Arts

Protests in Melbourne over staging of 'fascist' Chinese ballet

Poster from the ballet. Source: SBS

The staging of a Communist era ballet in Australia has brought out protesters who are demanding it be called off.

The Red Detachment of Women is playing in Melbourne but its detractors say it romanticises the rise of Communism and should not be performed in Australia.

The ballet depicts the liberation of a woman and her rise through the Chinese Communist Party.

First performed in China in 1964, the Australian performances are a result of a cultural exchange deal between the Victorian government and China made in September, 2015.

Victoria's Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley, told SBS News getting the ballet to Victoria is a coup for the state.

"This is a piece that since 1972 has been the linchpin of the Chinese National Ballet's cultural engagement with the world. This is the piece that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger saw with Chairman Mao who broke China's isolation from the rest of the world.

"This is a piece that is steeped in cultural diplomacy and cultural opportunities and it's one that Melbourne, as the cultural centre of Australia, is really privileged to have."

The Red Detachment of Women is part of Asia Topa, the Asia Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts which is a collaboration between the Victorian and federal governments, the Sidney Myer Fund and Arts Centre Victoria.

Creative Director of Asia Topa, Stephen Armstrong, said The Red Detachment of Women is a world renowned ballet.

"It's still a much loved work in China today. It's been celebrated and enjoyed in the great opera houses of Europe and North America," he said.

But the ballet has its detractors with the Australian Values Alliance calling it a "fascist ballet".

The group's Jiazhen Qi spent 10 years in a Chinese labour camp before seeking refuge in Australia.

She says the Chinese government is misusing the cultural exchange with Victoria and has called on Western nations to take a much harder line with China on human rights abuses.

"The Chinese, they're using the arts exchange to show up their fascist ballet.”

She told SBS News Australia and other Western nations need to stand up to China over human rights abuses.

“If all the Western countries then stand up and say 'no, we should protect our values.' The Chinese then could take a step back, not like now, they can do whatever they want in the world."

Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley said he respects their right to protest but regards securing The Red Detachment of Women as a prized get for Victoria.

"We are very privileged to have the Chinese National Ballet deliver its signature piece, The Red Detachment of Women. It's a world famous piece and it's one that we sought with great effort over the last couple of years.

“We look forward to it. At the same time, we recognise that everyone has the right to legitimate peaceful protest in a democracy such as ours," he said.

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