Phantom returns to thrill audiences again

By Zhang Kun | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-10 08:17
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British choreographer Derek Deane with dancers of the Shanghai Ballet at a rehearsal for The Phantom of the Opera. [CHEN YUNXUAN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Two productions will bring popular tale set against an opera backdrop to the stage, reflecting the buzzing entertainment scene, Zhang Kun reports.

Audiences in Shanghai will be in for a treat when not one but two Phantoms take to the stage. A dance theater production of The Phantom of the Opera will be premiered at the Shanghai International Dance Center Grand Theater on May 11. It will be performed by the Shanghai Ballet.

Meanwhile, the first Chinese production of British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera will be premiered at the Shanghai Grand Theatre on May 3. "The ever-beloved story of the Phantom presented in musical theater and ballet in Shanghai reflects the prosperity and diversity of the city's performing art scene," says Zhang Songhua, president of the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Group, the parent institution of both the Shanghai Ballet and the Shanghai Grand Theatre.

British choreographer Derek Deane, former artistic director of the English National Ballet, says he came upon the idea of adapting the 1910s French novel by Gaston Leroux (1868-1927) to dance five years ago, as he was fascinated by the character of the Phantom.

"There is no other choice. I was absolutely determined that this production will belong to the Shanghai Ballet and no other company," Deane told China Daily on March 1.

The ballet maestro has created six productions for the Shanghai Ballet in the past 20 years. "The collaboration with the Shanghai Ballet has been very good for both of us because we both think in the same direction," he says.

The new ballet production has no reference to the renowned musical production The Phantom of the Opera by Webber. It will feature new music composed by Carl Davis, set and costume design by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Howard Harrison and video projection created by Nina Dunn. The creative team is so strong that Deane says "I have to come up to them instead of them coming up to me".

Deane says his ballet production is focused on storytelling, to "really let audiences understand the storyline, the action, what is happening, and the emotions to the dancers".

"It's not a classical ballet, but rather a dance theater piece with a lot of ballet in it," he adds.

Deane says he wanted to entertain audiences through this incredible story. At the same time, he wanted to "shock them". "I want them to feel as if they are going through the same emotions as the people on the stage," he adds. "I am trying to work on a ballet where the audience can really live the production, as well as the people who are performing it."

According to Xin Lili, director of the Shanghai Ballet, the ballet production will be presented in Beijing by the end of this year. Tours to other cities will also likely take place.

The company had a few contracts for international tours which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and "we will make them up little by little", she says.

Deane had not been in Shanghai for the past three years. "I have missed them as much as they missed me," he says. He recalls the company's tour to the United States three years ago with his creation of Swan Lake for the Shanghai Ballet.

"We took New York by storm," he says, attributing the success to the dancers themselves, and the high standards of the company.

"The company has really been at a top level, and will certainly achieve that again with the talent they have," he says.

The Shanghai Ballet has a great mix under its belt of classical productions, modern and contemporary creations by a wide range of choreographers from home and abroad, Deane says.

"They have a whole diverse repertoire, including ballets by Chinese choreographers," he says. "That's where the Shanghai Ballet stands out (in the global art scene). It really works in different directions with its productions."

The dramatically powerful piece brought lots of challenges especially for Wu Husheng, the primo ballerino of the Shanghai Ballet.

Wu had played the prince in Swan Lake, the Danish prince in the ballet production of Hamlet, and the hero of The Lady of the Camellias, all created by Deane.

A choreographer works with the dancer to "invent physically the emotions you want to get across to the audience," Deane says. "Every dancer in this company I know very well, so I know their emotions, their feelings and I take all of these emotions from them, and try to put them in a choreographic language."

Wu will be portraying the Phantom in the production as a deformed ballet dancer. While it was difficult enough to present the complicated emotions of the character, he also has to overcome the obstruction for his range of visibility while dancing with the mask. The creative team is still working on the design of a mask that would minimize the impact.


The Phantom of the Opera

7:30 pm, May 11-13;

2 pm, May 14;

Shanghai International Dance Center Grand Theater;

1650 Hongqiao Road, Changning district, Shanghai;



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