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Dance drama on Nanjing Massacre spotlights cruelty, pain

By CHEN NAN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-06 08:24
Tang Shiyi plays the lead role of Chinese-American writer Iris Chang, the author of The Rape of Nanking, in the latest dance drama, Deep in Memory. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Deep in Memory, the latest dance drama production by director and choreographer Tong Ruirui, will be staged at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Saturday and Sunday.

The dance drama, which premiered on Sept 18 in Nanjing, was also staged during the Shanghai International Arts Festival over Nov 9-10.

The show, performed by the Jiangsu Performing Arts Group, follows the survivors and witnesses of the Nanjing Massacre that took place when invading Japanese troops captured Nanjing, after which more than 300,000 Chinese were killed in a six-week rampage from Dec 13, 1937.

Chinese dancer Tang Shiyi plays the lead role of Chinese-American writer Iris Chang, the author of The Rape of Nanking, who in the dance drama establishes a link with the main historical figures from the book, including John Rabe, Minnie Vautrin, Li Xiuying and Shiro Azuma.

The dance drama started from Tong's debut stage work, entitled Nanking 1937, where Chang's life is depicted. Chang, who was born in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents in 1968, graduated in journalism from the University of Illinois in 1989 and committed suicide at the age of 36.

Tong directed Nanking 1937 in 2005, when she was 28 years old and was the youngest director of the China National and Dance Drama Theater at the time.

"While the theater audience saw anger and death in Nanking 1937, with Deep in Memory, I want to tell real stories, to portray real people, instead of being purely emotional," says Tong, adding that she has never let go the idea of making another dance drama about the massacre in the past 12 years.

"When we present the history for today's audiences, we want them to have a conversation with the characters onstage and also with themselves."

Tang, 28, who played the lead role in Tong's award-winning dance drama, Goddess of Luo River, says: "I am about the same age as Chang when she wrote The Rape of Nanking. I read her books and The Diaries of John Rabe to understand the history of the massacre."

Tang, who started learning traditional Chinese dance in childhood and graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy later, is now the principal dancer of the national dance drama company.

Most of her previous roles in dance dramas have been those of traditional Chinese beauties. But the role of Chang in Deep in Memory is different.

"It feels so real as a human being onstage," Tang says.

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