Two things that set Ballet Wild Grass apart from most others are that pointe shoes were virtually absent from the performance, and the ballet itself doesn’t have a particular story to it.
Instead it’s based off a collection of poems that were written in 1927 by Lu Xun, a Chinese literary giant considered to be one of China’s greatest 20th century writers.
“We literally learned all about his texts when we were growing up,” says Jane Zhen, tour manager for Beijing Dance Theatre, about Lu’s work.
The Beijing Dance Theatre, in partnership with the Canada-China Cultural Development Association brought the sensuous Ballet Wild Grass to the Algonquin Commons Theatre on Sept. 29. This was the ballet’s second show of the year, the first was on Sept. 26 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Since the company’s debut in 2008, they’ve toured more than 100 performances in Chicago, New York and other main theatres in the United States, Australia and Europe.
During the ballet, the 15 dancers represented the landscapes and emotions of Lu’s poems. The show draws more on modern dance techniques than solely ballet to allow the dancers to move freely and explore themselves, leading to more passionate and fearless dancing.
Ballet Wild Grass was created in 2012 by Wang Yuanyuan, Beijing Dance Theatre’s artistic director and choreographer.
“At the time she had some hard times in her life,” says Zhen. According to Zhen, Wang came across the poems of Lu Xun and found that the content really resonated with her state of mind at the time. “[Wang] thought they were very good ones to express what she was feeling and that’s how she created this piece.”
There are three chapters to Ballet Wild Grass. The first was “Dead Fire” which Zhen describes as “very cold”. The only accompanying music is that of a piano which along with white tree leaves scattering the stage further enhances the cold and dark atmosphere. Most of the dancers dressed in white, representing a cold winter mountain while one dancer dressed in red, symbolizing the dying fire struggling to keep on burning as it makes its way through the mountains.
The second chapter of the ballet was “Farewell Shadows” a title that Zhen says is ironic since people can never truly leave their shadows behind. However the meaning behind the title refers to one looking back on their life with their shadows representing a past they want to leave behind. They eventually learn that while the past makes up who they are it doesn’t have to define them in the present day.
The final chapter was the “Dance of Extremity”. This performance focuses on one dancer who is in control of the other dancers. Control is also an element that’s featured to some extent throughout the other two performances as well.
An interesting fact about Ballet Wild Grass is that Su Cong, the composer for the first chapter of the ballet also composed the music for the Oscar-winning film The Last Emperor. 2017 is also the first year that Beijing Dance Theatre has toured in Canada.