Local talent take spotlight at festival
This year’s festival focuses on telling China’s colorful stories to the world via a series of original productions that showcase the creativity of Chinese artists
The 17th China Shanghai International Arts Festival (CSIAF) has given priority to original productions while encouraging international talents to join hands with local artists. The festival is an annual celebration of performing and visual arts that has been held since 1999. This year, CSIAF runs from Oct 17 to Nov 16, featuring 46 performances and 10 exhibitions, more than half of which are from overseas.
In the past years, CSIAF featured opening shows from internationally recognized companies such as Mariinsky Ballet of Russia, Bejart Ballet Lausanne of Switzerland and the Royal Opera House from Britain. This year, two original productions from Shanghai were given the honor.
Jews in Shanghai, which cost more than 10 million yuan ($1.57 million) to produce, is a musical about Jewish refugees seeking shelter in Shanghai during World War II. It is written and directed by Xu Jun and produced by HYX Theater Company, a new establishment by Hengyuanxiang Co Ltd, a highly reputable Shanghai-based textile and clothing producer.
“They could have chosen a play of greater profitability, yet the company chose a subject like World War II because it is an important page in the city’s collective memory of taking in more than 30,000 Jewish refugees during the war, and living through the hard times together,” said Liu Wenguo, artistic director of CSIAF.
The Song of Everlasting Regret is a ballet adaptation of a narrative poem of the same title by Bai Juyi from the 9th century and it is produced by Shanghai Grand Theatre and Shanghai Ballet. The performance premiered at Shanghai Grand Theatre on July 31 and toured Beijing in August. The one on show at CSIAF is a revised edition.
Shanghai Ballet has taken great pride in its original creations such as White Haired Girl from the 1970s to Thunderstorm in the 1980s, as well as adaptations of modern Chinese author Lu Xun’s works. Director of Shanghai Ballet, Xin Lili, said that they have always strived to “tell Chinese stories on the world stage” and had engaged renowned artists such as French choreographer Patrick de Bana to infuse an international element to the troupe. De Bana had previously choreographed Jane Eyre — a production based on a novel by Charlotte Bronte — which was also jointly produced by Shanghai Grand Theatre.
“When we were touring Jane Eyre in Britain, local critics suggested we create a show featuring China’s own stories, and I assured them we were working on that, and would come back to show it to the British people,” said Zhang Zhe, director of Shanghai Grand Theatre.
“A few years ago, people might disagree if we claim Shanghai Ballet to be the best in the country, but now the dance troupe has developed a solid reputation not only in China, but also on the international stage. This has been achieved through constant communication with the rest of the world and by providing artists freedom of creativity,” he added.
Liu said that it has been the obligation of the festival to promote original Chinese projects, while contemporary Chinese art institutions have a responsibility to share China’s stories in a global context.
And it seems many artists and performance groups have taken risks to accomplish this. For instance, Xin recalled how dancers at Shanghai Ballet had to set aside their specialties, which have been developed through decades of training, in order to adapt to the new choreographer’s ideas and system.
“Patrick has been an outstanding artist, but working with him wasn’t easy at the beginning,” said Xin, who had to tell the dancers to “dump what you are best at, dump what you cherish, and ditch it like garbage so that you will be ready to take in the new ideas.”
As part of efforts to nurture originality, CSIAF sponsors and commissions works by young artists every year. To aid these young talents, organizers of this project hire a board of experts comprising established artists such as composer and conductor Tan Dun, and dancer and choreographer Yang Liping. CSIAF then commissions an artwork — be it music, drama or dance — from each of these young artists which will later be showcased to the public during “Youth Week”. This year, a total of 14 theater productions have been conceived by this initiative.
CSIAF has also made constant efforts to introduce these artists and their work to the international market through the annual performing arts fair held during CSIAF. The fair is a week-long event taking place from Oct 16 to 21 at the Intercontinental Hotel Puxi. Here, groups, institutions, promoters and agencies get to introduce their own shows and find potential projects to take on tour.
Over the years, new artists have gained greater exposure and success through this initiative. Qiu Jirong and Gong Zhonghui, for example, were two dancers discovered by famed Chinese director and choreographer Yang. In Yang’s new production Ambush on All Sides, Qiu plays the leading dancer and executive choreographer, while Gong plays one of the main characters. Ambush on All Sides had four sold-out performances from Oct 16 to 18 at Shanghai Oriental Art Center and it received high praise from critics and the audiences alike. The play premiered in September in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, and toured Beijing, Chongqing and Hangzhou.
Drama The Great Revenge presented by the Beijing People's Art Theatre.
Jews in Shanghai, which costs more than 10 million yuan to produce, tells the tale of Jewish refugees seeking shelter in the city during World War II.
Ambush on All Sides is a production by Chinese director and choreographer Yang Liping and other young dancers.