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Emotional waves

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-29 08:13

Chinese actress Chen Shu plays the lead role in an adaptation of The Lady from the Sea, which is now on its second round of a national tour in China. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chen Shu stars as the lighthouse-keeper's daughter Ellida in a Chinese remake of Ibsen's play The Lady from the Sea. Chen Nan reports.

Chen Shu saw the sea for the first time when she visited Vietnam in 1992, as a dancer with the Oriental Song and Dance Ensemble, China's leading performing troupe.

She was 15, and it was her first trip abroad.

"I grew up in a city far away from the sea, so it was an exciting moment," recalls Chen, who later became an actress, appearing in TV dramas, movies and plays. "But it was just the sea, and I didn't have any special feeling for it."

That is until she performed in a Chinese play, titled The Lady from the Sea, based on a play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1888, which tells the story of a lighthouse-keeper's daughter named Ellida, who has to decide whether to stay on land with her husband, a successful doctor, or leave her stable life for a sailor she loves.

"Ellida loves the sea. She grows up near it with her father. After her father dies, she moves to the mainland with her husband but she never stops loving the sea and wants to return to it," Chen says in Beijing.

Once she decided to accept the role, Chen recalled her experience of watching a ballet in London, which helped her understand the deep emotion the sea stirs in Ellida.

It was in 2015 and Chen spent a week in London going to the theater, watching five shows. Among the shows, she was impressed by the Royal Ballet's ballet triptych, titled Woolf Works, inspired by the books Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves by the English writer Virginia Woolf.

In the show, The Waves, dancers performed against a video backdrop of a slow-moving sea, which caught Chen's attention.

"In the beginning, I thought it was just a picture of the sea. But when I looked at the screen, I found out that it was moving very slowly," recalls Chen.

"The dance followed an excerpt from Woolf's suicide note to her husband. I was overwhelmed by the choreography and how the dance piece was presented onstage.

"The sea looked lonely, mysterious and accompanied the dancers onstage."

She embodies that feeling in her portrayal of Ellida, who she says is "troubled, but spiritually independent".

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