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December 18, 2009

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Night lane nostalgia for old Shanghai

AN award-winning dance drama that tells a love-loss story of old Shanghai employs tango, ballroom dance and modern ballet. It's expected to be staged next year. Nie Xin reports.

The dance production "Night Lane" ("Ye Xiang") about love and life in 1930s Shanghai has been honored in China's Eighth National Dance Competition.

The production by the Shanghai Opera House received the silver prize for "Wen Hua Dance Creation" last month, but as no first prize was awarded, "Night Lane" came in first among 559 competitors.

It was Shanghai's first such dance honor in 20 years, a kind of showpiece.

It has yet to be performed for the public, but will be on next year's agenda, according to the opera house.

The showpiece dance features a dance duo, a young couple with a troubled marriage who decide to have one last talk before they separate. They meet in an old Shanghai lane.

"It's a milestone in Shanghai's dance creation history," says Zhang Guoyong, artistic director of the Shanghai Opera House, noting it has been 20 years since Shanghai dance delivered a top performance at the event.

The National Dance Competition, founded in 1980, represents the highest achievement in China's dancing arts and is held every two years.

This year's competition included 559 original dance works from 29 provinces and municipalities. Only two, including "Night Lane" from Shanghai, were nominated for the Wen Hua Award.

The dance features multiple elements, mainly modern ballet and international standard dance, combined with tango.

It takes place on a beautiful night in old Shanghai.

A last talk

The central couple have been married for several years, frequently quarreling. They decide to have a last talk and review their life before they go their separate ways.

"I arranged their last meeting in an old lane," says choreographer Ma Tao, "because old lanes are famous in Shanghai."

Ma, a graduate of the Beijing Dance Academy, is choreographer and art director of the Shanghai Song and Dance Ensemble.

Every time he watched old movies, TV series and read novels about old Shanghai, its lanes were always prominently featured.

"The lanes of Shanghai are one of the most representative aspects of Shanghai culture," says Ma. "I have always thought of creating a duo dance to present old Shanghai in the 1930s."

Ma started work on "Night Lane" in May.

The lane at night is very quiet and the couple speak softly. Their emotions come forth as they recall their past, their present and hopes for the future - the three parts of the dance.

Modern ballet and international standard dance represent cosmopolitan Shanghai in the 1930s, and the tango represents their passion.

Music, costumes and hairstyles recreate the feeling of old Shanghai.

"'Night Lane' is a dance with story. It's challenging to present the old Shanghai feelings through the multiple dance elements and we need a sense of the young couple's personal drama," says Chen Han, the lead male dancer.

His partner Yang Jingjing won the Excellent Performance Prize at the competition last month.

"We were under a lot of pressure before the competition. Our winning was a great encouragement and boost to our confidence," says Yang.

Ma had wanted to use props like a street lamp and a section of old wall in the production but was not able to do so.

"I hope all of these things can be realized if the dance is performed for the public," he says.


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