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Origin and Development of Chinese Dance Drama


One can hardly find any records on the origin of the dance drama in relevant verifiable history books, yet musical dance with elements of drama can be traced back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1066-771BC).

The well-knownDawu(a famous dance from the Zhou Dynasty), which was put as China's very first grand dance with a plot in historical records, was a grand dance that incorporated the art forms of dance, music and poetry together in depicting Emperor Wu's expedition to overthrow the Shang Dynasty.

In a later dance calledJiuge(Nine Odes), the flavor of dance drama was clear, though it could not be regarded as the dance drama known to all today. After the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, dance and drama blended together.

As an independent art form, Chinese dance drama emerged in the early 1930s. In a sense, the Chinese dance drama was an outcome of the introduction of foreign art. Such forerunners in the dance field as Wu Xiaobang, Dai Ailian and Liang Lun had all conducted meaningful research into this field. Dance drama requires considerable economic input, a large, stable and professional staff, as well as a theater with modern equipment. Obviously the turbulent society at that time could by no means provide those conditions. Theoretically, dance drama emerges only when dance art evolves onto a higher stage. It possesses the elements of drama, a broad range of Subjects and full characterization. Chinese dance in the early time of his century was not mature enough to produce the comprehensive art form of dance drama.

Dance drama, a new art form in China, rapidly developed after the founding of the People's Republic of China. The period from 1949 to 1966 when the Cultural Revolution started can be regarded as the experimental stage for Chinese dance drama. The majority of the creations at that time were a continuation and the development of traditional Chinese opera dances. Efforts were also made to draw on the experience of ballet from the former Soviet Union.

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