Synopsis by Bruce Eder
For 10 years (1966-76) during the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China, the Yang Ban Xi -- Revolutionary Model Opera -- was the only medium of artistic expression allowed to be performed or broadcast in China. These were large scale opera/ballet extravaganzas, their music derived from folk material and the now-banned Beijing Opera, and their stories and words extolling the liberation achieved for China by Mao Zedong (and all produced under the watchful eye of Mao's fourth wife, Jiang Qing) and reminding the people of the miseries of life under the feudal landlords and other counter-revolutionaries. They were performed on stage throughout the country, the artists involved becoming major stars in the process, and broadcast on television, and turned into movies; and they were the only entertainment permitted by the Chinese government for 10 years. Yang Ban Xi: The 8 Model Works focuses on the eight Yang Ban Xi (there were 15 in all) that were considered most exemplary by the government, providing a look at their deliriously over-the-top productions (including huge numbers of dancers, complex choreography, huge choruses, and, in the case of the movie versions, rich Technicolor filming) and their lingering appeal, decades after the Cultural Revolution came to a grinding halt. Almost as compelling as the classic works in the genre -- which includes scenes choreographed with dancer/soldiers carrying machine pistols and rifles and Mao's quotations -- are the interviews with the actors, dancers, directors, and writers, some of whom remain active as performers decades later, others of whom have faded into obscurity. And we get the odd "chorus" of a faux commentary by an actress portraying Jiang Qing, presenting a defense of her work and her life.
China, dance [art], propaganda, revolution, opera