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April 10, 2021

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Dance memorializes revolutionary heroes

Shanghai Dance Theater’s signature work “The Eternal Wave” returns to Shanghai Grand Theater this weekend, reprising a show that has proven extremely popular with audiences.

There are four performances today and tomorrow, all sold out.

More than 200 performances of the award-winning dance have been staged around the country since it debuted in 2019.

Principal dancers Wang Jiajun and Zhu Jiejing, who play the lead roles of revolutionary martyr Li Bai and his wife Lan Fen, said they regard every single performance as a renewed pursuit of perfection.

“I’m born in the 1980s — some 40 years later than the story takes place,” Wang said. “The major challenge for me is to find similarities between myself and my role, so that I can really become the character on stage.”

“The Eternal Wave” is based on the true story of Li and Lan, who risked their lives for 12 years to secretly pass information to forces led by the Communist Party of China.

Li was born into a peasant family. In 1925, he joined the Party, and five years later, he joined the Red Army, where he studied wireless technology. In 1934, he followed the main force of the Red Army on the famous Long March.

Li established a secret radio station in Shanghai during the war against Japanese invaders. After the war, he became a spy embedded in the ranks of the enemy Kuomintang. While sending intelligence on the Kuomintang’s Yangtze River defense line in 1948, he was arrested and later executed in Shanghai.

“I visited Li’s former residence,” said his portrayer Wang, “and got the feeling that the couple lived a simple but happy life. I imagine that Li wanted to protect that happiness of all families like his own, even at the expense of his life. The more I perform the role, the more my empathy with him grows.”

For Zhu, the role of Lan Fen has a special status in her career.

“I’m a totally different person from Lan,” said 36-year-old Zhu. “Lan is a very common woman with no sharp personality, just like my mother’s generation. She always plays a supporting role in family life. But I’m a stubborn person with strong personal will.”

She continued: “Before playing Lan, I always wanted everyone to see how beautiful and svelte I was as a dancer. But in this production, I stepped behind my role for the first time. I have become quiet on stage, and everything I do is role-oriented.”

Zhu said she even learned knitting and bed-making, like all the women of Lan’s era.

“These skills may not seem related to dancing, but these are the details that make the character come alive for audiences,” she said.

In 2019, “The Eternal Wave” won the Wenhua Award — the highest award for professional theatrical artwork bestowed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Nearly 100 more performances are scheduled this year to mark the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, including one to be performed in Beijing on July 1.

“Sometimes I think about the meaning of doing the same performance 300 times,” said Zhu. “Today’s young people are characterized by their pursuit of freedom and their own distinct personalities. But for me, it’s a kind of responsibility to uphold my role and make sure every single performance is the best. That is my artistic pursuit as a dancer.”

The performances at the Grand Theater are part of an array of patriotic-themed shows scheduled at the venue this year.


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