Chinese ballet finds 'Art' on a more modern footing

Someone once said that ballet and modern dance would merge when a contemporary dancer donned toe shoes and ballerinas went barefoot. Well, that did happen in an Alvin Ailey piece years ago, and it was evident again last week in the dance kickoff of “China:  The Art of a Nation,” at the Kennedy Center now through October.

As I watched the National Ballet of China, I was reminded just how much classical ballet has changed since the company’s last appearance here in 2005. The 60-member company has now fully embraced “modernism,” both in technique and content.

For example, in “Swan Lake’s” second act (where the ballerina flutters her arms in agony and trembles as she turns ever so gently) the delicate pas de deux was replaced with gymnastic tricks galore, plus some unabashed showing-off. Meanwhile, canned music replaced the live orchestra of past appearances.
Disappointing, indeed.

In the two Chinese signature works, “The Red Detachment of Women” and “The Yellow River,” the dancers managed to pull off tricks worthy of Olympics recognition. In fairness, though, ballerina Zhu Yan was stunning as the peasant heroine leading her people to “justice.”

Next up and rounding out the Chinese celebration will be the Beijing Dance Theater in its Kennedy Center debut. Years ago, I did see this troupe and remember a sense of clear, crisp movement that defines modern dance.

The company will perform “Haze,” described as a politically correct work that deals with China’s environmental problems. It runs at the Center’s Eisenhower Theater Oct. 26-27.

A participatory master class for intermediate to advanced level dancers with members of the company will take place on Oct. 24. A free post-performance discussion follows the Wednesday evening show.

For balletomanes who enjoy gorgeous classical ballet still accompanied by a live  orchestra, check out the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, celebrating its 10th anniversary season at the Kennedy Center Oct. 12-16.

Undertaking the immense responsibility of preserving Balanchine’s great works, the company offers a fresh, new look at these masterpieces. The company will collaborate with the Sarasota Ballet to perform “Diamonds” on both programs. Note that it was created for Suzanne Farrell, so a more authentic showcase would be hard to find.

The “petite histoire” of ballet and its leading world practitioners will be saluted in the popular Ballet 360 (degrees) lecture series at the Kennedy Center starting this Saturday, Oct. 1. Dance critic Alexandra Tomalonis uses video and samplings of her writing to help us understand the art.

Meanwhile, the National Museum of Women in the Arts will display costumes associated with great ballets, plus a series of film screenings that includes the Oscar-nominated “Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse,” starting Monday, Oct. 10.

Suzanne Farrell herself invites us to “read her notes” on some of the ballets the company will be presenting this October, including “Diamonds.” Call toll free 800-444-1324 for special deals, including $10-off orchestra seating, or go to

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