China has a dance tradition that reaches back 5,000 years. Yet classical ballet arrived in China just over a century ago. So, when the Beijing-based National Ballet of China returns to the Kennedy Center on Tuesday (see cover story, Page 33), one installment in the month-long Festival of China, audiences will see ballet that’s still in its infancy.
That by no means suggests that the National Ballet of China hasn’t risen to Western standards of technique and classicism. For ballet arrived in China on the heels of the 1917 Russian Revolution, when emigre ballet teachers fled east to China. In 1954, Dai Ailian, the Trinidad-born, London-raised student of ballet and modern dance, founded the Beijing Ballet Academy, which grew into what is now called the National Ballet of China in 1959. Today Zhao Ruheng, one of Dai’s students and a former ballerina who was sidelined mid-career by a foot injury, oversees this company of 58 dancers. Zhao, who recently responded to questions — via e-mail because of a heavy touring schedule and the need for a translator — described how the openness of post-Cultural Revolution China has nourished the NBC.