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Dance shows poetry in motion

Updated: 2024-05-27 07:26 ( CHINA DAILY )
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Yonghe Jiunian (Dance of Calligraphy in AD 353), an original Chinese dance drama produced by the Shanghai Opera House, portraying the beauty of calligraphy through dance movements, is touring nationwide. Directed and choreographed by Wang Yabin, it is inspired by Lantingji Xu (Preface to the Collection of Poems of the Orchid Pavilion), a piece of prose by 4th-century calligrapher Wang Xizhi. CHINA DAILY

As the young man returns to modern times and studies the successive copies of Lantingji Xu with countless calligraphy enthusiasts, they become the guardians of the classic piece, embracing the responsibility of continuing the legacy.

Wen Geng, a dancer with the Shanghai Opera House dance troupe, plays the role of the young man. Song Yu, the principal dancer of the troupe, portrays the calligrapher Wang Xizhi.

It is said that Wang Xizhi derived inspiration from nature, such as the graceful neck movements of geese. In the dance drama, director Wang Yabin created a goose character played by Tan Yimei, also a principal dancer of the Shanghai Opera House troupe. With a pas de deux, Wang Xizhi's love for the beautiful creature has been realized on the stage.

According to Wang Yabin, the dance drama Yonghe Jiunian is named after the year AD 353 when Wang Xizhi wrote Lantingji Xu, or the ninth year of the Yonghe era during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420). Yonghe is translated as eternal harmony.

Composer Lyu Liang used the ancient Chinese instrument, the seven-stringed guqin, as the main component throughout the dance drama. This was supplemented by more traditional Chinese musical instruments, such as the pipa (a Chinese lute), guzheng (a Chinese zither), xiao (a vertical bamboo flute); xun (an oval flute-like clay instrument) and erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument), creating a rich palette of sounds to propel the plot.

"There are many scenes in which the director tells the story with flashbacks. The music is a supporting technique to make the flashbacks work for the audience," adds Lyu, who is known for his composition for Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting, one of the best-selling dance dramas, which has toured China with more than 200 shows since its premiere in 2021.

"Chinese classical dance fits well with this dance drama, Yonghe Jiunian, combining rhythmic twists, turns and curves, the dancers mimicking the strength, amplitude, and fluidity of calligraphy strokes," says Zhao Lei, Party secretary and executive vice-president of the Shanghai Opera House.

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