A TWO-WAY EX­CHANGE OF ART

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai zhangkun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The Shang­hai Chi­nese Orches­tra will pre­miere Shang­hai Odyssey - The Bund, a new mu­si­cal piece by Ger­man com­poser Chris­tian Jost, dur­ing this year’s China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val (CSIAF), high­light­ing the event’s con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to fos­ter­ing artis­tic ex­change be­tween China and the world.

The per­for­mance will be held Shang­hai Grand Theatre on Nov 8.

In an in­tro­duc­tion to the piece, which was com­mis­sioned by CSIAF, Jost wrote: “In the re­flect­ing fronts of the mod­ern pros­per­ous Shang­hai, the old is in a con­stant mir­ror­ing”, re­fer­ring to the blend of mod­ern sky­scrapers and Euro­pean style build­ings from the late 19th cen­tury that de­fine the cityscape.

He added that this con­cept of the old re­flect­ing the new is one of the major themes in his piece Shang­hai Odyssey - The Bund.

Of his de­ci­sion to pick a mu­si­cal piece by a for­eign com­poser, Shang­hai Chi­nese Orches­tra di­rec­tor Luo Xiaoci said: “Chi­nese mu­sic is open and tol­er­ant not only to Chi­nese mu­si­cians, but also out­stand­ing artists from all over the world.”

An­other rea­son, Luo said, was Jost’s pas­sion for Chi­nese cul­ture and the city of Shang­hai.

Jost has worked with pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions such as the Lucern Fes­ti­val, the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic Orches­tra and the Zurich Opera through­out his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer. Apart from a se­ries of suc­cess­ful opera cre­ations, such as The Ara­bian Nights and Hamlet, the Ber­lin-based com­poser is also the com­poser of Heart Su­tra, an opera adapted from Chi­nese au­thor Eileen Chang’s short story of the same ti­tle. The play pre­miered at the Tai­wan Fes­ti­val of Arts in 2013.

The Ger­man then went on to cre­ate Red Lantern, which is based on Su Tong’s novel Wives and Con­cu­bines, as well as Lover, a mu­sic-dance-theater pro­duc­tion com­mis­sioned by Drum­mers of U-theatre from Tai­wan.

“China’s folk mu­sic is much like China’s ink paint­ing, it starts from a sim­ple line, and de­vel­ops into in­fi­nite vari­a­tions,” said Mao Donghua, a Shang­hai-based ink artist, whose paint­ings de­pict­ing the ar­chi­tec­tures along the Huangpu River will be pre­sented in dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion dur­ing Shang­hai Odyssey - The Bund. at the

The col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the two started when Jost, who was a visi­tor at Mao’s solo ex­hi­bi­tion at Liu Haisu Art Mu­seum, re­al­ized that the Chi­nese artist’s works matched the im­agery of his mu­sic. He then in­vited Mao to one of his re­hearsals.

Through the years, a num­ber of Western com­posers have cre­ated mu­sic about Shang­hai, but none of them fea­tured Chi­nese in­stru­ments ex­cept for Jost’s cre­ation. Mao de­scribed Shang­hai Odyssey - The Bund as a poly­phonic piece that in­cor­po­rates Chi­nese folk mu­sic as nat­u­rally as “steel bars in con­crete”.

In July, Mao be­gan to work closely with Jost and the orches­tra on the vis­ual pre­sen­ta­tion of the per­for­mance.

“You can’t sim­ply project the paint­ings, like how you would show a Pow­erPoint doc­u­ment, so we worked with an an­i­ma­tion stu­dio, a play­wright and pho­tog­ra­pher to cre­ate a di­a­logue be­tween vis­ual and au­dio art,” she said.

“Both ink paint­ing and Chi­nese folk mu­sic rep­re­sent the beauty of Chi­nese cul­ture, and we hope to cre­ate qual­ity work that can evoke wide in­ter­est in China.”

