On Oct. 6, the curtain rose for the long-awaited Chinese Culture Year in France. As one of the key opening activities, a ballet entitled The Red Company of Women, performed by the National Ballet of China, made quite a stir in Lyon, northeast France.
Beginning Oct. 8, the ballet was scheduled to run for five performances at the Maison De La Danse (House of Dance) in Lyon. In fact, all tickets had been sold out even before the ballet came to France.
The Maison De La Danse is a reputable theater exclusively dedicated to dance in Europe. Since it's the first time for the complete version of The Red Company of Women to be staged in France, many viewers originally came to the theatre out of curiosity about China's national ballet. However, very soon they were captivated by the splendid performance of the ballet.
"I know little about the background of the play," a viewer commented. "But speaking from an artistic angle, the stage scenery, lighting and music are fabulous. In particular, the young dancers' performance was wonderful."
"The Red Company of Women is China's Giselle," acclaimed Guy Darmet, director of the Maison De La Danse. "It's a combination of the cream of classical European ballet and traditional Chinese dance. The Red Company of Women has added a magnificent work to the world's ballet collection."
The classical ballet The Red Company of Women is a gift the National Ballet of China presented to the Chinese Culture Year. In a performing tour that will last over a month in France, the ballet troupe is to give a total of 19 performances. Meanwhile, the troupe will go to Italy and England, in order to make the Chinese Culture Year known to neighboring European countries.
This time, the ensemble on tour is unprecedentedly composed of 165 persons, including not only ballet dancers but Peking Opera players and stage designers. Besides, for the first time, the ballet troupe brought its own orchestra to tour Europe.
The success of The Red Company of Women in Lyon demonstrates that Chinese culture has become a popular topic among French people during the Chinese Culture Year's activities.
Lyon is France's second largest economic center. As a well-known historical and cultural city, Lyon has forged ties of time-honored friendship with China. It's said that in history, Lyon served as the western end of the Silk Road; and as early as in the 16th century, Lyon had become a gateway to introduce Chinese culture into Europe. In 1988, Lyon established friendly ties with China's Guangzhou in Guangdong Province.
After watching the Chinese ballet's debut in the city, Gerard Collomb, mayor of Lyon, said, "Lyon is honored to be chosen as the first city to show The Red Company of Women in France."
"To hold the Culture Year respectively in France and China is important, since both countries, each boasting a long-standing history of diverse cultural heritage, have provided a rich legacy of cultural gifts to the world," said Collomb who visited China twice in the past three years.
The Red Company of Women, which premiered in 1964 in Beijing, was adapted from a movie of the same title. The story comes from the 1930s in China's southernmost Hainan Islands. Wu Qionghua, the female lead, flees her home, and helped by Hong Changqing, joins the local Red Army troop. Having repeated hardship and trials, Wu Qionghua gradually becomes an outstanding fighter of the Red Company of Women. After Hong Changqing falls at the front, Wu leads the Red Company of Women to continue their struggle.
Since its birth, the ballet has been highly acclaimed for its moving and tragic plot, magnificent stage design, as well as graceful choreography. Meanwhile, the unique folk customs and scenery of the Hainan Islands depicted in the play make for a very entertaining performance. In any case, The Red Company of Women, a combination of European ballet and traditional Chinese dance, is regarded as China's first and foremost successful grand ballet.
(China.org.cn, translated by Shao Da, October 15, 2003)