Chinese Revolutionary Ballet By Chen, Xiaomei
Introduced to China in the 1920s, Western ballet evolved into a significant performance genre in modern and contemporary China. Its popularity grew in the twentieth century when political history, revolutionary wars, the impact of Western cultures, and the artistic visions of a new and modern state all played a significant role in the formation of Chinese revolutionary ballet. The revolutionary ballets took over this Western classical form and transformed its aesthetics, turning an elite spectacle into a socialist realist portrayal of everyday life and its challenges.
The introduction of Western ballet into China can be traced to 1894, when the first Sino-Japanese War broke out. At that time, Yu Rongling (裕容龄) traveled to Japan with her father, a Manchu aristocratic diplomat of the Qing Court. She learned modern Japanese dance before pursuing a formal training in Western ballet in Paris, and her teachers included Isadora Duncan. Yu’s quick rise to stardom on the Western stage brought her into the Qing Court, from 1904 to 1907, as a lady-in-waiting to entertain Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后), who developed an interest in Western modern dance. Yu also initiated a combination of Western modern dance with traditional Chinese folk dance, therefore paving the way for the future development of a unique choreography which blended Western and Chinese tradition.