The Light of Heart
Ballet in two acts
World premiere in September 2017 at Tianqiao Theater, Beijing
By National Ballet of China (NBC)
Producer: Feng Ying
Director: Fei Bo
Libretto: Fei Bo
Choreography: Fei Bo, Wang Sizheng, Wang Qi
Music: Guo Wenjing
Assistant composer: Chen Xinruo
Set design: Michael Simon
Lighting design: Liu Zhao
Costume design: William Chang Suk-Ping
Make-up and style design: Xu Bin
Art consultant: Huang Minxuan
Dunhuang art consultants: Fan Jinshi, Wang Xudong
The ballet is an homage paid to the obscure heroes protecting and studying the Mogao Cave art at Dunhuang -- an oasis and religious and cultural crossroad of the Silk Road. Stunning scenes depicted on the cave murals are presented on stage: the flying Apsaras, the procession of devout Buddhist donors, and the legendary huxuan dance (an exotic dance introduced from Central Asia in the 8th century with the dancers rapidly twirling their bodies on one leg). Dressed in long-tailed, narrow gauze skirts dyed green, indigo, and vermillion, the dancers extend and move their arms softly. They take small steps in on-point shoes so that the body can present a natural curve at the waist to imitate the flying Apsaras on the mural.
The ballet features a love story between Nianyu, a composer visiting Dunhuang from Paris, and Wu Ming, a young painter working at the grottos. Nianyu draws inspiration from the murals, and transforms them into musical notes and rhythm. Gradually she develops a relationship with Wu Ming. As her project draws to a conclusion, she asks him to go back to Paris with her to pursue the dream of a life of art, but Wu insists on staying given the urgent need to preserve the threatened Mogao Grottos.
Nianyu returns from Paris only to find that her lover - who devoted his prime years to the Dunhuang art - has died at work. Wu’s perseverance and spirit encourage Nianyu, his colleagues, and many more who share his passion for protecting this precious treasure trove.
The Light of Heart integrates traditional Chinese aesthetics of “roundness” with the body alignment and straight posture emphasized by Western classic ballet, impressing audiences and critics with three noteworthy character dances: Dance of the Kalavinka Bird (a bird possessing a beautiful sound), Dance of the Buddhist Donors, and the Huxuan Dance. The revised version of the huxuan dance sees the replacement of the fouetté turns by female dancers in unison with swift a la seconde turns by Wu Ming alone.
The dances are also choreographed between the main characters and figures depicted on the murals to try to flesh out time-transitioning communication between modern people and the world a thousand years ago. Wu Ming’s dance with the Apsara presents that dialogue at work and his growing understanding of the mural art.