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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Online Videos:"Acrobatic" Swan Lake

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Your neighbor doesn't do his high iron work to the music of Tchichowsky, acting out a classic tale of swans-turned-humans for all the spectators down below. Nor does he wear pointe shoes on the job. But if he did do those things, then what he's doing would genuinely have something to do with ballet.


In fact, just about anything done to the music of Swan Lake while telling the story of Swan Lake has its place for comment on a ballet board. But this video was even more ballet than that. Not only was it to the music of Swan Lake and told the story of Swan Lake --- it used the vocabulary of ballet and the equipment of ballet (pointe shoes). This is more ballet in my book than Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (which is based entirely on modern dance vocabulary without ballet vocabulary, but still deserves its place on a ballet message board due to its choice of music and story).


Chinese circus was not ballet when it was just Chinese circus. It's instructive to look at some such videos; they really are just tricks. But when these troops recently took the technique in a theatrical direction --- melding it with classical ballet technique, classical ballet librettos, classical ballet music, classical ballet stage presentation and classical ballet pointe shoes --- then they are making a very strong statement that yes, they are entering the realm of classical dance. And they will ultimately be evaluated by the standards of classical dance --- based on their classical dance content, not on the non-classical elements they chose to add. In watching that perforamance, one would learn more about classical Western ballet than about traditional Chinese acrobatics.


Let's consider this from an organizational development point of view. It's impossible to know from a video where these people wish to go with what they have --- whether they see this as a way to begin building a long-term Chinese ballet tradition (as ballet has invaded so many other cultures in the past), or whether it's really just a circus troupe doing their "Swan Lake thing" for a season before they go back to more traditional circus and vaudeville. But if they're just in it for the short term, it looks like they've invested an awful lot into the ballet side of things, so my hunch would be they have a more long-term interest in classical ballet. I would imagine they might start out by "doing" Swan Lake to establish their place in the ballet world --- and then maybe work on their own stuff later, especially as they get more performers who understand ballet at a deeper level.


Frankly, I can see why they did it. I think it's much more interesting to watch than just plain tricks, and why should they invent an entire new theatrical tradition when they can just import one ready-made from the West (along with viewers who will understand it)? I see a video like this as an outgrowth of China's intense interest in the West along with its booming industrial economy and increasing sense of importance in the world. This Swan Lake could be a signal to the world that they wish to be considered dance heavyweights, alongside Russia, USA and Germany.


In that video, acrobatics was used in two ways within the structure of an otherwise-standard Swan Lake:

1. Character dances replaced by traditional acrobatic routines

2. Acrobatic tricks added to otherwise traditional pas de deux dances.


These two uses may be examined separately:


1. Does inserting a Mazurka into a classical ballet make it not a ballet? What about an exotic Arabian dancer? What of a Chinese dance with circus tricks (as in Nutcracker)? Of course it's still ballet --- and all that was done 100 years ago.


So just because the character dances in Swan Lake were replaced by acrobatic trick dances does not make it any less ballet --- because neither acrobatics nor character dances is classical ballet. Both are a kind of folk dance that is imported into Act I of the ballet. Ballet dancers may be more familiar with traditional European folk dancing than with traditional Chinese acrobatics --- but that does not make it any more ballet.


2. The other place acrobatics was used in the video was in making high-tricks pas de deux. Again, I find it very hard to say that a fish dive is ballet, but a fish dive entered into by a back flip is not ballet. Or that a one-arm press lift is ballet, but an arabesque on the shoulder is not. I find it very hard to claim that just because the entrance into the fish dive is too acrobatic, that the production is no longer ballet. I see it more as ballet with a tricky fish dive.


In any case, the pas de deux shown in the video is clearly the pas de deux between Sigfried and the Odette. And if you remove the acrobatics, you will see it's still a ballet pas de deux. Unlike Mark Morris' "The Hard Nut", Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" and other non-ballet deconstructions of ballets, I don't see any effort here to deconstruct, just to amaze a gasping audience.


Acrobatics has been used in other ways in Chinese theater as well. Apparently it is an integral part of classical Chinese opera.

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  • Mel Johnson


  • Clara 76


  • citibob


  • davidg


Mel Johnson

Stuff and nonsense.


