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Ballet in China> Beijing Review Archive> 1980s
UPDATED: February 22, 2010 NO. 43 OCTOBER 25, 1982
Ballet Lin Daiyu

Celebrating the Grandma's Birthday

Ballet, an art form with its origins in the West, has come to the Chinese stage to depict the tragic heroine of the Chinese classic A Dream of Red Mansions.

Lin Daiyu, a two-hour ballet by the Central Ballet Troupe debuted last month in Beijing. The ballet is an adaptation of A Dream of Red Mansions, a classical novel by the Qing Dynasty writer Cao Xueqin (1715-63).

With Lin Daiyu as the heroine, A Dream of Red Mansions centres on the tragic love between two young aristocrats, Lin Daiyu and Jia Baoyu. It mirrors the inner conflicts and degeneration of China's feudal society through depicting the decline of a once great family Jia.

In order to focus on the feelings of Lin Daiyu, the 400 characters of the novel have been reduced to 10 and the plot line somewhat recomposed. The ballet has a prelude and four acts.

A Pledge of Love

Burying the Fallen Blossoms

The prelude: Jia Baoyu, the son of Jia family, is sitting in a pavilion next to Lin Daiyu, who is lodging with his family. They are reading Romance of the Western Chamber and are moved by this love story. They express their affections for each other.

Act I: The Jia family members are admiring the generous birthday present given to the matriarch by Xue Baochai's family, a rich one related to the Jia family by Jia Baoyu's mother. Lin Daiyu feels humbled by her origins and alone.

Act II: Jia Baoyu presents a handkerchief to Lin Daiyu as an engagement gift. Jia Baoyu's father wants his son to become a high official so he forces him to spend day and night studying the classics. Lin Baoyu is distraught and his grandmother, seeing this, decides he needs a wife and picks Xue Baochai.

Act III: Lin Daiyu is depressed and buries flowers as she weeps over her own unlucky life. She feels very sad when she watches the Jia family taking engagement gifts to the Xue family.

Act IV: Lin Daiyu, now critically ill, plays with the handkerchief as she recalls the past when Jia Baoyu and she fell in love. She hallucinates and sees Jia Baoyu standing in front of her bed. Then she seems to catch sight of the wedding ceremony of Jia Baoyu and Xue Baochai. She tries to stand up and leave the Jia family, but is obstructed by a net which symbolizes the feudal forces. She finally collapses and dies.

The feelings of the lovers are emphasized in order to utilize the strong virtues of Western ballet without losing the original intent of the novel. While it is inconceivable in feudal China that Jia Baoyu would lift his lady in an expression of love, the choreographers make the transition by bringing the couple together slowly and allowing them to dance a long pas de deux in a dream.

Attempts are being made to create a unique Chinese ballet style. Traditional Chinese dance movements from southern folk dances, operas and scarf dances are incorporated. The actors and actresses are asked not only to pay attention to dance en pointe, but to express themselves with their upper limbs.

The music is also a combination of Western and Chinese sounds. Shaoxing and Kunqu opera musical styles are heard as they are particularly adept at reflecting the feelings of women.

In the Dream

"We are feeling our way in developing a ballet of Chinese style," said Li Chengxiang, one of the choreographers, who has also worked on Chinese ballets with modern themes including The Red Detachment of Women, Ode to Yimeng and Azalea Mountain.

Li and his troupes suggested adapting A Dream of Red Mansions into ballet three years ago. During the planning, the ballet has been aided by many scholars who specialize in A Dream of Red Mansions. Two of them, Zhou Ruchang and Wu Shichang, while saying there is room for improvement, expressed admiration for this worthwhile attempt.

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