China's original ballet productions

The Crane Calling

Updated: Mar 3, 2020 Print
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The Crane Calling

Ballet in two acts
World premiere in September 2015 at Tianqiao Theater, Beijing
By National Ballet of China (NBC)

Producer: Feng Ying
Artistic director: Feng Ying
Art consultant: Huang Minxuan
Libretto based on the true story of Xu Xiujuan (1964-87), a committed crane tamer of China
Choreography: Ma Cong, Zhang Zhenxin
Music: Shen Yiwen
Set design: Gong Xun
Costume design: Li Kun
Lighting design: Deng Wen
Make-up: Xu Bin

A solo by the heroine Mengjuan in her dorm at the Crane Reserve [Photo/Official Weibo account of NBC]

The libretto of The Crane Calling (He Hun) is based on the true story of Xu Xiujuan (1964-87), a raiser and tamer of East Asia’s red-crowned cranes, the world's second rarest crane. Xu drowned in the marshes while looking for a missing crane at East China's Yancheng Natural Reserve at the age of 23. The pop song A True Story (1990), based on her heroic death, made her a household name in China -- people showed sympathy for her death and respect for her devotion to protecting the cranes. The ballet is therefore choreographed as homage to her and her selflessness.

Pas de deux by Mengjuan, played by Principal Ballerina Wang Qimin, and Zhiyuan, played by Principal Dancer Sun Ruichen [Photo/Official Weibo account of NBC]

Comprised of such scenes as the graduation ball, the natural reserve and the storm, the two-act ballet chronicles the brief career of crane tamer Mengjuan, the heroic character derived from Xu Xiujuan. Born to a crane-raising family, Mengjuan cherishes the dream of tending and protecting the endangered red-crowned cranes for her whole life. Upon graduation, she leaves her boyfriend Zhiyuan and embarks on a journey to a crane reserve. She overcomes the hardships in the reserve and wins the trust and affection of the cranes. In the midst of her enjoyment of those strong bonds a rain storm hits the reserve, inflicting injuries on her dearest birds. Trying to catch the head of a crane so frightened that it is trapped in the mud, Mengjuan accidentally falls in the marsh and never returns. Cranes hover over the marsh, dancing with the spirit of Mengjuan, expressing their gratitude towards her and their reluctance to part from her.

The red-crowned crane is a cultural totem in China. People admire its beautiful appearance, elegant gestures, and noble spirit of fidelity (the crane pairs are generally monogamous). Associated with longevity, the crane is often depicted on birthday gifts for the elderly.

The cranes dance in the reed pond [Photo/Official Weibo account of NBC]

The lyrical ballet features solo, pas de deux, and group dances. Dancers wearing red-and-white headdresses, with their dark hair imitating the head and neck of the cranes, create the dance of the crane flock. They walk on pointe shoes to imitate the graceful strides and steps of the cranes, with their right arms rising straight above and their left arms bent and resting on the right elbows behind their heads, which are held high.

Mengjuan's boyfriend Zhiyuan (C) is inspired by her heroic death and continues to fulfill her cause. [Photo/Official Weibo account of NBC]

In The Crane Calling, the pas de deux are no longer reserved for female and male dancers but as a lyric narration of the story. They are mounted between the heroine Mengjuan and her boyfriend Zhiyuan, between the head of the female cranes and Zhiyuan, between the heads of the male and female cranes, and between Mengjuan and her beloved head female crane to express both the affection between lovers and the strong bonds possible between humans and animals.


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