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Troupe plots comeback with modern dance show

THE once prominent Shanghai Opera House Dance Troupe is hoping to take center stage again with its new original production “Early Spring.”

The show will premiere at Shanghai Grand Theater on March 3, and be the first modern dance production from the troupe as it searches for a new niche in the entertainment market.

Original Chinese dance performances like “Daggers Society,” “Magic Lotus Lantern” and “The Phoenix Singing on the Qishan Mountain” spread the troupe’s name across the nation in the 1950s. Yet, buffeted by the winds of economic change, the troupe backed away from the artistic spotlight and became a backing dance group about 20 years ago.

In an attempt to restore its once-famous brand, the group launched new shows like “Zhou Xuan” and “The Flight to the Moon” in 2010, but neither garnered much interest, according to Fan Jianping, vice president of Shanghai Opera House.

Faced with competitors like Shanghai Ballet and Shanghai Dance Theater, Shanghai Opera House Dance Troupe has decided to shift its focus to modern dance, which is still relatively novel in Shanghai. After two years of preparation, the troupe will test the waters of this emerging market with its upcoming show.

“It may not be an easy turn, but we hope that it will help us find our correct path,” says Fan.

“Early Spring” is based on Chinese writer Rou Shi’s novel “February.” It portraits a young intellectual’s struggle with traditional values prevailing in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in the 1920s. He is forced to make a major decision when his kindness toward a local widow is misinterpreted by local villagers.

“Though the story is set in the 1920s, the conflicts and reflections all work for today as well,” says Wang Yuanyuan, head of Beijing Dance Theater and the show’s director. “I hope that our interpretation can reach and touch the inner world of the audience.”

Both the Shanghai Opera House Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai Opera House Chorus will provide live music for the show, which was one of the things that attracted Wang and her partners.

“Live music is always more vigorous and powerful when telling a story and supporting dancers as they express their emotions,” says Du Wei, composer of the show’s score and a nominee for the Golden Horse Award for Best Original Music.

To make the music more compelling, Du pictured the lead characters as real persons, and then shaped the score around them. Sometimes, she admits, she even danced a bit herself when composing. The chorus, according to her, will be used to emphasize the tumultuous inner world of the characters.

As for the show’s visual design, paper is a common element in prop and set design.

“The hero is an intellectual who works with writing. That’s why I chose paper texture for everything on stage. The written language can be strong, yet paper is fragile,” says Tan Shaoyuan, the stage designer.

Playwright Han Jiang says the troupe chose to leave many things abstract on stage, in the hopes that their interpretation can deliver on the original story while still leaving space for the audiences’ imagination.

 

Date: March 3-4, 7:15pm

Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater, 300 People’s Ave

Tickets: 80-580 yuan

Tel: 6249-1666, 6249-1460


 

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