Translated by Irene Cheng，Polished by Paolo Moselli
Originally published in dance journal/hk 8-3, 8-5, 9-1 in 2006 and 2007）
北京舞蹈學院現址The current Beijing Dance Academy
第一届桃李杯 - 古典舞
Genesis of Chinese Classical Dance
Before departing on the discussion of Chinese classical
dance, we have to clarify the issue of its definition: Precisely speaking, although the term "Chinese Classical Dance" is applied widely, its themes and stories are not necessarily taken to be ancient.
The stage for Chinese classical dance was first set in the 1950s when the then Beijing Dance School, (now named the Beijing Dancing Academy) had just been established. At that time, ballet was the main dance genre and ballet students who were trained under the supervision and personal teaching of specialists from the then Soviet Union went on to become China's first generation of ballet performing artists. Training had not begun for the other genres of Chinese classical dance. In this virgin training ground, a few farsighted individuals started to cultivate the study of Chinese classical dance, but their work was inhibited by a scarcity of study materials; there are only a handful of historical records of Chinese classical dance. Their way out was to turn to two performing art forms that embodied several centuries' history and were also of the same family as Chinese classical dance; Chinese opera and martial arts. These pioneers with their exceptional vision deserve salutation. Chinese opera embodied many dancing elements, complex and beautiful, so was commonly named "opera-dance"1.
Professor Tang Mancheng discussed how opera-dance developed into "pure dance": "inheriting dance culture from the Han dynasty to the Tang-Song dynasties, opera-dance has further developed for its own need for 800 years. Although the genre of opera includes no pure dance, dancing components infiltrated extensively into its characters and dramatic mission, performing significant allegorical and explanatory functions. In my words, opera-dance is a dramatised form of dance or a life presentation in dance. It laid a solid groundwork for a transformation into a dance form that comes into its own. To keep such a metamorphosis going, we need continuous extraction, processing and development, fairly reminiscent of gold mining. How should we carry out the work? Cut out the singing and speaking parts while keeping the dance elements intact? Not a good idea. Or should we take out the aesthetic principal of opera-dance and create in any direction desired? It's impossibility. To work properly, opera-dance needs two re-mouldings; the first is shifting the focus from drama to pure dance; the second is changing its nature from story-telling and metaphorical to being abstractive. The prime mission is identifying a dance aesthetic, but the course of development should not upset the existing aesthetic created by our ethnicity in thousands years."2(Collection al Essays on Dance by Tang Mancheng, p.63, 64)
The last line of Prof. Tang's words identified how appropriate borrowing, adaptation and transformation should take place. The sharp vision of the early pioneers laid the foundation for development until today. Senior dance practitioners including Li Zhengyi, Tang Mancheng, Ye Ning, Yeng Chongguang, started the work of researching and investigating the establishment of a Chinese classical dance with a clearly set goal, nevertheless, it has not given the convenience of a short-cut.
Elements on loan from opera: "Shan Bang" (a shoulders movement), "Lan Hua Zhi" (a fingers movement), "Ti Tui" (kicking legs) and "Shuan Yao" (a waist movement) are conspicuous in the initial practice of Chinese classical dance, signs that the heavy shadow of opera-dance was still there, but if we compare the "Shan Bang" and "Ti Tui" movements in former days with our present-day dance movements, a change in nature can be observed — "dance" has been released from "opera-dance". The change in "nature" results from a very important fact; we trained dance performers instead of drama performers. As dance performers, they require of their bodies a strong physique, muscular strength and dramatic ability. These qualities are in nature different from the ones required from a dramatic actor.3
Evidently, adaptation from traditional opera does not fully substitute for the need to set up training and performing system for Chinese classical dance. Dancing has its unique requirement of foundational strength, technical skills and physical conditions etc, which opera does not address. Therefore, apart from opera and martial arts, ballet was also brought in, as it was reasoned that: "Chinese classical dance and ballet share the goal of training. It lets performers master efficiently an array of skills from posture, control and spinning to springing. Contrarily, traditional technical movement and styles for both genres are distinct; hence, what ballet offers does not wholly fulfil our needs. It is absolutely necessary we develop our own training system while appreciating ballet's scientific approach." (Collection of Essays on Dance by Tang Mancheng, p.15, 16) On a foundation drawn from opera, martial arts and ballet, Chinese classical dance built up both a unique training system and aesthetic interests, which emphasised elasticity and strength, professionally expressed as "turn", "incline", "round" and "bend", to enrich its training content and lexicography, thus developing into an independently "executed" training system. However, some controversies still remain. Former Soviet Union experts have reminded us that: "What we do is convey to you our experience in ballet, and direct you to aspects that warrant your attention. Whether what you are doing now is right or not, it is subject to test by the practice of teaching." (Collection of Essays on Dance by Tang Mancheng, p.16) These past sayings remain visionary nowadays.
