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Ballet in China> Beijing Review Archive> 1970s
UPDATED: February 23, 2010 NO. 34 AUGUST 22, 1975
Ode to the Yimeng Mountains

Chicken soup for the wounded soldier

At this moment, the harp in the orchestra pit is heard playing a melodious tune suggesting a bubbling brook. From backstage comes the vocal accompaniment: "The comradeship between the army and the people is loftier than the mountain, and milk is sweeter than water from the fountain." Instantly, the stage lights up as the sunshine seeps through the trees. Ying Sao disappears behind a rock and re-enters with the canteen full of her own milk. Lifting it high above her head, she leans forward and, looking in the direction of the wounded soldier, slowly raises one of her legs in an arabesque penche, like a swallow flapping its wings in the air. This poetic and lovely posture not only demonstrates the heroine's joy but symbolizes her genuine proletarian feelings and noble revolutionary qualities.

The whole scene, breathing with life, epitomizes the close ties between the army and the people in the revolutionary war years. Here, blood, water and milk are symbolic of the army-civilian relationship: the fighters shed blood for the people and the people nurture them with their own milk. This class sentiment is everlasting. Chairman Mao has pointed out: "If the army and the people are united as one, who in the world can match them?" This is precisely one of the fundamental causes for the victories won in the people's war under the leadership of our Party in the last few decades. Herein lies also the significance of the important theme in this dance-drama.

Higher than life

An important feature of the model revolutionary theatrical works is that though they get their materials from life, they are on a higher plane than life itself. This has been achieved by implementing Chairman Mao's teaching: "Life as reflected in works of literature and art can and ought to be on a higher plane, more intense, more concentrated, more typical, nearer the ideal, and therefore more universal than actual everyday life." By combining revolutionary realism with revolutionary romanticism, our literary and art workers worked meticulously on the raw materials they had amassed from real life and, through artistic processing, succeeded in presenting the themes in such a penetrating way as to hold the audiences spellbound.

In creating this dance-drama, the choreographers, dancers and other artists went to villages of the Yimeng region on many occasions to live among the working people there, get acquainted with their life and customs and their feelings and mental outlook. They saw for themselves the new spirit and new look of the folks in this old base area brought about by the Great Cultural Revolution. All this inspired the artists more than ever to present on the stage the unity between the villagers and the people's army in their struggle against the enemy. They did their best to find and extract materials from real life from the height of the present-day era, and succeeded in designing dancing movements that are highly expressive and characteristic of those war years so as to inspire and encourage the audiences now persisting in continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Since it is from life and yet on a higher plane than life itself, Ode to the Yimeng Mountains is like a flower deeply rooted in the soil of people's life.

In the scene showing how Ying Sao looks after the wounded soldier, the artists introduce to the stage scenes of everyday occurrence to depict Ying Sao's innermost feelings, her revolutionary consciousness and mental outlook in helping the wounded and saving his life.

This is a monodramatic scene of solo dance. Late one night, after the armed thugs have ransacked Ying Sao's hut, she is lulling her baby to sleep. Her graceful and light dance movements show that she is patting the child listlessly, while her eyes keep looking outside, concerned as she is with the safety of the wounded soldier in hiding.

When her baby has fallen asleep, Ying Sao comes out to the courtyard in quick steps. Accompanied by brisk and lively music, she moves forward and backward with alacrity as she gives a rendition of acts of calling and going after a chicken and finally catching it.

Immediately afterwards, Ying Sao lights up a stove to make chicken broth for her patient. Here she performs a lyrical dance that integrates the free and easy movements of the local yangko folk dance with the pirouettes of ballet dancing. This is followed by a joyous whirl and twirl and ends with the dancer on tiptoe, gazing meaningfully at the mountain in the distance.

These dance movements depicting the everyday life of the working people, however, are by no means mere replicas but something more beautiful and heart-stirring. They therefore have effectively given expression to Ying Sao's feelings which are best described by the vocal accompaniment rich with the flavour of a local folk song: "May you, soldier of the people, quickly recover and return to the front to fight for the people and for liberation."

Creating heroic images in the thick of struggle

The face-to-face struggle against the enemy has proved the lasting comradeship between the people and their own army. The latter part of the dance-drama is highlighted by Ying Sao's unflinching fight against the enemy in her effort to save the wounded soldier. It extolls her daring and adeptness in struggle, and her fine qualities are unfolded in depth and breadth through typified and mounting conflicts.

The first round of the struggle against the enemy takes place when Ying Sao is making chicken soup for the platoon leader. Several lackeys of the landlord enter, and they whip her in the hope of wringing from her the wounded soldier's whereabouts. Ying Sao refuses to give in. In fact, the first thing she does when she comes to is to seize a cleaver and point it at the thugs.

The enemy then sets up a trap for Ying Sao in order to track down the wounded soldier. However, with the help of an old grandmother who is her neighbour, Ying Sao manages to put the enemy off the scent before she leaves the village with the chicken broth and other food for her patient.

The landlord's lackeys later set the mountain on fire, hoping in this way to impel the wounded soldier in hiding to come out. Though alarmed, Ying Sao keeps a cool head. She exposes herself, throws some twigs at the thugs and leads them away from the place.

Exasperated, the reactionaries finally herd the villagers together in an attempt to force them to hand over the wounded soldier. One of the thugs snatches the baby from Ying Sao, threatening to throw it down the mountain. In this hour of severe trial, this peasant woman remains firm and composed. She performs a dance expressing her indignation, bitterly denouncing the enemy while encouraging the villagers to carry on the fight. Without tears or any sign of grief, Ying Sao is fired with mounting hatred for the enemy and greater resolution to accept any sacrifice in order to save the wounded soldier.

The dance-drama comes to a climax at this critical juncture. Platoon leader Fang appears on the scene and snatches the baby back from the enemy's hands. His chin up, he walks towards the lackeys who are armed with big swords, ready to sacrifice himself in order to save the villagers. Here the stage presents a stirring scene showing how the army cherishes the people and the people support the army. With Ying Sao at their head, the villagers surge forward wave upon wave, keeping the platoon leader out of harm's way while the platoon leader time and again tries to step forward in an effort to shield the villagers. Finally the Party-led armed peasants arrive in the nick of time. Fighting shoulder to shoulder, the army and the people succeed in wiping out the enemy.

Ode to the Yimeng Mountains is another successful endeavour after The Red Detachment of Women and The White-Haired Girl to present a revolutionary theme and create heroic personages through the medium of ballet dancing. Here we see a coalescence of foreign dancing and traditional Chinese stagecraft (folk dances and Peking Opera acting). Here the melodies of revolutionary folk songs are incorporated in the instrumental music of the West and the leitmotif is played by Chinese musical instruments so that the whole dance-drama has a unique and strong local flavour and a national style of its own.

Chairman Mao taught us long ago that we should "make the past serve the present and foreign things serve China" and "let a hundred flowers blossom; weed through the old to bring forth the new." Guided by these instructions, our literary and art workers have done their best to create new socialist and original proletarian works. This is a goal in creating China's socialist art of dancing and a task common to all other art forms undergoing a proletarian revolution. The efforts made in this respect by the artists in producing Ode to the Yimeng Mountains have the wholehearted support of the workers, peasants and soldiers.

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