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Red Detachment of Women

Capturing China's history through dance and the lens

03·15·2010

Red Detachment of Women

Capturing China's history through dance and the lens

03·15·2010

“This is a memory, spun on the tips of toes,” an instructor from the dance troupe whispered to me, smiling.

Walking through the backstage corridors of Tianqiao Theater, I passed rows of clothes, colored a nostalgic red. Combined with my memories of the last century’s incredible history, I felt a surreal twinge. The Red Detachment of Women” is a legendary Cultural Revolution ballet. It was first seen in 1964, was performed for Nixon in 1972, and remains one of the most popular ballets in modern China. It weaves a familiar tale of oppression, brutality, and the harsh enslavement of women, ended by a troop of fearless revolutionaries, and it’s a true story, based on the experiences of an all-female Red Army troop in Hainan Island.

The show started with a graceful twirling, while intermittent bursts of applause and cheers cut through the audience’s focused silence. A man, sitting next to me, started crying. He was listening to the lyrics of a revolutionary song he’d heard many times, but not for years. As the tears rolled down his cheeks, the troupe kept spinning, bringing to life what was a defining period for all of us.

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