The system of Chinese classical dance was woven by the hard work of several generations and challenged by continuous trial and error. Finally, it has established its own distinctions and identities.
Present Status and Development of Chinese Classical Dance
The development of Chinese Classical Dance was disrupted during the Cultural Revolution. This forceful short-cut is a dreadful regret. Only in the 1980s did Chinese Classical dance revive substantially. The First National Academy Chinese Dance "Peach and Plum Cup" Competition in 1984 formalised the resumption.4 It is no exaggeration to mark the "Peach and Plum Cup" Competition as a milestone in the development of Chinese classical dance. The organisers listed "Basic Training of Chinese classical dance" as an item for competition. This item tested the strength, technique and skill of the candidates while formalising the basic training into an academic, scientific and standardised structure. The test is very demanding in that it requires a strong stylistic identity. What is expected is not only an individual's flawless completion of required movements, but a choreographer's overall "ensemble", which should possess and present the aesthetic of Chinese classical dance, and thus replace the influences of ballet training.5
What the first "Peach and Plum Cup" produced is a batch of talents and a demonstration of the outcome of Chinese Classical dance's training so far, which was later pushed forward many steps further, with changes and development. It has developed its own aesthetic position and characteristics. From this well defined aesthetic departure point, the creation of Chinese classical dance accelerated. Massive productions particularly created for the "Peach and Plum Cup" and the following competitions emerged, in turn creating outstanding directors.
Probably influenced by the qualifying term "classical", the plots of most classical dance productions were based on ancient historical stories, characters and ideas. The duo Farewell after the Wedding borrowed its name from a lengthy literary piece by the famous Chinese poet Du Fu; The Return of Mulan narrates the household story of Hua Mulan going to war on behalf of her father. 6 Social progress led the theme of Chinese classical dance to extend beyond familiar ancient stories. Many young directors explored new thematic dimensions. The choreographer of the grand-scale ensemble Yellow River 7, combined extravagant imagination and precise usage of the lexicography of Chinese classical dance, which was a creation of unprecedented success. The duo Grass Blanket of Pavilion 8 liberated from the fixture of story-telling highlighted its musical content and the characters' emotion. As seen from these productions, there was strong motivation for establishing "pure dance".
The first "Peach and Plum Cup"
Arch Dance of the 1950s, Farewell after the Wedding of the 1970s and Grass Blanket of Pavilion of the 90s plot the evolution of Chinese Classical dance and record its immense changes in forty years, while also showing its richness in content and aesthetic interest. If we claim Farewell after the Wedding, created in the 1970s as a complete story narration, then Yellow River and Grass Blanket of Pavilion created in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, as well as other productions, have been unleashed from "narrative" structure and moved into the field of "pure dance". The dancers, through their body and step, interpret and express music. They have achieved their goals.
Controversies and Questions over Chinese Classical Dance
Polemics arose over the definition of "Chinese Classical Dance". Should Chinese classical dance include the ancient dances of the Han and Tang dynasties? Should it be restricted merely to reflecting ancient lives? Does it have a sound basic training system? These doubts are not yet exhaustive.
I personally argue that these challenges may be debated. Narrowly defined. "Chinese Classical Dance" is a name given by our pioneers, which in the last fifty years has been popularly adopted, and has developed its own aesthetic framework and an increasingly systematic training system. It has produced its own talents, internationally recognised. It is neither ballet nor modern or folk dance. It stakes its own claim as Chinese classical dance. Nevertheless, problems within the system of Chinese classical dance cannot be disregarded and there are some of principal:
Firstly, its training system continues to be led by ballet. This residual effect remains because the needs of ballet, including “widening", "tightening" and "straightening" are also concerns of Chinese classical dance. The core issue is that training tools exceeding the science and system of ballet have not yet been developed. This problem was practically "preserved because of the controversy" aroused during the early stage of Chinese classical dance. Indeed, the teaching of Chinese classical dance in present days continues to adapt the training techniques of ballet. This adaptation is not a vice when its goal is for improvement.
