No art form is safe. Ballett Dortmund and the Hong Kong Ballet teamed up to co-produce The Dream of the Red Chamber, a ballet inspired by the famous Qing Dynasty novel by Cao Xueqin. Right before the show’s premier, however, several scenes were cut from the performance. Hong Kong’s cultural scene is outraged, and the rumor is that the Beijing Government is to blame for the apparent censorship, according to Global Voices Online.
An audience member who attended the pre-show dress rehearsal described one of the scenes cut from opening night:
“In the rehearsal of October 24, in the latter half of the ballet performance, the background of the stage was Tiananmen and Mao Zedong’s portrait was hanging on the wall. Some dancers dressed as Red Guards appeared on stage, they had the little red books in their hands and waved them to Mao’s portrait. The next episode was ‘destroy the four olds’, dancers were tearing apart paintings, burning old books that represent feudalism, denouncing the capitalists, etc.”
A twelve minute video sequence depicting China’s turbulent history from the Ming dynasty until present was also cut from the production.
Hong Kong Ballet denies that the scenes were cut for political reasons. Madeleine Onne, Hong Kong Ballet’s Artistic Director, said in a press conference that the cut was solely for artistic reasons. “I think it’s essential to present to the audience the best version of the dance. It’s better to have the pure dancing, without the visual support,” said Onne in the South China Morning Post.
However, in an email from Ballet Dortmund concerning the significance of the edited scenes, they cited “serious technical problems” in the venue as the main cause.
So who’s telling the truth? When the show premiered in Dortmund last November, both scenes were kept, and under Hong Kong government’s direct sponsorship policy, political manipulation is not so far fetched. Although no censorship laws like those in place in China exist in Hong Kong, it seems that political pressure from China’s central government can extend its reach far and wide to make sure that their history is being portrayed
accurately in a good light to the rest of the world.
By Lauren Holdcroft
[Photos by Bettina Stoess]