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Red Detachment of Women is the title of a novel as well as a film and a ballet, both of the latter are based on the novel. This article is about the ballet.

Red Detachment of Women (Chinese: 红色娘子军, pinyin: Hóngsè Niángzǐjūn) is a Chinese ballet which premiered in 1964. It is perhaps best known in the West as the ballet performed for President Nixon on his visit to China in 1972. Based on the novel of the same title as well as the film adapted from the novel by Liang Xin, it depicts the liberation of a peasant girl in Hainan Island and her rise in the Communist Party. The ballet was later adapted to a Beijing opera, and as the ballet itself, both stage and film versions were produced.

The film version of the ballet made Xue Jinghua (as Wu Qinghua) and Liu Qingtang (as Hong Changqing) superstars along with a dozen other artists who were cast as protagonists in other model plays of the time.

It is one of the so-called eight model plays, the only plays, ballets and operas permitted in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). With The White Haired Girl it is regarded as a classic Chinese ballet, and its music is familiar to almost every Chinese person who grew up during that time. It was made into a film in 1972 and is now part of the permanent repertoire of the National Ballet of China.

Despite its political overtone and historical background when it was created, it remains a favorite of music and ballet lovers nearly 30 years after the Cultural Revolution in China. Many numbers were based on the folk songs of Hainan Island, a place that, with its coconut trees rustling in tropical wind, evokes much romantic ethos. Though there are unmistakable elements of Chinese music, the music of this ballet was performed with basically a Western symphony orchestra.

It was written as a collaboration, with music by Du Mingxin, Wu Zuqiang, Wang Yanqiao, Shi Wanchun and Dai Hongcheng, and choreography by Li Chengxiang, Jiang Zuhui and Wang Xixian.

File:Revolutionary opera.jpg

SynopsisEdit

Place: Yelinzhai, Hainan Island, China
Time: The Ten-Year Civil War (1927-1937)
Main Characters:
  • Hong Changqing, Commissar of the Red Detachment of Women
  • Wu Qinghua, daughter of a peasant, later a soldier, and finally the Commissar
  • Lian Zhang, the Company Commander
  • Xiao Pang, the Messenger
  • Nan Batian, the Tyrant
  • Ou Guangsi (Lao Si), Nan Batian's Lackey

PrologueEdit

In the dungeon of the despotic landlord, Nan Batian (literally the Tyrant of the South), are imprisoned his tenants who are unable to pay their exorbitant taxes. Qinghua, daughter of a poor peasant, is chained to a column. Lao Si comes with the order of Nan Batian to sell Qinghua. Qinghua is released from the chain, and in an unguarded moment of Lao Si, Qinghua kicks him who loses his balance and falls. Qinghua manages to escape while other two inmates hold Lao Si to the ground.

Major Numbers:

  • Pas de deux of two inmates

Act IEdit

Immediately after the prologue. Night has fallen in the coconut forest and Qinghua is desperately running away from Lao Si and his lackeys. She is soon recaptured. Nan Batian and his entourage arrive. The Tyrant whips Qinghua until she loses her consciousness. A thunderstorm approaches, so Nan Batian and his followers leave and Qinghua is left for dead.

Changqing, the Commissar, and Xiao Pang, the Messenger, who are on a reconnaissance mission in disguise, pass by. They save Qinghua and point her the way to the camp of the Red Army.

Major Numbers:

  • Dance of Lao Si and his lackeys
  • Qinghua's Solo No. 1
  • Qinghua's fight with Lao Si
  • Qinghua's fight with Nan Batian
  • Group dance of slaves
  • Qinghua's Solo No. 2
  • Pas de trois of Changqing, Qinghua and Xiao Pang

Act IIEdit

In the camp of the Red Army beside the Wanquan River, a newly formed Detachment of Women is being trained. Qinghua arrives to meet Changqing and Xiao Pang who introduce her to others. In a solo dance, Qinghua tells her dears the enormity of Nan Batian's crimes. She then ceremoniously receives a rifle and is accepted as a member of the Women's Detachment. With determination, they plan to liberate the peasants and slave girls under the oppresion of Nan Batian.

Major Numbers:

  • Group dance of the Detachment members
  • Rifle drill of the Detachment members
  • Changqing's bayonet dance
  • Group bayonet dance of the Detachment members
  • A young women soldier's solo
  • Seven-inch dagger dance of the Red Guards
  • Group dance of all
  • Qinghua's solo

Act IIIEdit

In the luxurious manor of Nan Batian, an extravagant birthday celebration for the Tyrant is going on in the garden before his house. Mountains of gifts are brought in; visitors are arriving, Li girls are driven in with whips at their backs to dance for the guests.

