Unforgettable Story of White-haired Girl at any Time
—— Legend of Matsuyama Ballet
Group Photo of Wang Kun (second at the left) and Mikiko Matsuyama (center) in 1958
Performance of the Revised Ballet Drama White-haired Girl in China
Tetsutaro shimilu and Yoko Morishita in Performance
Yoko Morishita in her Youth Performing in White-haired Girl
Performance of the Revised Ballet Drama White-haired Girl in China
Similar to the “tabel tennis Diplomacy” between China and USA, there exists a “Ballet Diplomacy” between China and Japan. Ever since the year 1958 when Matsuyama Ballet Company of Japan premiered their White-haired Girl on the China’s stage, this company has visited China to stage performances on 14 occasions and composed a lasting legend of people to-people exchange between the two countries. In commemoration of the 45th anniversary of Normalization of Diplomatic Relations between China and Japan, from May 16 till 24, Matsuyama Ballet Came to China to stage the revised ballet drama White-haired Girl as their 15th journey and extended this legend of art, peace and friendship.
This special performance was jointly sponsored by China International Cultural Exchange Center (CICEC), CFLAC and Shanghai International Culture Association, The premier was set on the evening of May 19 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, which carried so much memorable indication. In September of 1964, Matsuyama Ballet staged their performance in the small auditorium at the Great Hall of the People in their second visit to China and the national leaders of China then sach as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De watched the performance and met with the entire company after the performance.
“The White-haired Girl is always an unforgettable story at any period of time. It has connected us closely to China.” Masao Shimizu, the founder and the ex-president of Matsuyama Ballet once said, “No matter what great achievement will be made in China’s modernization and even if China becomes world-leading in scientific technology, economy and culture, the White-haired Girl is still a folk story we need to recall from time to time”. From the ice-breaking in people-to-people exchange in the 1950s to the normalization of diplomatic relations in the 1970s and till the current period in the 21st century, as Masao Shimizu said, this play still functions as the basis of China-Japan friendship.
China my Became Hometown at Heart on my First Day of Visit
In 1945, the opera White-haired Girl featured Wang Kun was premiered in Yan’an, in 1950, the samename film featured Tian Hua was completed in Changchun and shown in Japan for the first time in 1952. When the couple Masao Shimizu and Kiko Matsuyama saw this film in that autumn, they were so touched with the plot that they were determined to choreograph this story into ballet. “The actress Ms. Tian Hua was no more than 18 years old, and Xi’er, the heroine of the film, was adorable and perseverant, which aroused great sympathy among us. From then on, we were totally fascinated with the choreography of the ballet White-haired Girl.” Masao Shimizu recalled in his book White-haired Girl by Matsuyama Ballet—China-Japan Friendship Bridge. For the sake of creation of theballet, the Shimizus sold their house and went on leans After more than two years’ artistic creation against the pressure of Japan’s right-wing and anti-China forces, on February 12, 1955, the ballet version of White-haired Girl, following the opera and film versions, was premiered at Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya Public Hall, with Yoshi Hijikata as director, Umeko Hijikata as costume designer, Masao Shimizu as producer and Kiko Matsuyama as heroine.
“I can still recall clearly my premier in the ballet White-haired Girl in China. As I deeply felt the Chinese audiences’ passion, I tried my best uhile dancing on the stage. In our response to a curtain call, their applauses lasted quite a long time. I saw that those in the front rows were already in tears and some even cried out. At this, we couldn’t help shedding tears as we bid goodbye to Chinese audiences.” Kiko Matsuyama said.
On the occasion of World Peace Conference in Helsinki, Masao Shimizu managed to meet with Guo Moruo, head of China’s delegation, who, in a pleasant mood, agreed to help the Japanese counterpart’s wish to visit China come true. In 1955, the banquet for National Founding celebration took place in Beijing Hotel, The Great Hall of the People was still under construction then. As Kiko Matsuyama recalled, Premier Zhou Enlai and many national leaders from countries attended this grand banquet. At the climax of Premier Zhou Enlai unexpectedly called to the foreign correspondents.
