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Thursday, July 11, 2019, 17:43
Swan Lake's hidden depths
By Zhang Kun
Thursday, July 11, 2019, 17:43 By Zhang Kun

The ballet troupe's performance of 'In the Night'. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

The Paris Opera Ballet, the national ballet company of France, wrapped up a week of performances on Friday in Shanghai, the only stop in China during its short tour of Asia that saw the prominent dance company visit Singapore from June 21 to 23.

Shanghai audiences not only enjoy classical ballets such as Swan Lake but have also shown a great deal of interest in contemporary dance

Flavien Moglia, Executive President, Paris Opera Ballet

It was just one of a series of events to celebrate the POB's 350th anniversary. The company presented four performances of Swan Lake in Shanghai from June 29 to July 1 and two performances of a gala show, featuring creations by three contemporary choreographers, that concluded on Friday.

The company made the decision to perform Swan Lake in Shanghai not only because it is one of the most beloved productions in the ballet world, famed for its robust energy and rich color. More importantly, the version created by Rudolf Nureyev (1938-93) is one that "best represents the style, aesthetics and capabilities of the Paris Opera Ballet", says Flavien Moglia, executive president of the company.

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Nureyev, one of the former Soviet Union's best-known dancers, created a new version of Swan Lake in 1984, when he was the director of the company. Also considered one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the 20th century, Nureyev brought a new depth to the ballet, especially by adding a psychological angle to the role of the prince, says Jean-Guillaume Bart, a ballet master with the POB. Nureyev gave the story a Freudian dimension, illuminating Tchaikovsky's poetic dream with a profound sense of hopelessness, he adds.

In Nureyev's Swan Lake, the dark wizard is an ambiguous figure. At first, he serves as a sort of tutor or guide to the prince, before gradually turning into a negative influence that mirrors the dark side of the prince. The contrast between the white swan and black swan also reflects the two sides of the prince's soul, Bart explains.

A scene from Swan Lake, performed by the Paris Opera Ballet. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Also, Nureyev introduced difficult new movements and gestures into his choreography. "We hope audiences can appreciate the depth of Swan Lake, rather than just seeing it as a traditional and established ballet production."

The first time the POB visited Shanghai was in 2005, when its performance of Giselle created a sensation in the city, says Zhang Xiaoding, general manager of Shanghai Grand Theatre.

"It is very difficult to have the company come to China, because the cost is really high," Zhang says.

"We decided to make the best out of the opportunity, and prepared lectures, workshops and other educational programs to allow the artists to communicate with the public in Shanghai."

Tickets to the four Swan Lake shows sold out quickly, and the theater added dozens of temporary seats for each performance.

"The two gala shows are selling very well, too," she said before the shows.

A group photo of the POB, which wrapped up a visit to Shanghai on July 5, 2019. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

"Shanghai audiences not only enjoy classical ballets such as Swan Lake but have also shown a great deal of interest in contemporary dance. That's why we made the request for the POB to present the gala show featuring contemporary dance in Shanghai when we first discussed its tour plans."

The gala show consists of three choreographers' works. Blake Works I marks the first collaboration between choreographer William Forsythe and English musician James Blake. In the Night by Jerome Robbins is a romantic dance, consisting of three elegant duets to Chopin's nocturne pieces. And The Seasons' Canon features group dancing by Crystal Pite to music from Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, rearranged by Max Richter.

The ballet troupe's performance of In the Night. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

The POB is widely recognized for its excellence in classical ballet, but the company is equally strong in its interpretation of contemporary-dance works, Moglia says. Contemporary dance productions now make up half of the POB's performance programs.

One of the oldest ballet companies in the world, the POB is an integrated part of the Paris Opera. The ballet originated from earlier dance institutions and practices of the court of Louis XIV. The POB represents an important branch in the evolution of ballet, which originated from the royal courts of the Italian Renaissance. It was in France that ballet turned into an independent theatrical form of art. After that, the Royal Danish Ballet and the Imperial Ballet of Russia also began to flourish.

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Today, the POB has 154 dancers, including 17 danseurs etoiles (star dancers), a title awarded to only the most outstanding principal dancers.

While most of the POB dancers come from the Paris Opera Ballet School, the institution also recruits aspiring dancers from all over the world.

"We have dancers from 14 different countries," Moglia says.

"One of them is from China, who used to study in Hong Kong, and after three years of training at our school, he is now a dancer with the POB."

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