Had enough Nutcracker? Sick of Swan Lake? Love dance but need a new balletic thrill?

Look to the East. The Far East. Shanghai, China, to be precise.

The Shanghai Dance Theatre is coming to Boston’s Boch Center Shubert Theatre January 11 and 12, under the auspices of the China Arts and Entertainment Group.

They’ll be performing the Boston premiere of Soaring Wings: Journey of the Crested Ibis, a ballet about environmental protection, not dancing sugarplums or ill-fated love.

The ballet follows the journey of the crested ibis, from the time when they freely nested across Asia, to their near extinction due to man-made urbanization, and then (spoiler alert!) to their glorious return to the wild. Subscribe to The Morning Email.Wake up to the day’s most important news.

So how exactly do they play a crested ibis?

Zhu Jieing, a principal dancer with Shanghai Dance Theatre, will dance the lead role. She took some time to answer questions about the role and the dance company.

Michael: Tell me about the role of The Crested Ibis that you will be performing here in Boston.

Zhu: I play the “crested ibis” in the dance drama Soaring Wings. This role is about the beautiful crested ibis that lived a harmonious life with human beings, experienced extinction, and rebirthed again in three different eras.

Michael: What background would you like the audience here in the United States to have before they see this new production?

Zhu: First of all, they should know that crested ibis the one of the most endangered species in the world. And secondly, crested ibises became completely extinct due to pollution in Japan and Southeast Asia in 1980s, and afterwards only seven birds still survived in China. Finally, I hope American audiences can appreciate this beautiful production with a sense that all species in the earth belong to a community.

Michael: What does playing this role mean to you personally?

Zhu: Soaring Wings is a gift from heaven. I offer all my love to it. In China, the performance has created a lot of buzz. Audiences fell in love with dance because of the role I play. This is the greatest happiness and achievement for a dancer. In their eyes, I am the crested ibis. I love the role.

Michael: How different are western audiences from audiences in China?

Zhu: Western audiences are keener on theater culture, more concerned about the relationship between watching and performing, and more active to think, feel and experience.

Michael: How did you train to become a member of the Shanghai Dance Theatre?

Zhu: I was trained in the ballet basics, Chinese classical dance, folk dance and stage performance.

Michael: How do you keep all the travel from affecting the way your body feels, so that you can be your best when you perform?

Zhu: Soaring Wings has been presented over 200 performances since its debut. But to audiences, it’s always the first performance. So for a professional dancer, you must always keep your best status even during the travel. I have gotten used to life of this kind. When the curtain rises, all the fatigue and jet leg disappear. Maybe this is the magic of the stage.

Michael: When you have down time, are you able to tour the cities you are visiting? What have you seen so far that you most enjoyed?

Zhu: Apart from the performances, I barely have time to sightsee. My impression of every city comes from our experience in the theater, as every theater has its own design style and historical background. It is hard to say which one is best. I can experience local art and culture through every theater.

Michael: How does Shanghai Dance Theatre blend western ballet with traditional Chinese ballet?

Zhu: There is no absolute western ballet and traditional Chinese ballet. Our concept is that all the dance language should match with the production and the roles. So we should find the physical style best fit for the production, making it a specific code. Soaring Wings is such an example. It tells a world story through a dance language that western and Chinese audiences can understand.

Michael: Is there a particular role that you have always wanted to dance? What would that be, and why?

Zhu: One day, I want to play a villain, because I want to challenge myself and want to find more possibilities in me.


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