The CSIAF has worked with Pol­ish the­atri­cal mas­ter Krys­tian Lupa to cre­ate The Al­co­holic, which is based on a play by late Chi­nese au­thor Shi Tiesh­eng. The five-hour pro­duc­tion was pre­sented at the Shang­hai Theatre Acad­emy Ex­per­i­men­tal Theatre and starred renowned ac­tor Wang Xue­bing.

This is the first time that the 72-year-old Lupa, who has been dubbed “the great­est Euro­pean liv­ing theater di­rec­tor” by the cul­ture con­gress of EU, has worked on a Chi­nese play. His pre­vi­ous cre­ations such as Wood­cut­ters and He­roes Square won high praise in China.

“We wish to tell this story from China in a global vo­cab­u­lary and cre­ate a di­a­logue that breaks the bound­aries of time, na­tion­al­ity or field,” said Wang Jun, pres­i­dent of the CSIAF or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee.

Lupa said that he was fas­ci­nated with the au­thor and the spir­i­tual strug­gle re­flected in his writ­ing and real life. By com­bin­ing de­tails in Shi’s other writ­ing, Lupa man­aged to in­te­grate the au­thor’s life story to the play.

Be­sides theater shows and free out­door per­for­mances at des­ig­nated squares, artists also par­tic­i­pated in the an­nual trade fair at the CSIAF to pro­mote their up­com­ing projects for buy­ers home and abroad. This year, the fair took place at the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel Shang­hai Puxi from Oct 19 to 23, and was at­tended by more than 500 in­sti­tu­tions from 60 coun­tries and re­gions.

Dur­ing the fair, renowned dancer and chore­og­ra­pher Yang Lip­ing per­formed a pre­view of the up­com­ing pro­duc­tion The Rite of Spring, which is jointly com­mis­sioned by the CSIAF and Sadler’s Wells, a This year’s China Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val, which started on Oct 20 and will run till Nov 19, has main­tained its fo­cus on show­cas­ing in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tions and Chi­nese pro­duc­tions dance theater in Lon­don. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the dance theater who at­tended the fair praised Yang’s “loy­alty to her own tra­di­tion” as well as her brave ap­proach to con­tem­po­rary theater.

Last year, Yang pre­miered Un­der Seige, her first dance theater cre­ation based on the leg­endary bat­tle be­tween Xiang Yu and Liu Bang (206 - 203 BC), dur­ing the CSIAF. The per­for­mance went on to re­ceive ac­claim around the world, with the Fi­nan­cial Times prais­ing the chore­og­ra­phy as “a mad, mer­cu­rial mix of tai chi, kung fu, bal­let, hip-hop and Pek­ing opera ac­ro­bat­ics”.

Im­pressed by Un­der Seige, Sadler’s Wells com­mis­sioned Yang to cre­ate her in­ter­pre­ta­tion of The Rite of Spring, a clas­si­cal piece by Igor Stravin­sky.

“The orig­i­nal mu­sic has lots of myth­i­cal and pa­gan el­e­ments, which widely ex­ists in my cul­ture too,” said Yang, who hails from the Bai eth­nic group from Yun­nan prov­ince.

Yang added that she will be in­te­grat­ing tra­di­tional rit­u­als of Ti­betan Bud­dhism, the lion dance and other tra­di­tional el­e­ments into The Rite of Spring, which will pre­miere in Yun­nan in 2018 be­fore go­ing on tour in Europe.

Of the 25 for­eign pro­duc­tions pre­sented at the CSIAF this year, one of the most highly an­tic­i­pated is the one by Ned­er­lands Dans Theater. The Dutch con­tem­po­rary dance com­pany made such a suc­cess­ful de­but in Shang­hai in 2014 that tick­ets for their three per­for­mances this year, sched­uled to take place from Nov 3 to 5 at Shang­hai Grand Theatre (SGT), were sold out weeks be­fore the event, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Xiaod­ing, gen­eral man­ager of SGT.

Sol Leon, the artis­tic ad­vi­sor of the com­pany, spoke about the cre­ation of Safe as Houses, a dance in­spired by the Chi­nese philo­soph­i­cal clas­sic The Book of Changes. The Span­ish dancer-turned-chore­og­ra­pher said she was in­flu­enced by Tao­ism ideas and po­etry at a young age and that prompted her to work to­gether with Paul Light­foot, artis­tic di­rec­tor of the com­pany, to cre­ate the piece in the mu­sic of Bach in 2001.

