Ballet in four acts
World premiere in 1998
By the Ballet Company of Tianjin Song and Dance Theater
Producer: Liu Guixiang
Director: Deng Lin
Libretto: Ye Hourong, Du Yuexing, Deng Lin
Choreography: Deng Lin
Music: Tang Jianping
Set design: Zhang Dinghao, Liu Xiaozhou, Li Ming
Lighting design: Qin Yushan, Liu Yan
Costume design: Song Li, Wu Tuantuan
The libretto of Jingwei is based on Jingwei Filling up the Sea from Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shanhai Jing) which records a wide range of ancient cultural phenomena. Nuwa, daughter of Shennong (one of the Three Sage Kings in Chinese legend), fights against evil sea monsters in order to save her lover and the “feather tribe”. Later, dying of fatigue, she transforms into a divine bird called Jingwei, and begins to fill the sea with stones and branches in order to “protect all beings”. Her story vividly illustrates the great spirit of perseverance and philanthropism.
With a design inspired by ancient rock paintings, the first act instantly transports the audience to a seaside long ago. The group dance of the feather tribe adopts elements from Tibetan and Miao minorities’ folk arts, including tattoos, masks and movements. Scenes of sacrifice and carnival are all performed with a primitive simplicity.
The second act creates a strong sense of confrontation when sea monsters break the peaceful life of the tribe and become a dreadful marine menace. Adopting a typical Peking Opera technique, the group of dancers hold curtains made of blue gauze to resemble the huge waves. Then they perform in teams to cut across the stage to the sound of a double polyphony. Completely free from the traditional ballet language, the dancers liberate their limbs, use techniques of acrobatics and modern dance, and even shout out to express their emotions. The dance is integrated with displays of sound, light, and electricity, constituting a gorgeous and harmonious stage effect.
Set in the underwater world where the mythological goddess Nuwa has a fierce battle with the monsters, the third act employs skeletal stone pillars and acousto-optic devices to depict the sparkling waves, creating a mysterious atmosphere.
Starting with a touching solo dance, act four depicts the perseverance of Jingwei to fill up the sea with her peers. The beautiful images of Jingwei and other birds are greatly influenced by the action and costumes of Peking Opera. The group dances, implying the birds’ unending endeavors through the seasons, also draw inspiration from both Eastern and Western techniques, such as the poise of the body from classical Chinese dance, Mongolian folk dance, and classic ballet. This all helps to instill a sense of fantasy realism for the ending.
The artistic expression of the orchestra comes across profoundly in the music, particularly in the second act where the sea monsters set off the stormy waves and prey upon the feather tribe. The splendid orchestration contributes to this first climax of the ballet, producing a striking moment of shock. Meanwhile, other genres of music with different characters also strike brilliant chords. For example, the music of the sea monsters features a weird and ominous semi-tone melody, with crazy rhythms and rough brass band elements , showing a modern rock-like madness. Folk music is mainly for the dance of the feather tribe, which features a simple and natural style.