultures, and that's kind of the basis of the business," he explained.

"It's like cinema. In the beginning, foreign blockbusters basically ruled the box office, but as China develops and we become familiar with the way this business works, we can also create very international marketable productions, like The Acrobatic Swan Lake. So I'm very happy to make it my first production in London."

Changes within the company personnel mean that the production has been out of the global spotlight for some time, but Zhang said he hopes such a high-profile run as the one in London will "reopen the space for this work in the world performance market", and might even open a door for other Chinese performance companies to take their shows to a wider audience.

"In recent years, many excellent theater pieces have emerged in China, including The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting, Wing Chun (which is also on at Sadler's Wells at the end of August), Dream of the Red Chamber and so on, which are in our operation plan," he said.

"We should participate in world cultural exchanges with our best artworks."


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