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Dancers Dazzle on Shanghai Stage

The fifth China Shanghai International Arts Festival opens on Saturday and will feature over 70 performances, the largest number of stage productions ever presented at the festival.


Dance numbers are very much highlighted in this year's programme, according to Shanghai-based critic Wang Jian, "as dance is gaining more popularity among theatre-goers here in Shanghai."


The performance for the opening ceremony is the dance drama "Bawang Bieji (Farewell, My Concubine)," based on a story set in 202 BC and centering on Xiang Yu, known as the Conquering Overlord, and his beloved concubine Yu Ji.


The epic Irish "Riverdance" will immediately follow to thrill the audience as the troupe has just done in Beijing.


Other dance shows range from gala presentations by the Mansudae Art Troupe of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, to modern dance by the British Rambert Dance Company and a joint modern dance production by Canada's Snell Thouin Project and the Beijing Modern Dance Company. There will also be a folk dance drama "Emperor Xuanyuan" by the Hebei Song and Dance Theatre.


Ballet productions include "Jingwei" by the Tianjin Song and Dance Theatre and "Night of Kanebo," which features highlights by Russia's Eifman Ballet from St Petersburg.


The festival will drop its curtain with the tango musical "Tanguera" presented by dancers from Argentina.


Chen Shenglai, president of the center of the festival, said: "We've made our choices based on the criteria that the programme is a real classic that endures the test of time, or a brand-new production full of originality."


"Riverdance" and "Tanguera" are imbued with the cultural essence passed by the nations for a long time and they have been staged in many countries already, a solid evidence of their high box office value, Chen said.


In contrast, "Farewell, My Concubine" is a new programme wholly by Chinese artists showcasing the spirit of China's civilization.


Despite the dance highlights, local theatre critics believe the drama and opera productions are also alluring.


There will be four theatre presentations based on the novel "Jia (Family)" (1933) by Ba Jin (1904-), to celebrate the 99th birthday of the great contemporary Chinese writer.


Liu Yuan, a sophomore at Shanghai University, said he longed to see the new version of "Family," the literary masterpiece that influenced many young people to examine and break away from the feudal traditions. This production still appeals to young people today as it will star many famous artists like Sun Daolin, Xu Huanshan, Xi Meijuan, Kai Li and Chen Hong.


The Huju Opera "Family" is also attractive to audiences as it is the first ever co-operation between renowned Hong Kong director Ng Seen Yuen and the Shanghai Huju Opera Theatre.


During the festival, "Family" will also be interpreted in Sichuan Opera and Yueju Opera.


Meanwhile, the Canadian multimedia production "Leitmotif" deals with the theme of love, according to Cao Lei, a noted drama actress. In this drama, "war and fate are regarded as an exploration combining high-technology and dramaturgy."


"The Chairs," by 7 Stages Theatre from the United States, is a classical work of the "theatre of the absurd." Yang Shaolin, director of Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, said: "It is a compulsory lesson for almost every student in theatre academies."


(China Daily October 15, 2003)


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