Ballet & ideology 

Dance Review | What you missed

Dance Review | What you missed
How about an intriguing paradox? Classical Western ballet meets the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Last week at the Pike Center, the Shanghai Ballet danced The White-Haired Girl: a merger of European theatrical dance, traditionally sponsored by royalty, with Communist ideals. This 1965 work typified the rhetoric of Mao Zedong. Sponsored by Mao"s wife, Jian Quing, the ballet epitomized her image of "people"s art." The piece draws on a true story from the anti-Japanese war of 1937-"45. But its magical, fairy-tale flavor emerges from years the heroine, Xi"er Yang, spends in the wilderness. Having escaped enslavement by Shiren Huang, the villain landlord/despot/collaborator with the Japanese, Xi"er "lives on wild fruits and spring water, and ploughs through scorching summers and fierce winters." Of course, the Red Guard, led by her fiance, Dachun Wang, finally rescues her. This melodrama offered plentiful dramatic moments, which the choreography depicted in inventive movement. But despite effective gestures of horror, fright and occasional joy, the dancers" faces and bodies seldom evoked deep feeling. Instead, they looked like beautifully controlled, quite unemotional figures. Regardless of the feelings expressed, the torsos of those dancing Xi"er"s successive stages - first gray-haired, then white-haired - appeared rigid. All the dancers displayed impressive technique, especially in their few, incongruously Western virtuoso turns. Characteristically, the ensembles moved in unison, capturing the inevitable style of a workers" society. The operatic score, plus the men"s martial arts steps, completed the traditional Chinese aura. Pike"s visionary director, Don Steffy, labored diligently to bring us this renowned troupe. The enthusiastic audience, almost filling the huge house, amply rewarded his efforts. Pike box office: (317) 846-2441.

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