“I would like to make an important announcement.”
As people assumed for something terrible, the atmosphere was a bit tense. Premier Zhou took two beautiful Chinese ladies to Kiko Matsuyama and stretched out his hand. “Friends, we have three White-haired Girls now.” Those three “White-haired Girls” held each other's hands, which became a precious instant in the photo.
“Our White-haired Girl has returned home,” Premier Zhou said to Kiko Matsuyama at the banquet, “If you can bring your ballet version to China, all of us will definitely be your audiences.” “This word of Premier Zhou stayed in my heart like treasure on my way back to Japan and what I experienced in Beijing has become my lasting memory.” Kiko Matsuyama recalled. At that time, China advocated the principle of “Let Hundred Flowers Bloom and Let Hundred Schools Contend”, and Premier Zhou worked vevy hard at promoting the literary and art development. “The auspice from Premier Zhou for our ballet company is far beyond words”.
As a devoted dancer, Kiko Matsuyama hardly lingers about the past. However, as the war made ine ffaceable impressions on her mind, she realized that any war in the past should never be forgotten. “From the first day of my visit, China has become a hometown in my heart.” Kiko Matsuyama said.
“In 1958, our wish to premier our ballet in China finally came true, which became the first encounter of Matsuyama Ballet with China. At that time, the New China still in its vevy youth was undertaking national construction with full vitality And our ballet company was quite young as well.” Masao Shimizu wrote in his book. At the invitation of Premier Zhou Enlai, from March 3 till May 1, a 46-member Matsuyama Ballet came on their virgin tour in China. During almost two months, Matsuyama Ballet staged such programs as White-haired Girl and the Nutcracker respectively at Tianqiao Theatre in Beijing, the People’s Auditorium in Chongqing, Zhongnan Theatre in Wuhan and the People’s Cultural Square in Shanghai.
People were curious to see how a Japanese ballet company stage a Chinese revolutionary story,though their actors and actresses look like Chinese. A long queue was formed overnight as the tickets were scheduled to sell on the previous evening. As far as Kiko Matsuyama remembered, the company only got one suggestion from Chinese side. As the Chinese people then only wear white shoes on the occasion of funeral and actresses', the company immediately order to have all the actors’ white shoes painted in to black.
At the same time, the opera White-haired Girl featured Wang Kun was about to take place at Tianqiao Theatre, but for the sake of Matsuyama Ballet, Wang Kun moved to a nearby theatre. “The China Peking Opera Ensemble headed by Master Mei Lanfang created Peking opera version of White-haired Girl soon after our performance and all the Peking opera troupes started to stage this play from time totime. With various art forms of a single story, Beijing then became a competition arena for White-haired Girl and an unprecedented fashion of ‘White-haired Girl’ came into being immediately.”
Of course, the ballet version was most eye-catching. “Among so many ballet productions I have seen, there is no such ballet as White-haired Girl that touched me so greatly, because, I suppose, this ballet makes a connection with the laboring people’s struggle and life.” Ouyang Shanzun, a prestigious Chinese theatre expert once commented. Many media including the People’s Daily provided such interesting reportage of this ballet in great space of page as the sketches made by Zhang Leping and Yu Feeng,and poetry in praise of this ballet. As an important piece of news, Matsuyama Ballet’s visit and performance in China became well-known throughout China.
