Saturday, October 1, 2011

All-Male Ballet in Beijing? What a drag!

We all know how Western culture has been more and more accepted in China in recent years. You only have to look at the forthcoming events for this month alone at many venues -the National Opera House, Forbidden City Concert Hall, Poly Theatre, 21st Century Theatre to name a few musical venues - to see the variety on offer: Mamma Mia! (in Chinese), Charles Dutoit and the China Philharmonic, Bejart Ballet Lausanne, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2011 Beiing International Movie Festival, 14th Beijing Music Festival, Itzhak Perlman concert, La Boheme...the list goes on, and I haven't even included the art scene and the Beijing International Design Week!

However, one show that may have made Mao turn in his grave is the recent 3-day run of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (All-Male Comic Ballet. Founded in 1974, they are based in New York and this is their second visit to Beijing after a 2 year absence. I went to see their performance and it was a good mix of serious and humorous. There were thin men, fat men, smooth skinned and hairy, butch ballerinas and macho princes, but no effeminate or camp roles. They were in different costumes and heavy make-up, some made up as men but more often as not as women. There were familiar scenes from Swan Lake, with classical elements as well as comedy. If you are a serious ballet lover, then this maybe is not for you!

There was plenty of local press coverage of the show.

The show took place at the Mei Lanfang Grand Theatre. Some of you may have heard this name before - Mei is the most famous Beijing Opera singer of the last century. Beijing Opera also has males playing female roles, and this was Mei's speciality, so this theatre was a very suitable choice. Western ballet in drag is just a variation of Eastern opera in drag! Perhaps this was one reason the Ministry of Culture gave approval again to the Group's appearance. A Beijing Opera show was being put on on the same night as the ballet. In the dressing rooms, there were plenty of cross-cultural exchanges going on as the westerners marvelled at the complicated make-up of the opera singers and the Chinese smiled at the skimpy dress of the ballet dancers.

The mainly Chinese audience loved the humour, though some older members of the audience were a bit puzzled at some of the antics. How could ballet dancers who had had years of training bump into each other, or lose their place or fall over each other? Those who had paid prices of over 120 USD per ticket must have resented the people who had bought cheaper seats and who filled up the seats beside them, a rather unique Chinese custom. The loudest applause was given to the final encore where the Group performed a traditional Chinese folk dance, yang ge, complete with bright costumes and colourful handkerchiefs.

That was a treat for the 62nd birthday of China - that's right, PRC was founded 62 years ago today! It's sunny with clear blue skies, that's a real treat for the citizens - and tourists - in Beijing. Wish you were here to see for yourself!

Timeout Beijing's preview is here:
Homepage of the Trocks:

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