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The Butterfly Lovers Performed by The Shanghai Ballet

Review By Jasmine Coon


Jasmine Coon The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend about the young love shared between Zhu and Liang. Zhu is a school girl whom pretends to be male in order to attend school. During her time at the school she falls in love with a boy, Liang, whom is very focused on his studies. Over time the two become friends; the only problem is that Liang thinks Zhu is a boy. Zhu is summoned home by her father in order to engage in her arranged marriage. While Liang accompanies Zhu on the journey to her home, she reveals to Laing her true identity. When the lovers are separated an autumn gloom falls upon their lives. Zhu’s sorrows deepen into anger when she realizes her arranged betrothed is Ma, a bully she encountered at her school. After much dismay and pleading with her father Zhu is forced to marry Ma. In an attempt to propose, Liang comes to Zhu’s rescue, but is killed in his efforts to fight off Ma and his men. In her mourning for Liang, Zhu realizes she cannot live without him and kills herself in a storm brought on by her deep sorrows. The two are once again reunited in the form of butterflies to be together for eternity. The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese tragedy as well as a story about two lovers. This story performed by the Shanghai Ballet was presented through the use of movement, imagery, and exquisite costuming. Throughout the Ballet the motif of Butterflies, hence the title butterfly lover was repeated. Not only were there images projected on the scrim of butterflies, one blue and one pink, but also dancers dressed as butterflies.


The ensemble of butterfly dancers used beautiful movement that is comparable to that of a butterfly; very graceful and effortless with a feeling of weightlessness. In order to do this the dancers had specific hand gestures in which were repeated as well as arm movements that mimic butterfly wings. They also used various partnering techniques to create the shapes of butterflies. Not only did the designated “butterfly� dancers carry out this motif, but so did the main characters Zhu and Liang. Throughout the ballet they danced with the same butterfly motions which foreshadowed that their tragic death leading would lead them into an eternity of love with one another. This Ballet is similar to many other ballets; some may say it is a collaboration of Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, and Coppelia. I find that it most relates to that of Romeo and Juliet. I would consider this Ballet to be the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. Like the ballets of Romeo and Juliet as well as Swan Lake, The Butterfly Lover uses continuous imagery through movement as well as scenery to portray the story. Because ballets do not have a script of words or any speaking to interpret the story, the audience must be actively engaged in the movement in order to follow the story. Also, the dancers must portray the story through their body


movements and facial expression. This use of movement rather than words brings a whole new dynamic to the story for the viewer. Instead of having the story laid out before you by the actors performing dialogue one must interpret their movement. The beauty of this is that people may interpret things differently making the ballet unique to each viewer. The only downside is that in order to really understand the story line you must read the synopsis of the Ballet or you may become confused. I tried to watch the Butterfly Lover’s without reading the synopsis in order to test my ability to interpret the ballet; for the most part I understood but it would have proved to be very helpful to have read it. By reading the synopsis before, I would have been able to focus more on the beauty of the movement rather than trying to figure out exactly what was going on. I also imagine that I missed some of the smaller details. I really enjoyed this ballet from the story line to the detailed scenery. The visuals within this show were just too exquisite for words. Each Act, taking place in a different “place�, not only had a background image depicting the setting whether it be an elaborate castle or a majestic forest, but also had wings as well as boarders to match the backdrop. This created the effect of truly being in the place the dancers where. There was no disconnection between the audience and the performance. The continuity of the Ballet did not stop at the imagery though; the dancers were also incredible! Their technique and acting skills were incredible. All of the dancers had a general look about them as far as their bodies; this gives the performance


visually appeasing as well as forwards the story line. The company is all supposed to have the same look, as if they were one; their general look makes this truer. Along with the dancers, the costumes also worked well with the story furthering the main ideas. In the first act, the male dancers where dressed as school boys with only the teacher, Zhu, Ma, and Liang in different costumes that fit their characters. As for the company of female dancers, for each act they had on a tutu that resembled a butterfly while the prima ballerina wore a dress embellished with butterfly images. The story line, though predictable, is very intriguing. We all know the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet; the two teenagers fall in love with their worst possible match and kill themselves when they cannot be together in reality so they can be together eternally. This outline is done over and over again in modern day media as well as past, but Butterfly lover’s gives us a new perspective. The fact that the story takes place in China, all of the cast is of Asian descent, and different cultural traditions are incorporated brings on a whole new aspect to this basic story line almost making it okay that it is so unoriginal. A few of the traditions incorporated are the arranged marriage, the all boy school, the style of movement which integrated martial art movements with ballet, mostly found in the male dancers. American culture through the use of movies, TV shows, books, and music, romanticizes love relationships in a way that is so intriguing. In fact, this is so common in our society that you can find some sort of “love story� in every story told by the media. Most of the time, these


presentations of love are very unrealistic. The basic idea of “love” given to society today through media is that a girl and boy fall in love, but in order to get the girl the boy must do something extremely romantic. Following this, the boy often makes a mistake and needs to win his woman back, which they always attempt no matter what. Once the boy has performed one more romantic gesture to win back his woman, the two live happily ever after. Sadly, this is not the way “love” works at all. This formula created by media and implanted into our minds is not functional in every single relationship. This leaves us often times disappointed in relationships because we are looking for the “love” we see in the movies. I think that this way of thinking is mostly found in girls rather than guys though because females are so emotionally oriented, and that’s just what love stories do, tug on your heart strings. The Butterfly lovers also present this fairytale love story by romanticizing love. The main character Zhu falls in love with a boy whom often also falls for her, and fights for her when it becomes difficult to be with her. He fights so hard for her he ends up losing his life. The fairytale love story doesn’t end there though; Zhu kills herself in order to live in love with Liang for all eternity. The story of Zhu and Laing is just another unrealistic portrayal of love. In act one; Zhu is trying to gain the attention of Liang. Because Zhu is pretending to be a boy, this task is proven to be difficult; it isn’t until Act three when Zhu and Laing are on their journey back to Zhu’s homeland when she reveals to him that she is in fact a girl. He instantly falls in love with her wants to be with her forever. This is an exaggeration of the impulsivity of young love which contributes to the unrealism of the relationship they share. Another stereotypical element of the love story is the love triangle between Liang, Zhu, and Ma. You cannot have a love story without two males being interested in one lucky female. Although it is unclear whether or not


Ma actually has a love interest in Zhu, but he is looking for her hand in marriage due to family tradition and is adamant about the marriage. Unlike Ma’s interest in Zhu, Liang is in love with her, so in love he is willing to risk his life. The unusual part of this love story in comparison to the love stories in today’s culture, such as Twilight, is that Zhu has no internal conflict between the two; the conflict is purely a physical conflict brought on by family tradition and fate. But, in terms of the love stories of the past, such as Romeo and Juliet, this love triangle is typical. Overall I really enjoyed this ballet. Although, the love story between the three main characters is unrealistic as well as predictable, I still loved every second of it. There is something about this unrealistic “movie love” that enticed us as a society, including myself. The fact that it is exciting and impulsive draws me in because it is not something most people can experience in life. The love triangle, the aesthetic beauty of the scenery and costuming, as well as the beautiful technique of the dancers made this Ballet truly amazing.

The butterfly lovers review