China cultural revolution "not all bad" for ballet

Tue Jul 29, 2008 10:30am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - As a young ballet dancer, Zhao Ruheng would traipse across the Chinese countryside performing a carefully selected repertoire to factory workers and peasants and do her bit for the now notorious cultural revolution.

Although relatively privileged during those dark days, she says that the 1966-76 mass campaign to transform China into a militantly Communist society, which descended into violence, denunciations, purges and warfare, was "a big tragedy."

But as Zhao brings the National Ballet of China to London's prestigious Covent Garden this week, she also recognizes that the cultural revolution ensured the country quickly became aware of ballet, a benefit that is still felt today.

For ballet to maintain its popularity, amid rampant consumerism and competition from new forms of entertainment, it must reinvent itself and rely not only on Western influences but also Chinese traditions.

"The reason ballet in China now is very popular is because of the film 'The Red Detachment'," Zhao said, referring to the film version of the propagandist Chinese ballet "Red Detachment of Women," one of only a handful of plays, operas and ballets allowed from 1966 to 1976.

"Everyone knows it and everyone can dance something from it," she told Reuters in an interview, speaking in English.

At the same time, she added, "tragedy influenced almost each family (during the cultural revolution). "That time I think was a big tragedy."

Zhao, 64, has recounted how the ballet company's conductor hanged himself after being denounced for crimes he did not commit.   Continued...

<p>A ballerina performs during a dress rehearsal for a new production of Swan Lake by The National Ballet of China at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London July 28, 2008. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez</p>