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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Chinus Cultural Center rents out Mondavi Center for showing of ‘Butterfly Lovers’

Chinus Cultural Production’s presentation of the Beijing Dance Academy’s Butterfly Lovers will take place at Jackson Hall of the Mondavi Center on Feb. 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $20 for students.

China Arts and Entertainment Group is in charge of producing the play, a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet. The group was established in April 2004 as the first large state-owned cultural enterprise approved by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Since then, it has arranged 256 overseas performances and exhibitions as well as presented more than 14,000 performances in about 60 countries.

At 90 minutes long, the performance will have two parts, the first half featuring a collection of traditional Chinese short dances including “Lotus Flowers in June” and “Three Way Crossroads,” and the second half featuring the Butterfly Lovers dance drama.

Set in the Eastern Jin Dynasty of China during the epoch 265 to 420, Butterfly Lovers centers on Zhu Yingtai, a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to study in the city of Hangzhou. It is while she is disguised as a man that Zhu meets and becomes good friends with the handsome Liang Shanbo.

After eventually finding out that Zhu is a woman, Liang realizes he has feelings for her and the two vow to be together. Zhu’s father, however, has already arranged for her to marry a rich man, leaving Zhu to become ill and die out of devastation.

Unable to live without the love of Zhu, Liang throws himself into her grave so they can be together eternally. The end of the play includes the two lovers taking the form of butterflies, a symbol of their eternal love.

Choreographed by Zhang Jianmin, the production includes China’s most famous violin concerto “The Butterfly Lovers,” written by Chinese composers Chen Gang and He Zhanhao in 1959.

Hong Mautz, president of Chinus Cultural Productions, the company that is putting on Butterfly Lovers, said that Chinus was formed in 2006 out of a need to bridge the cultural gap between China and America, fusing traditional scenes of Chinese dance with more contemporary elements.

“There’s a need for the current culture to be seen,” Mautz said. “American people probably understand a lot more about ancient China because they can go to museums and see paintings and calligraphy and the like.”

Matutz said that Chinus incorporates this modern blossoming of culture into their performances, exposing people to the modern while still embracing the old roots. Butterfly Lovers is one such production that exemplifies these Chinus values.

“What you can expect is a fusion of traditional scene with contemporary choreography, of course with beautiful costumes and backdrop designs,” she said.

Wang Zihan and Shao Junting will perform the lead roles of Shanbo Liang and Vhu Yingtai. Both dancers are graduates of Beijing Dance Academy’s Classical Dance Department and lead dancers in the Beijing Dance Academy Resident Dance Company.

Shao, who won the CCTV award for dance, and Wang, whose prior roles include a lead in the dance drama Silk Road, were selected to perform because of their exceptional abilities, having won many awards in prestigious national dance competitions.

Both Wang and Shao hope this production will not only entertain, but inform and bridge cultural gaps.

“Through this show, I want to present the very traditional beauty and aesthetics of China to American audience,” Wang said. “I’d like to know: what do people get from seeing the show? What do they get from seeing Chinese culture and the beauty that is expressed from the dancing?”

Shao held similar sentiments towards what she hopes crowds will garner from the performance.

“This show really gathers all the essence of the best Chinese dancing, traditional Chinese dancing,” Shao said. “I hope the audience can feel that essence. I’m sure that when people see the show, they will have a new honest understanding of the very authentic, traditional Chinese dance and culture.”

Mautz agreed that people will take home a piece of genuine Chinese art. Be it the crowd-pleasing group dancers or technical-skilled male dancers, the production has everything, Mautz said.

“Some people are looking for techniques of dancers; others are looking for pleasant aesthetics from China, such as hair and costume details. But Butterfly Lovers covers that whole range, from music to dance to aesthetics to a good storyline. It’s all-encompassing.”

Tickets may be purchased online at the Mondavi Center website. For more information on the Butterfly Lovers production, visit butterflyloversdance.com.

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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