Secondly, the term "Classical Dance" continues to be taken as a foot-binding bandage for creators of Chinese Classical Dance, bringing criticism of their creations. The shadow of ballet on some duos was immediately pounced upon by foreign critics, who commented, "Isn't this ballet? It's just a ballet not on point." Some people proposed to rename Chinese Classical Dance as "post-modern Chinese dance" or "Chinese Modern Classical Dance" These various ideas about the name cannot completely erase the problem.
On the Shenyun Lesson (Body Rhythm Lesson)
The incunabula “Shenyun Lesson” established a key milestone in the history of Chinese classical dance. In his preface written for Collection of Essays on Dance by Tang Mancheng, Mr Lu Yisheng writes, "in the early eighties, classical dance on one hand came under the challenge of the massive dilapidation left by the sweeping effect of the Cultural Revolution, while on the other hand, it was overwhelmed by an incoming artistic current. Given this situation, the teaching, learning, and creation of Chinese classical dance were as if chained. In view of such difficulties, Tang and Li Zhengyi took up the burden of leading an intellectual discipline. Based on the foundation of Shenduan (body gesture), which existed in classical dance, they adopted an extraction approach to break ground with a new discipline called Shenyun Lesson. Right away, this aroused an overwhelming response within and outside the country. People immediately appreciated its worth in developing classical dance from being a component of opera, to one of dance, and acknowledged its scientific value. It is no exaggeration to state that classical dance was rejuvenated. People seemed to be watching at the dawning of a classical dance renaissance." His words read the importance of Shenyun Lesson to Chinese classical dance.
In its infancy, “Shenyun Lesson” was referred to as “Shenduan”, a jargon adopted from the genre of Chinese opera. Apart from 'singing, orating, gesturing and combating', five other key elements of opera-dance are "hand, eye, body, hair, and step". “Shenduan” is the soul and conscience of opera-dance.
While Chinese classical dance feeds on the essence of opera, “Shenduan”. which is a treasure of Chinese opera, would evidently be “brought over” as a useful tool. But just “bringing over” is far from being an adequate process, as opera-dance is so different from the 'pure dance' being sought. What the developers of 'Shenyun Lesson' achieved is a new understanding of their inheritance and tradition while freeing them from the format of tradition. "Our top concern about traditional style is to gain an overall aesthetic developed from the long history of Chinese ethnicity, instead of a few static postures." (Tang, p. 72)
At the beginning of Chinese classical dance, there was a stage where 'opera-dance' was understood to be 'Chinese classical dance'. This understanding is unavoidable, even though it is narrow-minded. Dance practitioners of former generations were very knowledgeable about various Chinese operas, particularly Peking opera, which explains their capacity to thoroughly research opera-dance. Their studies laid a solid foundation for the establishment of `Shenyun Lesson'. My mentor, Prof. Tang Mancheng did not only possess a wealth of knowledge about Chinese opera, he was passionate about Peking opera as well as having a scholarly understanding of this art form. With these remarkably talented and highly knowledgeable seniors, Chinese classical dance has achieved what it has today.
'Hand figure', 'hand position' and 'leg position' were 'brought over' from Chinese opera, also the movements of 'Yun Shou', 'Huang Shou', 'Xiao Wu Hua' and 'Da Dao Hua”, etc. But 'bringing over' brings out problems. For Chinese opera, its 'figure' exists shoulder to shoulder with 'singing', 'orating'. 'gesturing' and 'combating'. If the 'shape' is alienated, standing alone, then its glamour which would have radiated in opera-dance, is blown right away. Indeed, the crux of the problem is that, merely inserting the 'figure' of opera-dance into Chinese classical dance falls short of growing a unique character, in a way not too different from a man wearing a cloak borrowed from somebody else. The 'bringing over' of the martial arts elements of 'Feng Huo Lun', 'Bai Lian Tui' and 'Wu Long Pan Da', carries the same problem.