Hearty Cheers for Normalization of China-Japan Diplomatic Relations
On September 29, 1972, a joint communiqué between Chinese government and Japanese government was issued and the diplomatic relation was then established, which symbolized that Japan’s “isolation from China” in almost half a century came to an end. “Via satellite transmission, we witnessed that great moment in Beijing and felt relieved. We truly wanted to cry out our hearty cheers, but as the separation between the two countries was quite a long time, we only enjoyed an inner joy and peace in mind instead of gala for reunion.” Masao Shimizu said. As a matter of fact, Matsuyama Ballet had accomplished its third visit performance in China before the normalization. In 1971, the actress Yoko Morishita, along with Tetsutaro Shimizu, son of Shimizu couple, became the backbone cast, Premier Zhou Enlai came to watch the performance, shook hands with Yoko and met all the artists after performance. In July 1972, Shanghai Dance Drama delegation visited Japan, Completing what was called by historians as “Ballet Diplomacy” during the course of China-Japan relations establishment.
“On the evening of our performance at Tianqiao Theatre, Premier Zhou Enlai came to visit us at the backstage. as soon as he met me he asked me,‘are you the son of Mr. Masao Shimizu?’” Tetsutaro Shimizu, the current chief representative of Matsuyama Ballet recalled. Yoko Morishita, the famous dancer and president of Matsuyama Ballet, concluded it as “Amazing grace beyond repayment”. Premier Zhou Enlai was extremely busy with his work, but he would spare no time to watcr the performance by Matsuyama Ballet. Premier Zhou Enlai preseuted a set of costume to her As a agitt. As the oldest dancer on the current world ballet stage, this 69-year-old dancer is decided to present a full-length performance of White-haired Girl in the precious costume gifted by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1971.
“In 1975, I came with Beijing Art Troupe to Japan at the age of merely 19. It was Mr. Masao Shizimu who received us and accompanied us in the whole trip. I still remember three sentences of his at the welcome dinner. ‘I'm a Japanese who loves China most, who loves Chinese culture most and who wants to apologize for our past offence.’” When recalling those shocking words, Yin Jianping, dancer and council director of CICEC, was still emotionally touched.
“During my performance in Osaka, acute gastritis happened to me unexpectedly. Mr. Shimizu while they were held pills and a glass of water in his hands, waiting at the stage exit, which still occurs to my mind.”while they were in Kyoto, some Japanese right-wing forces threatened to make trouble. “Mr. Masao Shimizu invited scores of youngsters from Shaolin Temple at Kyoto as our bodyguards He said to us, ‘Please feel reassured.
With our presence, you have nothing to worry about!” Yin Jianping quoted. It was actually not a single case. During Shanghai Dance Drama delegation's visited Japan in 1972, some right-wing forces threatened to throw incendiary bombs. Then Mr, Masao Shimizu told his son and daughter-in-law to wear costumes of White-haired Girl and wait at the backstage while holding the soaked carpets against of any sabotage attacks from right-wing or govngster forces.
In September 1978, Matsuyama Ballet visited China once again. “The instant I met our Chinese friends at the airport, I suddenly fett a carefree atmosphere that was never available in the ‘Cultural Revolution’. Like birds freed from cage, Chinese friends talked with us and expressed their emotions in an unrestricted way. From their countenance, language and style, we saw a brand new age.” Masao Shimizu and Kiko Matsuyama have become witnesses of China’s social development and evolution. “When Chinese friends said ‘warm welcome’ to welcome us, our artists’cheeks twrned into in rose color. Every time we received such a warm welcome by Chinese friends, we felt at ease, as if we wereat home. again Probably our fascination with Chinese friends has developed far beyond imagination.” Masao Shimizu once said.
We are Revolutionaries at Tokyo
“We are fully aware that period, environment and people surrounding us and even ourselves are changing along with the time and fashion with a clear sense of where the turning points.are However, there is something that cannot allow any change, and it is a heart of good will and trust.” Kiko Matsuyama once expressed, “People nowadays are so busy. The more modernized the society appears, the busier people will be strictly driven as if by machines. In the severe course of rationality and mechanization, people are losing their human nature which receives less and less attention. The ballet art ehat we are engaged to can be compared to handicraft that have a sharp difference from this mechanical society. For this reason, I feel a kind of horror from time to time. Ballet is an art that comes from severe training and spiritual creation. In this sense, I feel more confident that in this age our job is of great value”.
