Chinese Song and Dance Drama: A New Form of Art

Tao Cheng, Doctor of Music

Once acted as Director of Department of Music of South China Normal University, Vice Chairman of Guangdong Musician Association, Head of Guangzhou Culture Administration, Deputy Head of Publicity Department of the CPC Guangzhou Municipal Committee (municipal bureau level), Head of Division of Arts of Ministry of Culture and current President of China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre (CNODDT).

Editor's note: In such a critical period for the transitional development of art academies and troupes and the performance market, on October 15, General Secretary Xi Jinping chaired the forum on literature and art to define the future development orientation of the literature and art circle.

Accordingly, Art Department of China Culture Daily held interviews about the artistic creation and institutional management with presidents of the nine major art academies and troupes directly under Ministry of Culture, in order to learn their ideas for overturning old things and creating new things during the new literature and art development period.

2014 national art troupe performance season opened with dance drama Confucius created and performed by CNODDT Dance Drama Troupe. So far, the national art troupe performance season has been held for five years, and two of its opening ceremonies started with CNODDT’s performance, indicating CNODDT’s high strength and status.

Tao Cheng, President of CNODDT, recently talked about CNODDT’s development strategy, drama creation and personnel training plans in an interview.

Reporter: General Secretary Xi Jinping recently delivered an important speed about literature and art. What did you learn from the speech?

Tao Cheng: General Secretary Xi Jinping’s speech at the forum on literature and art inherited and carried forward the spirit of Comrade Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art, and will have a profound and significant influence on the cultural construction under the new situation, particularly on artistic creations in the new era and new stage.

General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed in his speech, artistic creations shall be oriented to people and cannot get lost in the market economy and become profit-seeking. As literary and artistic workers, we shall unswervingly implement the spirit of his speech, thoroughly strengthen the senses of mission and responsibility, go deep among the masses and into the life, carry forward the Chinese spirit and condense the Chinese power with true, good and beautiful artistic works, eulogize the beautiful and great age, encourage Chinese people of all ethnic groups to march toward the future, and push our artistic strength and standard to new heights.

Reporter: Any art troupes, especially large ones like China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre, must have a clear plan and feasible strategy for guiding its survival, development and growth. Could you talk about your measures and experience in this aspect?

Tao Cheng: Over the years, we have always focused on two things. First, we have created works with high standard and wide market adaptability; Second, we have endeavored to expand social and market resources. This governance strategy has brought good artistic, social and economic benefits to CNODDT

Reporter: We all know that works are the key to any art troupe. Could you talk about CNODDT’s specific policy on creating high-quality works?

Tao Cheng: Yes, we have given top priority to releasing good works. In recent years, the number of large works created in one year is equal to the sum in the past several years. In fact, not all works can be survived during the artistic creation process. Before the artistic creation, we shall make a preliminary screening from many scripts. After defining the conception and basic outline, we shall select and finalize one through negotiations with scriptwriters, composers, directors and stage designers. And after moving the work on the stage, we shall modify and polish it and then arrange funds and other works. Regarding the quality, we recently established the art committee to evaluate works and put forward opinions in the early stage of creation, follow the works up during the creation and control their quality during the performance, so as to constantly promote the works’ artistic standard.

Reporter: Are these experts of the art committee sourced from CNODDT?

Tao Cheng: We have included both our own experts and external ones in our expert bank, because we need experts of various professional backgrounds in different stages of artistic creation. For example, when creating dance drama A Dream of Youth that depicts state leaders, we invited experts from Party School of the CPC Central Committee, Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee and National Defense University PLA China to discuss the script together. As a national art troupe, we shall take artistic works seriously.

Reporter: Indeed, CNODDT takes a rigorous attitude towards art. So, what do you think about the quality of works created by national art troupes?

Tao Cheng: Works created by national art troupes shall be representative and demonstrative and play a guiding role. The representativeness refers to the national literature and art development level or the highest achievement of China’s stage art. The demonstrativeness refers to the effect of setting good examples. The guiding role refers to the function of defining the creation orientation of national artistic works, which will be a key task for CNODDT in the future.

Reporter: What do you think is the right orientation?

Tao Cheng: According to our general judgment for the development trend of China's stage art, the stage art is not popular because of many reasons. However, at least one question is worth thinking: how to integrate the demands of the central government and audiences and the artistic creation rules and make a breakthrough? I believe China's stage art will develop a new artistic form—Chinese song and dance drama under the new economic situations.

Reporter: Chinese song and dance drama is a new concept. Could you explain it in details?

Tao Cheng: Chinese song and dance drama is derived from Chinese opera culture. In old days, Chinese operas catered to people’s entertainment demand, played a role in moralizing nationals and extensively spread China's traditional cultural values. Nowadays, however, operas cannot catch up with the fast pace of modern life and shall develop into a more fashionable, modern and faster-pace artistic form to adapt to audiences’ demands. This artistic form is the song and dance drama as evidenced by the previously successfully song and dance parties; But because songs and dances are dazzling and fickle, they shall be made up into dramas. That is to say, Chinese song and dance drama is an artistic form integrating modern and traditional Chinese cultural elements and adapting to today’s social and aesthetic demands, and represents the future development orientation of China’s stage art.

Reporter: Talents are the key to the artistic creation. Does CNODDT have any unique approach in talent building?

Tao Cheng: In a humanized talent management model, we have substantially increased performers’ remuneration. Only if the survival problem is solved, can literary and artistic workers make creations with a calm mind.

Currently, CNODDT gathers a large number of the most excellent Chinese performers, e.g. Tang Shiyi who is one of our leading dancers and has been invited in performances by other art troupes. We have arranged many performances for them, in order to improve them in practices. During period without performance, we have invited teachers to train them and changed a new batch of teachers every quarter to allow our performers to absorb the essence of different schools. Recently, we invited a world's top singer from abroad to train our singers as well as singers outside of CNODDT. By inviting a singer from abroad to training many singers, we can reduce our costs for sending performers abroad. On this occasion, CNODDT can also show our strength to western artists and expand our popularity and influence nationwide and even worldwide.

Reporter: There is no doubt about CNODDT’s strength. Has CNODDT been affected by the “Eight Provisions” and the “luxury restriction order” that have impacted the performance market in recent one or two years? How has CNODDT coped with it?

Tao Cheng: In the long run, the relevant regulations are beneficial for the healthy development of the performance market. Personally, I have given wholehearted support to the central government’s appeal for frugality and opposition against the luxurious style and firmly carried them out. It is high time to adjust and rectify the impetuous and money-oriented mentality during the artistic creation, which is conducive to settling down to create profound, positive and time-tested excellent works. To win the market back, we will make market researches and create more works in line with audiences’ aesthetic standards. CNODDT boasts performers of diverse artistic forms, including excellent folk style and bel canto singers as well as popular singers like Li Yugang. Despite such a depressed market, CNODDT has still improved its performance quality.

Reporter: Besides winning the market, has CNODDT arranged any public welfare performance?

Tao Cheng: As a national art troupe, we have made great efforts in public welfare performances, involving such programs as “high art into campus”, “bringing culture/science and technology/hygienic health to the countryside” and “people-benefiting low-price tickets”. In addition, we have also arranged some supportive performances, such as dance drama Daughters of the Sun performed in Tibet and opera Nie Er performed in Yunnan. For children who like playing video games, we plan to hold an animation audio-video concert, which integrates their familiar cartoon music and excellent traditional Chinese cultural quality and concepts, so as to educate and guide children with arts and spread positive energy. I believe we can set good examples and show our sense of responsibility in the performances.