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BEIJING, November 25 (BelTA – China Daily). – Iconic painting has been given a new lease of life by dedicated choreographers, reports Chen Nan.
Time has not lessened its hold on the public imagination, as was proven in 2017, when thousands of people lined up for hours to catch a glimpse of A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains, when the classical work of art was exhibited at the Palace Museum. Artist Wang Ximeng completed this landmark work during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) at the age of 18. It is widely recognized that it is one of the most important works in Chinese fine art history. The 11-meter-long roller painting is a recording of people’s lives and the natural landscapes of that time, blending realism with creative imagination. There are mountains, rivers, villages, ports, temples and pavilions. The painting is kept at the museum.
Choreographers Zhou Liya and Han Zhen were among those jostling among the gathered masses. âWe slipped through the crowd and tried to get as close to the picture as possible,â they remember vividly. “It is extremely rare to see a painting, which is almost a thousand years old, so intact.”
In early 2020, they were commissioned to create a dance piece by the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, the Beijing-based company they work for. They initiated the idea of ââchoreographing a dance piece based on the seminal artwork.
âThe painting is full of detail and it’s amazing,â Han recalls. âWhen we started associating it with a dance piece, all the memories of seeing the painting in 2017 came back so vividly.
“It’s like embarking on a journey back to the Song Dynasty, which cannot be described in words. We are deeply moved by the painting.”
For over a year, Zhou and Han worked on the choreography of the dance piece. Together with more than 40 dancers from the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, they started rehearsals in March of this year.
On August 20, the dance piece, titled Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting, premiered at the National Performing Arts Center in Beijing. With warm comments from the audience, the dance piece is now on tour across the country, with more than 50 performances, in some 20 Chinese cities, including Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, Jinan in Shandong Province, Xiamen in Fujian province and Beijing.
They tested their choreographic ideas over and over again to represent the beauty of painting through traditional Chinese dance movements. They also worked with the technicians to create a sophisticated set, which involves a rotating stage.
âOne of the most memorable parts of creating this dance piece is working with experts and researchers from the Beijing Palace Museum, who are consultants on the production,â Han said. “We visited their offices and saw them restore cultural relics at the Palace Museum, which we had never seen before.”
Palace Museum researcher Wang Zhongxu, curator of the exhibition in 2017, is one of the consultants.
âHe told us delicate details about the painting, which is a treasure house of traditional culture, as well as his stories about these cultural references. He inspired us to create a character to act as a guide, which is known as name of zhan juan ren, or the man who unfolds the board, âZhou adds. “The audience follows zhan juan ren to explore the world of traditional Chinese culture.”
They also invited the heirs of intangible cultural heritage to show and teach dancers their craft, such as the art of seal engraving, brush making and silk weaving.
âThe dance moves not only represent these heirs, but also show the beauty of their craftsmanship,â Han said. “It is a very long but rewarding experience to finally stage this dance work, which is very different for all of us.”
Both in their 30s, Han and Zhou were classmates at the Beijing Dance Academy from 2002 to 2006, majoring in choreography. Since 2015, they have worked as a duo, choreographing dance productions of various styles commissioned by dance companies across the country, such as Dragon Boat Racing, a dance drama, which mixes traditional Cantonese music and history, and Du Fu, another dance piece. telling the story of the eponymous poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
In 2018, the duo choreographed a dance drama, titled The Eternal Wave, adapted from a classic 1950s film and revolves around an underground Communist telegraph that works undercover to fight the enemy. Since its premiere, The Eternal Wave has been staged over 100 times nationwide and is one of the best-selling dance dramas in the country.
“Unlike our other works, which usually tell stories, this dance work is not a narrative. It is abstract and, like traditional Chinese paintings, leaves the audience enough space to imagine for themselves.” , Zhou explains.
The two choreographers read the messages posted by the spectators on the social media platforms and they were touched that people not only saw the magnificent dance moves, costumes and sets, but also expressed their love for the traditional culture. Chinese.
âPeople naturally got emotional, and even cried, when they looked at it. It’s in their blood,â Han said.
According to Jing Xiaoyong, director of the China Oriental Performing Arts Group, whose history dates back to the 1950s, 120 performances of Poetic Dance: The Journey of a Legendary Landscape Painting were booked at theaters across the country in 2022.
The company is also planning to shoot a dance-based film, hoping to bring it to more audiences across the country and even overseas.
âWe have already received invitations to play it overseas, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to postpone our plans to take the production on tour overseas,â Jing said.
Jing visited some cities during this year’s national tour.
“One of the most emotional moments is the end, when all the creative members come up on stage and bow. They bow not only to the audience but also to our ancestors, who left us these great treasures,” Jing said.