Retrospection begins here. Things taken in have to be digested before turning into nutrients for the development of Chinese classical dance and for the formation of its identity. Senior dance practitioners clearly realise that this is what the establishment of 'Shenyu Lesson' is about.
Li Zhengyi and Tang Mencheng attempted to create some "dance-Shenyun ensembles". From trials they discovered possibilities, but these were not lifted to a theoretical level and put into sophisticated realisation. Thus, since 1980, people have been pressed by objective reality to re-understand the relationship between inheritance and development. According to the words of Professor Tang, "the greatest breakthrough is our acknowledgement that our ethnic tradition and style are neither unknown nor abstract, nor of the kind whose problems can be dealt with by simple imitation of opera or martial arts".
The transformation from `Shenduan' to `Shenyun’ might appear only to be the literal substitution of a single Chinese character, but in fact this seemingly marginal change was sufficient to set about a substantial evolution in content.
The change from 'Shenduan' to `Shenyun' initiated a distinction between 'opera-dance' and 'dance', and established as its dance criteria, 'balance between the concrete and abstract', 'unity between the interior and exterior', and 'equal attention to both heart and body'. It set free classical dance from the shadow of 'opera-dance' and began a new chapter in Chinese classical dance.
The single character 'Yun' (rhythm), itself unfolds a rich discussion, beginning with the meaning of 'Yun' in dance. 'Yun' is the 'spirit', the 'breath'. the 'meeting of a point with a plane', 'an urge to perform the call springing straight from the heart'. 'Springing from the heart; setting off from the waist, and contouring in a body' are what matter in this presentation style. Every movement obeys the calling from the 'heart', and follows the steering function of the waist, which is the crux and essence of Chinese classical dance, the focus of daily training, and is what we call the 'central section'. With initiation by the 'heart' and the lead of the 'waist', movements are finally presented by the 'body'.
The change of one character has brought a new content to Chinese classical dance, giving this art form a new life and an urge for performance. Massive 'elements' extracted from 'opera' and 'martial arts' are applied to dance performance and dance classes. These 'elements' possess practical values and power of articulation, and are representative of an era, weaving their own credits and worth. They are no more island entities. `Shenduan' borrowed from opera no longer plays a 'sheet of detachable skin' in the dance genre. The birth of “Shenyun Lesson” incubates a new life for Chinese classical dance, liberating it from the bondage of drama-dance.
With the sensibility derived from my teaching experience, I appreciate that Shenyun Lesson has valuable training worth. Apart from enriching the lexicon of Chinese classical dance, it provides a new medium to train the body relaxation and inhalation skills essential to Classical dance performers. Its most remarkable contribution is that it improves the precision of the aesthetic framework for Chinese classical dance. To a great extent, Shenyun Lesson filled in the loopholes and inadequacies in the basic training of Chinese classical dance left over from ballet. The marriage of Shenyun Lesson and Chinese classical dance breeds a training system of unique style for the latter. This unity came with the aforementioned extensive historical background; absorbing the essence of opera and martial art, Chinese classical dance has grown its aesthetic from a foundation fertile in Chinese civilisation, and at the same time remains abreast of the life and rhythm of the modem generation. From some outstanding productions emerging in recent years, for instance Yellow River9, River Water, The Butterfly Lovers and Return of Mulan, etc, can be traced the influences of the inspirations and driving forces of the initiators of the Shenyun Lesson training system.
On the basis of the rise and growth of Shenyun Lesson, Chinese classical dance has been earning exuberance in the training studio, as well as on the stage. It is enriched also by the performance of long sleeve, sword and fan. Although these items were drawn from opera, they have been transformed from being a rigid set of props to part of the dance "organism"10. Whether it is a long sleeve, a sword or a fan, its dynamism is activated by its intimacy with Shenyun. From the opening to the epilogue, with its rhythm dancing along, all in all, they attach themselves to the training technique of Shenyun. Regardless of whatever face they wear, they neither betray the aesthetic orientation of Chinese classical dance, nor go astray from "the pose, the spirit, the force, the rhythm, the air and the sense" of Shenyun's aesthetic rhythm, nor missing the fundamental postures; horizontal circle, vertical circle, and the circle bearing figurative likeness to the character '8'. These principles are regarded as classics.