Though Masao Shimizu has passed away and Kiko Matsuyama is already in her 90s, their artistic mission to “stage classical ballet” and “create ballet of distinct national feature”set for this company since its founding in 1948, as well as their initial affection for China and ballet, still pass on from generation to generation. Whenever this company visits China, they will invariably visit Anti-Japanese War Memorial Museums and revolutionary headquarters such as Yan’an to apologize for Japanese invaders’ crimes and hold gala performance with local people. Upon entering the rehearsal hall of Matsuyama Ballet, one will finds the photos of Chairman Mao, Premier Zhou Enlai and Madame Deng Yingchao as well as encouraging mottos written in both Chinese and Japanese such as “Unity, seriousness, Earnesty, Vitality” and “Fear neither Hardship nor Death”.
“We are revolutionaries at Tokyo.” All the artists in Matsuyama Ballet make such a proud self-introduction.
On the evening of May 23, the new version of White-haired Girl premiered at Shanghai Grand Theatre. In 1964 Shanghai Ballet School first Presented Chinese ballet version of White-haired Girl in Shanghaiin InShanghai, those “White-haired Girls” of all generations from both China and Japan got reunited. On May 20, the company visited Huai’an in Jiangsu Province, the hometown of Premier Zhou Enlai. In a sense, such homage by Matsuyama Ballet was also a journey of gratitude.
“Currently, the company is busy with rehearsal, It has spent five or six million Japanese yen in establishing a theatre in the suburb of Tokyo for full-length rehearsal of three days. Though they are preparing another play Romeo and Juliet, every artist of this company still squeeze out some hours for rehearsal by themselves.” Zheng Yiming, dancer and critic of Matsuyama Ballet introduced that some props are made by artists themselves and all dancers join the stage setup and dismantlement. “During the performance, even those walking roles are totally devoted with high spirits, which is hardly seen in other ballet companies in the world”.
“There is great significance in our Japanese play of White-haired Girl. We have Conducted studies on Chinese farmers and Eighth Route Army’s history, and conveyed such historic discoveries to our artists. By owr performing art, we would like to present our sincere expectation that the peoples of China and Japan stride for ward hand in hand.” Tetsutaro Shizimu said.
“The role of Xi'er has taught me to be perseverant in confrontation of difficulty.” Yoko Morishita admitted. As to the “New” feature in the latest version, Tetsutaro explained that thouyh the plot was not adapted,Producing a effect the group image of Xi'er was greatly enhanced with a scene of muttiple Xi'er together of shocking influence. “The‘new’core of this version lies in their unusual artistic disposition that Chinese dancers used to enjoy but no longer boast Nowadays.” Yin Jianping said.
“We hope to demonstrate our expectation for beautiful life, world peace and happy life that friends of China and Japan together. It is our persistent wish for decades that ballet art can build up friendship between owr two countries.” As Yoko Morishita put, “This a great works of White-haired Girls deserves to be appreciatedly all the people”.
For half a century, no matter in great difficulty or in promising transition in the China-Japan relationship, Matsuyama Ballet has been making their perseverant efforts for the everlasting friendship. Every time when crisis occurs, they will invariably the first ones to safeguard and support the friendship between the two peoples. Masao Shimizu once said in 1985, “The quarter of century with the grand stream of the world, we might be just a tiny drop or an instant. What we have done so far might be too trivial to mention. Nevertheless, Japan and China, once blocked from each ofher, are ready to open up a new age in joint efforts. Many people, including me, have realized the change of history and society, Probably we are located at the turning point of our tines or even for the entire world. No matter what change mag take place inthe fature, our love of China will remain, And I firmly believe that our affection with Chinese friends will passon from generation to generation.”
Indeed, it is for many tiny drops that Ththas been proren a flowing stream of friendship can sustain, Thathas been proren and remembered througout history.