Wang Jian­hui, the only Chi­nese dancer in the com­pany, will be play­ing an im­por­tant role in the piece. Wang joined the com­pany seven years ago and started out with Ned­er­lands Dans Theater’s sub­sidiary NDTII. He later moved to the main com­pany be­fore pick­ing up chore­og­ra­phy skills.

When asked about his fu­ture plans, the 27-year-old said that he is eye­ing a re­turn to China fol­low­ing the end of his dancing ca­reer.

“We all know how dancers’ ca­reers can be short, and I hope to turn to chore­og­ra­phy and con­tinue on a dif­fer­ent ca­reer path with dance com­pa­nies in China,” he said.

While many Chi­nese mu­si­cians have made in­roads into the global art scene, dancers ply­ing their trade in for­eign com­pa­nies are still few and far be­tween. Wang Jie, the pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer of SGT, ex­plained that this is be­cause the Chi­nese dance com­mu­nity opened up rel­a­tively late to the world and there are fewer dance stu­dents com­pared to their mu­si­cal coun­ter­parts.

How­ever, thanks to the ef­forts of CSIAF and theaters such as SGT, a large num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized dance com­pa­nies have per­formed in the city. This has in turn re­sulted in the re­cruit­ment of more Chi­nese dancers in such com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing the Martha Gra­ham Dance Com­pany and the Ned­er­lands Dans Theater.

For ex­am­ple, Lou Meng­han was the first Chi­nese dancer at NDT when the com­pany first par­tic­i­pated in the CSIAF in 2014. He later left the com­pany to be a free­lance chore­og­ra­pher. Ear­lier this year, Lou cre­ated a dance theater pro­duc­tion for Shang­hai Song and Dance Troupe ti­tled The Red Cur­tain which pre­miered at the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Dance Cen­ter in Au­gust.

Zhu Jiejing, di­rec­tor and lead­ing dancer of the show, said she had Lou chore­o­graph the piece in or­der to “ex­plore the Chi­nese ex­pres­sion of con­tem­po­rary dance”.

“Meng­han is dif­fer­ent from us,” Zhu said. “He has in­ter­na­tional vi­sion. He doesn’t ex­pect dancers to be good stu­dents obey­ing or­ders, rather, he works with their mind to in­spire their move­ments.”

Con­tem­po­rary dance pro­duc­tions in China tend to be “very Chi­nese”, Lou said in an in­ter­view ear­lier this year with Shang­haibased news por­tal The Pa­per.

“Lots of the dancers started their train­ing from tra­di­tional Chi­nese folk dance, and you can clearly trace their style and in­flu­ence to that root. Also, Chi­nese au­di­ences ex­pect to see the story or plot in a dance show, but con­tem­po­rary dance is more about an idea that has no lim­its,” he said.

Dur­ing CSIAF two years ago, Xin Ying was the only dancer from the Chi­nese main­land who per­formed for the Martha Gra­ham Dance Com­pany. She is now a prin­ci­pal dancer of the com­pany and had flown to Shang­hai in Au­gust to con­duct a work­shop on the Martha Gra­ham tech­niques.

“I have ben­e­fited from the train­ing sys­tem my­self,” Xin said. “It can be dif­fi­cult for a West­erner to tell it to a Chi­nese, but I know I can ex­plain it clearly. I can serve as a bridge.

“I hope to get more work done in China, and help more stu­dents,” she added.

“Gra­ham needs more tal­ents, and I want to help nur­ture more dancers from China.”

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Con­tem­po­rary dance by the Ned­er­lands Dans Theater is one of the most highly an­tic­i­pated shows in this year's CSIAF.

Mu­si­cians play folk mu­sic dur­ing the Shang­haiOdyssey-TheBund per­for­mance.

Dancers per­form dur­ing the Mag­icF­lute show­case at CSIAF.

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