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The Nutcracker in Shanghai

Posted on January 21, 2011

Shanghai and Nutcracker are not two words that simultaneously spring to mind, but Shanghai Ballet presented it twice before Christmas and twice again in the New Year at the impressive Grand Theatre in the heart of Shanghai.

The production might be familiar to readers of Dancing Times because it is by Derek Deane, former artistic director of English National Ballet. Made new for the Shanghai company in 2010, Deane was assisted by Alexandra Worrall with the choreography, and Louie Whitmore with the designs. The total impression is that of a resounding success. Shanghai Ballet’s dancers were immaculate in their performances, giving great credit to artistic director Xin Lili.

Shanghai Grand Theatre has collectively made all this possible, with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra providing excellently paced Tchaikovsky for the ballet’s superb dancers. Bewitching Guo Hongyu was among the finest I have seen dance Clara, and Fan Xiaofeng and Yu Xiaowei were beautiful as the Snow Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Sun Shenyi acted and danced Drosselmeyer with great aplomb, and the handsome Prince was Wu Husheng. The corps had been drilled to exhaustion and dance faults simply couldn’t be found. My only problem involved costume colours. In the Waltz of the Flowers, for example, everything is pink. No doubt a pretty pink, but the lovely dancers were camouflaged by colour. On the other hand, all the details for the Christmas party were perfect.

It is obvious that no time or money has been spared for what will be a regular event in the repertoire. Shanghai has a large expatriate audience who were well represented, but clearly outnumbered by their Chinese counterparts with their children. In China all forms of culture are developing at a fast pace. My only disappointment was that I have not been able to find enough dance in Shanghai.

If one wishes to see a major dance company, timing is essential for a visit to Shanghai because these events are comparatively rare. I have yet to discover a repertoire listed in English for Shanghai Ballet – it might exist in Chinese but that’s beyond my ken. Careful planning is therefore necessary for a visit. I found that searching online magazines like Shanghai City Weekend (www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai) and the various online ticket agents, for example Piao, are best for finding events in English. Ticket agents will usually accept credit cards and deliver the tickets to your hotel free of charge. If you are already in Shanghai, visit the Grand Theatre’s box office, where they have a member of staff who can speak English. When I first used the box office a while back, I discovered that Northern Ballet was performing there in La Traviata, but there were no Shanghai Ballet performances in three weeks.

We all say that the world is smaller and Asia more accessible, so if you are flying east to other destinations you might find that a stopover in Shanghai as well as Hong Kong is not only great fun for the determined traveller and city lover, but also rewarding for a dance fan. Why not give it a try?

JOHN GUY

Jonathan Gray is editor of Dancing Times. He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. For 16 years he was a member of the curatorial department of the Theatre Museum, London, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.

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