Shandong Culture

Sisters of Yinan

By Chen Nan (China Daily) Updated: 2019-03-26

Chinese ballet, inspired by the wartime contribution of the local women of East China, will premiere in April, Chen Nan reports.

The National Ballet of China premiered its production of Ode to the Yimeng Mountains in Beijing in May 1973, as a tribute to the residents of Yinan county in East China's Shandong province who supported Communist troops during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) and the following civil war (1945-49).

The local women, known as the "Red Sisters", not only helped these soldiers by making shoes and clothes for them, but sometimes even sacrificed their lives to protect them.

Ode to the Yimeng Mountains was adapted into a film in 1975 by August First Film Studio of the People's Liberation Army.

 Sisters of Yinan

Top, middle and above: Dancers from the National Ballet of China rehearse for the upcoming new ballet piece, Yimeng - A Ballet in Three Chapters, which will be staged in Beijing from April 19 to 22. Photos by Jiang Dong / China Daily

Sisters of Yinan

The ballet piece has been part of the National Ballet of China's repertoire for decades.

With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the National Ballet of China has revised the classic into another production, titled Yimeng - A Ballet in Three Chapters, which will premiere in Beijing on April 19 and run for three days after that.

Chinese ballet dancers, including Ma Xiaodong, Wang Qimin and Hou Shuang, will perform in the show.

Inspired by three well-known stories of the "Red Sisters", the ballet is divided into the chapters Bridge Under Fire, The Virgin Bride and Passions of Yimeng.

"The story of the Yimeng Mountains, especially the 'red sisters', are well-known among Chinese audiences. The folk song, Yimeng Tune, is also well-known, which depicts the beautiful natural scenery of the county," says Xu Gang, director and choreographer of Yimeng - A Ballet in Three Chapters.

He says in 1995, he danced in the lead role in the ballet, Ode to the Yimeng Mountains. In 2017, Xu choreographed a dance piece based on the same ballet for director Feng Xiaogang's movie, Youth, which chronicles the lives of members of a Chinese military art troupe from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Xu and dancers of the National Ballet of China visited Yinan in 2017 to discover more stories about the "Red Sisters". As a result, the dance drama Love for Yimeng was produced. It premiered in Beijing in May that year.

"We lived in the village and talked to the locals, including some people in their 90s. I was very touched by the stories they told us," Xu says.

In the first movement of the three-chapter ballet, Xu tells the story of 32 local women who helped soldiers to cross a river. They stood in the river and used planks from wooden doors to build a bridge, which had been blasted by the enemy.

The second part tells the story of a young local woman, who married a Red Army soldier. However, her husband left with the other troops on their wedding day. The wife received no word about her husband until 12 years later when she learned about his death. The wife had not remarried and adopted some children who were orphaned after their parents died in battle.

The third chapter is based on Xu's 2017 ballet, Love for Yimeng, telling the story of a heroic woman, Ming Deying, who saved the lives of many soldiers.

"We decided to produce a new ballet based on stories of the Yimeng Mountains rather than rehearse the original, because we wanted to give new life to the local stories," says Feng Ying, head of the National Ballet of China.

The National Ballet of China celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

"The history of ballet in China is not long. We not only perform Western classic works but also bring out original Chinese ballet productions," Feng says.

One of the most famous original Chinese ballet pieces is Red Detachment of Women, the country's first original ballet production, which premiered in the capital in 1964 and is best known in the West as the ballet performed for former US president Richard Nixon during his visit to China in 1972.

Feng says like Red Detachment of Women, Ode to the Yimeng Mountains and Yimeng - A Ballet in Three Chapters all feature Chinese elements. For example, yangge, a popular rural folk dance of Shandong, has been featured in the latest ballet.

Composer Liu Tingyu, 79, who wrote some of the music for the 1973 production Ode to the Yimeng Mountains, is also working on the latest ballet. Besides classic music pieces, Liu is adding new musical elements to the production, such as Chinese drums and erhu.

He had visited Yinan multiple times in the 1970s when working on the ballet Ode to the Yimeng Mountains. Liu, who graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music and joined the National Ballet of China in 1965, says he remembers the spirit of the local people of the county.

"Though the stories are very old, they still deserve to be known by the younger generations."

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(China Daily 03/26/2019 page18)