Ballet production sees the light

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Inspired by the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Claude Debussy, Shanghai Ballet's original production Follow the Light was premiered at the Shanghai International Dance Center on Sunday. It tells the story of a young man's pursuit of light — how he follows and spreads it and eventually becomes part of "the light".[Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

Sanghai Ballet premiered an original production Follow the Light at the Shanghai International Dance Center on Sunday.

The 45-minute production tells the story of a young man's pursuit of light — how he follows and spreads it and eventually becomes part of "the light".

Wu Husheng, the leading male dancer of Shanghai Ballet and its new deputy director, says the production is largely inspired by the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Claude Debussy.

To create a dialogue between dance and music, Wu has rearranged the third movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Debussy's Clair de lune (Moonlight), giving his choreography a smooth flow with enriched layers.

Wu says the creative integration of dance and music is key to the performance.

"As dancers we have to rely on our body language rather than any other tools to tell a good story and touch the audience," he says.

He also credits Xin Lili, the company's director, for keeping faith in him throughout the years. This is the fifth choreographed project by Wu, who received his first choreography assignment from Xin in 2017.

"At that time, she (Xin) seemed to be the only person in the world who believed that I had the potential to become a choreographer," Wu says.

On June 5, Shanghai Ballet's livestreaming of the rehearsal for Follow the Light was watched by what Xin describes as an unexpected crowd of 410,000 viewers.

"Audiences participated in the creative process of our new production in this new way, and we felt greatly encouraged," Xin says. "This is our production of the year, and we had to overcome many difficulties during the creative process."

Among the challenges, she explains, was having to face several weeks of COVID-19 lockdown in the city earlier this year as seven principal dancers were to prepare for the ballet. Many internationally acclaimed choreographers have in recent years collaborated with Shanghai Ballet to create new productions, such as The Lady of the Camellias, Hamlet and Echoes of Eternity.

However, the pandemic has made it difficult to have such collaborations now, and that has meant the company has had to create its own projects.

But this hasn't been an issue as creating original productions has always been the primary mission of Shanghai Ballet, Xin says.

Since it was established in 1979, Shanghai Ballet has created about 180 original productions.

"The repertoire is the core strength of a ballet company, and it is only when we constantly create new projects that we can keep the team fresh and powerful," she says.

"We are now aiming to launch a new project every year."

Xin also notes that Shanghai Ballet's steady growth in stature is largely due to its ability to develop its own distinctive style of the dance genre.

Follow the Light is led by Qi Bingxue, the company's prima ballerina, while 19-year-old Xu Jingkun has been assigned the leading male dancer's role.

Xu, the youngest principal dancer at Shanghai Ballet, is a native of Henan province, and studied at the Shanghai Dance School and the Australian Ballet School before joining the company in 2019.

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