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Ballet in China> Beijing Review Archive> 1980s
UPDATED: February 22, 2010 NO. 43 OCTOBER 24, 1988
West Meets East in Beijing Ballet

Heliotrope, a ballet specially choreographed for China's Central Ballet Troupe by Margo Sappington, a well-known American choreographer, received high acclaim from the audience when it was first performed in Beijing on September 20.

The word "heliotrope" signifies a purple flower turning toward the sun. The Chinese title of the ballet, Ziqi Donglai (purple wind coming from the east), is a Chinese idiom that means "the wind of luck from the east brings peace and happiness."

The ballet began with a male dancer, dressed all in white, showing his longing and pursuit. As the music tempo quickened, female dancers swirled onto the stage. They moved in their purple leotards like clouds drifting in the sky. Later came the climax. All the dancers joined together in movements which turned temperate, symbolizing a peaceful realm of the human world achieved through hard struggle.

Sappington based her ballet on the three-movement violin concerto by Chinese composer Du Mingxin. She successfully captured the spirit of the music. The male group dance was vital and exciting; the female couple, merry and graceful; the mixed trio performances, touching and very moving; and the symphonic dance scenes were grand and harmonious.

Du was very excited when he told the reporters that the Amercian choreographer had had an accurate and sensitive understanding of his music, including some of the most obscure elements. He said that he had made several minor changes to his music at the suggestion of the choreographers to make the music more compatible with the ballet.

Sappington is an artist from Texas, who began dancing at the age of 8. When she was 17, she joined the Joffrey Ballet. At the age of 21, she choreographed her first ballet, Oh, Calcutta. Since then she has choreographed 11 ballets and dance pieces for troupes in a number of countries.

Heliotrope was a quick project, taking only one month from choreography to rehearsal. The ballet starred Wang Caijun, Zhang Dandan, Guo Peihui and many other first-class Chinese dancers, whose talent and efforts added to its success.

"The ballet is an excellent combination of music, dance and dancers," Sappington said. She also praised the Chinese dancers for their outstanding artistic quality and dancing skill. She hoped that one day the Central Ballet Troupe could perform Heliotrope in the United States.

Heliotrope was the first abstract ballet performed by the Central Ballet Troupe. Its repertoire includes such world classics as Swan Lake, Giselle and the modern Chinese ballet drama The Red Detachment of Women.

The co-ordinator of this joint effort, Rong Zhihui, president of the U.S. Simarka Art Company, said the success of the ballet again proved that art is an international language, and that it is both practical and necessary to promote communication and exchange between foreign and Chinese culture. She added that to send a dancer to study abroad only benefits one particular person, but to invite a foreign choreographer can enlarge many people's artistic horisons.

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