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About the Change

Feng Ying

Artistic Director,
National Ballet of China

by Kevin Ng

© nbc

recent National Ballet of China reviews

National Ballet of China

Kevin Ng reviews

This review also appears in the Hong Kong Economic Journal

During the National Ballet of China’s tour to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in early February, I interviewed Feng Ying immediately after a Sunday afternoon performance of “The Peony Pavilion”. Feng Ying was officially still the vice artistic director of the National Ballet of China at the time of my interview, though in effect she was the artistic director designate, after Madam Zhao Ruheng officially retired as the artistic director last December. (Feng was later formally appointed by the Ministry of Culture on 27 February as the artistic director with a one-year term of office.)

Feng said modestly at the time, “I don’t know yet when I’ll be formally appointed as the director. But there should be an announcement by the Ministry of Culture in due course.” How does she feel now to be in charge of the company? “I do feel more pressure now as the director. In the past I’ve only dealt with professional and artistic matters. From now on, I’ll have plenty of new things to learn, especially in terms of administration. Zhao Ruheng has worked for 15 years as the director of the company and is universally respected. So I’ll have even more pressure living up to her high standards.”

“The Peony Pavilion”, a new Chinese-themed ballet premiered in May 2008, was the first full-length ballet created by Fei Bo, a young talented in-house choreographer. Was it a big risk last year for the National Ballet to give him such a demanding project? Feng explained, “Yes, we gave him a big chance. But everything must have a start. He has been with our company for five to six years by now, and has created some shorter works for us. Fei joined us from the Beijing Academy and his training was in modern dance. It has been a long journey for him to adjust to classical ballet.”

Feng, a former dancer of the company, had the opportunity to train with the Paris Opera Ballet in 1982-3. She became the vice artistic director in 2004. I asked if she will adopt any new policies for the company. “I can tell you that our artistic policies won’t be changed all that much. We’ll still follow our existing policy of “walking on three legs””.


Feng Ying as Giselle in 1992
© National Ballet of China

“Let me explain. The first leg is the repertoire of the familiar 19th century classics like “Swan Lake”. We staged two years ago Natalia Makarova’s production of “Swan Lake” which we showed on our London tour last summer. The second leg is the creation of Chinese ballets which can reflect our own individual Chinese culture and sensibility. Our audiences long to see such ballets like “Red Detachment of Women”, “Raise the Red Lantern”, and of course “The Peony Pavilion” which we are now performing in Hong Kong. We are really working hard in this worthwhile direction.”

Feng added, “The third leg is the repertory of more contemporary 20th century classics. This is a good yardstick to judge us internationally, because these ballets are also performed by many other overseas companies. I am talking about ballets by masters like Roland Petit, Bejart, and William Forsythe. We actually try to dance different ballets by different choreographers and in different styles. And hopefully by building on such a strong foundation, we can finally create something that is our own.”

Feng looked back on the company’s history. “We started off with the Russian tradition (Gusev helped us a lot in the beginning of the company’s establishment), and then learnt from the great British classical ballet tradition. And then we learnt from the Paris Opera Ballet which has a more romantic style, when we staged “Sylvia” in Lycette Darsonval’s production. Also the Royal Danish Ballet’s great Bournonville tradition, when Frank Andersen staged “La Sylphide” for us. And we have a number of Balanchine ballets in our repertory as well. Now more recently we have staged works by the master choreographers from Germany such as John Cranko (“Onegin” and “Romeo and Juliet”) and William Forsythe (“In The Middle”) who are perhaps more innovative. After all, we have just been trying to select from the greatest works from different countries.”

In January the National Ballet’s tour to the Opera Garnier in Paris was most successful. “The reception was very good. The French audiences didn’t appreciate “The Red Detachment of Women” all that much, but “Sylvia” was more warmly received. After all, it was created in Paris. The French critics considered our company to be very young and full of vitality, and pretty strong as well. They have used adjectives like “marvellous”, “fantastic” etc. They were full of praise for Wang Qimin in particular. We plan to tour Australia this coming August, and Germany in the autumn.”

As to the company’s young dancers, Feng mentioned two very talented dancers – Guan Wenting and Zhang Xi – in addition to Xing Liang and Cao Shuci, the two 20-year-old talents dancing the leads that Sunday afternoon. “We have plenty of talent in Beijing, and we want to give as many performances to our own dancers to enrich their experience.”


Feng Ying
© National Ballet of China

Overseas guests have been frequent invited as part of exchanges with different companies like the Paris Opera Ballet. “Sometimes we invite male stars to partner our own ballerinas (for instance the Kirov Ballet principal Andrian Fadeyev partnered Wang Qimin in the premiere of Makarova’s “Swan Lake”), or alternatively guest ballerinas (like the Paris Opera etoile Aurelie Dupont) to work with our male dancers.”

The company’s focus this year will be on the one whole month of celebrations marking its 50th anniversary this coming December. Feng said that there will be eight different programmes taking place at both the Tianqiao Theatre (the company’s home theatre) and the new National Theatre in Tiananmen Square. And the climax will be a Gala featuring some of the most glamorous international stars from all over the world.

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