The fan, a prop often seen in Chinese opera, wins also the favour of choreographers. In the dance drama The Portrait of Ladies in Beijing, an act A Gentleman Chants 11 shows a Qing dynasty nobleman chanting his passion of Peking opera. When I rehearsed this scene (the dance drama specified that the role must be played by a woman in disguise), I had to overcome a challenge; I had to recreate the gentlemanly manner characterising the role but I also needed to bring out the spirit delicately composed by Mr. Tang the choreographer. Once while he was rehearsing with me, he said, "that's the humour!" half-jokingly. I understand that his "humour" is an intrinsic spirit emitting in an air of lightness and running movements, and embedded in this "humour" the substance of Shenyun is blending its charm.
The basic movement of Shenyun adheres to the rule of dancing in "circular" flow, an order different from ballet's aesthetic framework and standard of movement. It has always been said that the basic posture of classical ballet is constructed out of a level plane stretched and maintained from shoulder to legs, like a straight-edged 'matchbox', while the one of Chinese classical dance emphasises curve and flow. This aesthetic of Chinese classical dance is not imagined out of the blue, but coheres with other expressions of Chinese culture; opera, martial art, calligraphy, Taqii and the Eight Trigrams. Chinese classical dance owes much to the precision of its aesthetic positioning for establishing itself as an independent system. The formation of the Chinese classical dance training system has been a long and winding road built out of the sweat of dance educators of several generations. This construction is grounded on tradition, yet is never a puppet of the past. It is opulent with traditional Chinese aesthetic sensibility, yet is strong in contemporary sensibility, putting on stage a vivid and strong representation of its time and people. In my opinion, the course of development of Chinese classical dance is a very appropriate platform for discussing the relationship between inheritance and tradition. The Chinese classical dance system is not a closed and flawless circuit, but is always open to improvement and development during its stages of construction, tested by practice and scientific exploration and research. Even, today, juxtaposing Chinese classical dance with ballet still exists as a cliché. Such comparison, in my view, does not make much sense because each has its own identity, set against the specific historical, cultural and social background of its breeding age. Ballet has a history centuries old but our Chinese classical dance is still in its formative stage. People taking up the task of dance education have a responsibility to develop Chinese classical dance on a solid ground.
參看京劇《霸王別姬》（梅蘭芳飾演）See Peking Opera Heroic King Farewells his Concubine (Acted by Mei Lanfang).
中國戲劇出版社1993年8月出版。唐滿城，1932-2004，湖南瀏陽人。1950年起從事舞蹈工作，早年在中央戲劇學院舞蹈團、北京人民藝術劇院隊，中國歌劇舞劇院任舞蹈演員，1954 年起在北京舞蹈學院從事舞蹈教育，歷任中國古典舞教研組長、教育系、民族舞劇系主任、學術委員會主任等職。Published by Chinese Opera Press, August 1993. Tang Mancheng (1932-2004), Hunan ethnicity, began his dance career in 1950; was a dancer in dance groups under Central Drama Academy, Beijing Pe
ople's Artistic Theatre and Chinese Opera and Dance Institute: after 1954, he worked on dance education at Beijing Dance Academy as Leader for Chinese Classical Dance Education and Research, Heads of Education Department and Ethnic Dance Department, and Academic Committee's Director.
參看舞蹈《雙人弓舞》（北京舞蹈學院實習排練課教材） See Arch Dance Duo (training material of Beijing Dance Academy).
「全國藝術院校桃李杯舞蹈比賽」 始於 1984 年，由當年的北京舞蹈學院中國舞系發起並組織實施，當時定名為「全國藝術院校首屆中國舞桃李杯邀請賽」，後更名。The National Art Institute’s Peach and Plum Dance Competition was initiated and organized by the ChineseDance Department of the then BeijingDance Academy under the name of “The First National Art Institute’s Chinese Dance Peach and Plum Cup Invitation”, and later renamed.
參看歷屆「桃李杯舞蹈比賽」基本功訓練部分。 See the Basic Training Section of the past Peach & Plum Cup Dance Competitions.