This discussion ought to be held on the "Other Arts" forum of Ballet Talk. Those who wish may open a thread there. This one is closed.

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  • 1 year later...

Have a look at youtube's clip of the Great Chinese State Circus doing Swan Lake...


search by keywords: Chinese Circus Swan Lake

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been fully discussed already on this board.

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been fully discussed already on this board.


Ooops! Sorry. I hadn't thought to search the topic first.

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I tried searching "Chinese swan lake"

but couldn't find it.


Searching "swan lake" gave lots of results.


Searching "swan lake circus" couldn't find it either.


I'm curious to see the discussion?

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I'll try to find them. There were several.

I merged 2 together-

Here's the topic:

Acrobatic Chinese Circus ballet

Edited by Clara 76
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The National Ballet of China together with the Guangdong acrobatic troupe are coming to London in the summer.


The National Ballet of China are doing half a week of the traditional Swan Lake first, then half a week of "Raise the Red Lantern" (a Chinese film adapted to ballet).


Then the Guangdong acrobatic troupe are doing the circus / acrobatic version of Swan lake for a week.


I've already bought tickets to see all 3 shows, but I do dread sitting through 2 x 3hours of the swan lake music within a week. It's beautiful music and all but I do get kind of "sick" of it if I hear it too much. (Note the double quotes. Not exactly sick of it but you know what I mean).


Especially since Royal Ballet are reiviving their Swan lake in October. Argh....!


But since I've never seen the National Ballet of China before, I'm keen to see their version and how they dance it, how it is different from the Royal Ballet version.


I definitely want to see the acrobatic version though, am very much looking forward to it. Although I'll be expecting different: Doing what they do at that level is exactly what they say it is -- acrobats and circus, and just so happen they are en pointe. I think it's unfair to compare that to the traditional swan lake.


However, I do think sometimes the companies might want to re-think their rep a bit with what's going on. There will essentially be 3 Swan lakes put on in the space of 3 months. How would they expect to sell tickets????



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innopac--it was perfectly fine to post it. There is no need to apologize, it wasn't a moderator who mentioned it may have been here before.

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Wow. I just read the whole thread, and there was a lot of hostility on it about what is ballet and not ballet. Definitely not what I was expecting. :D


How unfortunate. I think as a forum we should be able to discuss things, disagree, and still be united by our love for our art.


If a closed thread means we're not allowed to talk about it anymore, I apologize. I'm still trying to figure out all the rules here. Sure is a lot of them, maybe because there are children reading this forum? Hopefully in the adult and cross-talk section we can interact as adults instead of authority figures vs common man?


I've always thought that ballet culture seems very authoritarian based to me. Maybe that's why the forums also have a similar structure.


I mean no disrespect, I do love the forums here and the amount of expertise here. If that's the price to pay for such experience... maybe it's worth it.

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ripresa, discussions, including pros and cons, as well as agreements to disagree ARE allowed here. Threads end up closed when the discussions become high-jacked into narrow channels and the actual give and take discussions are squeezed out. At that point, the thread has reached a quagmire that is of no use and it is closed to 'break' the redundant cycling.


Please, feel free to continue the discussion originated by innopac here--just be wary of retreading old quagmired ground. :unsure:

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Hostility is defined as:


Willful refusal to accept evidence that one's perceptions of the world are wrong. Instead of reconsidering, the hostile person attempts to force or coerce the world to fit their view, even if this is a forlorn hope, and however harmful the cost.


I question whether the conversation was hostile, or simply, people presenting their views :lol:


I agree with dancemaven that the thread was closed at one point for the reasons stated in her post, but since the discussion was revived, I re-opened it.


If people are interested in continuing the conversation, have fun with that! :unsure:

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  • 10 months later...

I was sent this today. It's amazing!


What the ballet dancer does in the second part of this video,


doesn't seem humanly possible.





Watch these acrobats perform parts from the ballet Swan Lake! Even professional ballet dancers are astounded by the level of talent these acrobats show...The second dance with the swans is the best...toe dancing on another's shoulder while that acrobat is moving...unbelievable!



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Sorry Serendipity but that's been floating around the internet for several years, and we have several topics all over the board about it. I have to close this thread so I can merge it with the others.


Ok. It's been merged and hashed to death, so the topic is closed. :thumbsup:

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