Changqing, disguised as a wealthy merchant from southeast Asia, arrives on the scene, calm and dignified, to congratulate Nan Batian on his birthday. Meanwhile, the members of the Women's Detachment have secretly gathered around the manor of the Tyrant. It has been agreed that Changqing is to fire his gun at midnight as signal for the Detachment to break in to wipe out the Tyrant and his gang in one fell swoop.

At night, all people recede into the houses. Nan Batian comes out to see some of his guests off. Overcome by deep personal hatred, Qinghua shoots Nan Batian, prematurely issuing the battle signal. Nan Batian is merely wounded and escapes from a secret tunnel with a few of his lackeys.

Nan Batian's prisons are opened, and the prisoners are liberated. Changqing leads them in opening the granary of the Tyrant and distributing the grain.

Qinghua is reprimanded for her blunder, and her gun is removed from her.

Major Numbers:

  • Group dance of slaves
  • Li Girls' dance
  • Broadsword dance of Nan Batian's lackeys
  • Xiao Pang's solo
  • Pas de deux of Qinghua and her comrade-in-arm
  • Opening the granary and distributing grain

Act IVEdit

Back in the camp of the Red Army. Changqing, the Commissar, is giving a lecture to the soldiers in the early morning. Qinghua comes to grips with her mistake. Changqing and the Company Commander are pleased to see Qinghua's progress. The Commander returns the gun to her, and togher they practice marksmanship and grenade throwing.

The local people visit the Red Army and present them with doulis and lichees.

Suddently, the sound of cannons is heard and Xiao Pang, the Messenger, arrives on horseback with the information that Nan Batian has assembled a large number troups, and they are on their way to attack the base of the Red Army. The members of the Detachment immediately bid goodbye to their dear ones and set out to the battle field.

Major Numbers:

  • Changqing's solo
  • Group dance of the soldiers
  • Qinghua's solo
  • Pas de deux of Qinghua and Company Commander No. 1
  • Dance of five female soldiers and the head cook
  • Douli Dance
  • Pas de deux of Qinghua and Company Commander No. 2
  • Dance of Changqing and male soldiers
  • Group dance of all

Act VEdit

On the battlefield at a mountain pass. In order to annihilate the enemy's effective power, the main force of the Red Army strategically shifts to the rear of the enemy, and the Company Commander leads most of the members of the Detachment in moving away with the main force. Changqing and a small group of Red Army soldiers and Red Guards form a covering force to divert the enemy. After a series of fierce fights, the goal is achieved.

As the prepare to withdraw, the enemy starts yet another attack. Changqing gives his portfolio to Qinghua and orders her and other members to retreat while he and only two other soliders leave behind to fend off the enemy.

Changqing's two comrades-in-arm are killed and he himself is captured.

Major Numbers:

  • Dance of Qinghua and other soldiers
  • Qinghua's fight with an enemy
  • Fight between two soldiers and two enemies
  • Red flag dance
  • Dance of Changqing and two comrades-in-arm
  • Dance of Changqing and two enemies

Entr'acteEdit

The main force of the Red Army is pressing forward with the momentum of an avalanche. Their group dance.

A memorable moment in the entr'acte is the precisedly synchronized grand jete of members of the Women's Detachment crossing the stage in a seemingly endless line, vividly suggesting they are as fast as an arrow flying in the air.

Major Numbers:

  • Group dance of the Red Army soldiers
  • Sequence of synchronized grand jeté

Act VIEdit

In the lair of the Tyrant, Nan Batian and his lackeys are panic-stricken knowing that their end is approaching. The Tyrant runs out all his means to force Changqing to surrender, but the Commissar vehemently denounces the enemy. Nan Batian threatens Changqing with death, but the hero remains steadfast. At the end, Changqing is burnt in a horrid fire under the giant banyan tree amidst a chorus of the Internationale, and he dies a martyr's death.

The main force of the Red Army has won their battle with the enemy. They storm the hideout of the Tyrant and kill him and his lackeys.

The Red Army emancipates Nan Batian's prisoners and Yelinzhai is liberated.

Qinghua and the Company Commander look everywhere for Changqing and find the truth. They all kneel in front of the place where Changqing has died to pay their respects to the hero.

The Red Army Battalion Commander announces that Qinghua will succeed Changqing as the Commissar of the Women's Detachment. Qinghua takes over Changqing's portfolio, and she and her comrades-in-arm will continue their revolutionary cause.

Major Numbers:

  • Dance of Nan Batian and Lao Si
  • Changqing's solo
  • Changqing dying a martyr's death
  • Red Army's assault on Nan Batian's lair
  • Celebration of liberation
  • Pas de deux of Qinghua and Company Commander
  • Mourning the martyr
  • Group dance and the tableau vivant at the end

External linksEdit

zh:红色娘子军

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