雙人舞《新婚別》，邱友仁、陳澤美編舞，音樂選自二胡協奏曲《新婚別》；雙人舞《烏江恨》，陳維亞編舞，選材於歷史故事《霸王別姬》；三人舞《金山戰鼓》，門文元編舞，取材於梁紅玉的故事；女子獨舞蹈《木蘭歸》，陳唯亞、丁潔編舞。參看第一、二屆「桃李杯舞蹈比賽」劇目部分。 The duo Farewell after Wedding is choreographed by Yao Yauren and Chen Zimei with Music from erhu symphony Farewell after Wedding. The duo Giref of Wu River is choreographed by Chen Weiya and is based on the historic story The Heroic King Farewell his Concubine. Trio Drum War in Golden Mountain is choreographed by Mun Wenyun, based on the story of Liang Hungyu, Woman's solo Return of Mulan is choreographed by Chen Weiyar and Ting Jie. These titles refer to those of the First and Second "Peach and Plug Dance Competitions”.
集體舞，選用《鋼琴協奏曲黃河》為音樂，編舞張羽軍，沈培藝。 Ensemble, adopts Piano Concerto of yellow River as its background music, choreographed by Zhang Yu Jun and Shan Pei Yi.
雙人舞，劉群、劉琦編舞。 Duo, choreographed by Liang Qun.
參看集體舞《黃河》第二樂章中的雙人舞（北京舞蹈學院演出） See the duo performed in the second chapter of the ensemble Yellow River (performed by Beijing Dance Academy)
參看舞劇《京都伊人》第一章（盛培琪編舞、領舞，天創女子舞蹈團演出）和《京都伊人》第一章 中的「劍舞和（劉琦編舞、演出） See dance-drama The Portrait of Ladies in Beijing first scene and the episode “Sword Dance” in the scene (choreographed and performed by Liu Qi).
參看舞蹈《京都伊人》第一章中的女子獨舞《公子詠嘆》（唐滿成編舞，裴長青演出）See woman's solo “A Gentlemen Chants” in the first scene of The Portrait of Ladies in Beijing (choreographed by Tang Mencheng, performed by Pei Changqing)
編輯手記 Editor's Note
北京舞蹈學院建校之初，一批資深藝術家們共同開創了「中國古典舞」學科。1961年推出的第一 部《中國古典舞教學法》(俗稱「大綠本」)，為學科建立基礎，80年代以中國傳統哲學與傳統文化底蘊發展出「身韻」。本文回顧「中國古典舞」初建的首數十年的歷史及規範發展，原文是一篇於2006年「香港國際舞蹈節」（由香港舞蹈聯盟及香港演藝學院合辦）中發表的論文，後轉載於《舞蹈手札》。作者裴長青曾受教於研究中國古典舞教學理論的唐滿城教授，自2003年起在香港演藝學院任職講師。 文章寫成的這十多年，中國大陸「中國古典舞」的舞團亦前所未有的多次巡演全球，不僅向各地展示這舞蹈藝術，相信亦互相學習良多。今年是中國古典舞創建的第65年，相對數百年歷史的其他舞蹈種類尚算年輕，而至今仍不斷研究及實驗，令人期待今後的變革。
Right after the Beijing Dance Academy was founded in 1954, a group of senior artists worked together to create the discipline of Chinese classical dance. The first Chinese Classical Dance Teaching Methods, launched in 1961, established the foundation for the discipline. In the 1980s, another form, Shenyun, was developed based on traditional Chinese philosophy and culture. The article we are reprinting reviewed the history and standard development of Chinese classical dance in the decades since its establishment. It is taken from a paper given at the 2006 Hong Kong Dance Festival, presented by the Hong Kong Dance Alliance and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and was later published in dance journal/hk. The author, Pei Changqing, has been a Lecturer in Chinese Dance at the HKAPA since 2003 and was a student of Professor Tang Mancheng, one of the pioneers who built the foundation of Chinese classical dance.
More than ten years have now passed since the article was written, and during this time, Chinese classical dance companies from mainland China have frequently toured the world as never before. While sharing their art form with various countries with different cultures, they have also learned from exchanges with others. This is the 65th year since the creation of Chinese classical dance. While it is still relatively young in comparison to other dance forms that have histories dating back hundreds of years, up to this day its proponents continue to research and experiment. One looks forward to seeing how this dance form will evolve in the future.