'Dance of Calligraphy in 353 AD' premieres in Beijing
Published: May 12, 2024 06:25 PM
Dance of Calligraphy in 353 AD, a dance drama produced by the Shanghai Opera House, debuted at the Opera House of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) on Friday and delighted audiences all through the weekend. The work aims to showcase the history of calligraphy masterpiece Lantingji Xu, or Preface to the Collection of Poems Composed by the Orchid Pavilion and its transmission from generation to generation.
Performance of Dance of Calligraphy in 353 AD (Photo: Courtesy of Shanghai Opera House)

Performance of Dance of Calligraphy in 353 AD (Photo: Courtesy of Shanghai Opera House)

Consisting of 324 Chinese characters, Lantingji Xu is one of the most celebrated pieces of calligraphy in Chinese history. It was written by famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303-361) during a gathering with his friends in Lanting. 

The drama integrates the charm of the calligraphy work with the beauty of the universal language of dance. 

By integrating a variety of traditional Chinese cultural elements, the dance drama boldly experimented with a new way of combining narrative and lyricism, using flashbacks, jump cuts and other techniques to present the thousand-year journey of the calligraphy masterpiece. 

"The dance drama highlights the epoch-making significance of calligraphy and its international artistic appeal," said choreographer Wang Yabin.

The drama begins amongst the charming Jiangnan lush forests and bamboos, where a young man explores the history of Lantingji Xu

Through a plot involving literati and elegant people drinking, meeting friends and writing poems, the audience can learn about ancient scholars' lifestyle in Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420). 

Notably, all music, lighting, choreography, multimedia, costumes and makeup are intricately linked to the original poetry and traditional Chinese tones, creating an elegant atmosphere that beckons to the audience through the "vivid charm" of Chinese classical dance, "twisting and tilting melodies" and dance moves that imitate the brushwork of calligraphy.

Even though the calligraphy work was composed more than 1,670 years ago, its context is still relevant to people today. 
Screenshot from X, formerly known as Twitter

Screenshot from X, formerly known as Twitter

For example, Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian female astronaut, quoted words from this famous ancient Chinese composition, when she tweeted a group of photos from space: 

"Looking up, I see the immensity of the cosmos; bowing my head, I look at the multitude of the world. The gaze flies, the heart expands, the joy of the senses can reach its peak, & indeed, this is true happiness." 

Her tweet connected the Chinese and Western cultures, as well as between ancient and modern civilizations. 

Finally, this dance drama aims to guide the audience through the long river of history and find the resonance of human emotions and spirit in poetry, calligraphy and dance through concrete visual effects, said Chief Producer and Vice President of Shanghai Opera House Ji Pingping.