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

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai


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.

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