A TWO-WAY EXCHANGE OF ART
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.”
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.