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James Amar, ballet dancer and director with the Liaoning Ballet
James Amar, ballet dancer and director with the Liaoning Ballet

James Amar, a ballet dancer and director who has collaborated with Chinese ballet companies over the past eight years, prefers to take it easy when it comes to directing Chinese shows.

"I have to take my time to understand this culture before taking up Chinese themes," Amar says.

The Paris Opera Ballet School graduate, who was hired in the early 1990s at the age of 18 as a soloist by the Ballet de Nantes, first came to China to lend a hand with artistic input at the Shanghai Ballet.

But, it was with Liaoning Ballet that he seems to have forged a stronger link.

His first collaboration there was on a production of Giselle, a 19th century ballet that is "a romantic ballet marked by dark forests and ghosts".

The Chinese audience, long used to grandeur and opulence on stage, sat up and took note when they saw something rather bizarre.

Or, as Amar says, "We brought in the French style, based on control and purity."

The simplicity and no-frills approach did go down well, though, and the Liaoning Ballet kept renewing its invitation to Amar, who returned in 2005 and 2006.

This July, he signed a three-year contract with them to be their artistic director.

"The good thing about the Liaoning Ballet is that they don't just make collaborations. They are eager to take features from other cultures and retain them," Amar explains.

One of his advantages is that he has worked all around the world - from Cairo, Egypt to Montevideo, Uruguay. He said: "By now I have a sense of how to work with people from different cultures."

Having lived practically out of a suitcase these few years, directing dance companies in Macedonia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and China all in the same year, Amar is looking forward to settling down for a while.

He is already at work on his next project: a series of items based on the works of Serge Lifar, the ballet master at the Paris Opra Ballet (1929-45, 1947-58). And he is looking at his China stint with guarded enthusiasm.

"I like the idea of a long-term contract and the space and time I would be able to give my work. As for what's next, we will have to see where we have reached in three years' time."

(China Daily November 30, 2010)

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