Mei Lanfang 梅蘭芳 (1894-1961) Performance of the Sword Dance
Film clip source: “Hegemon King Bids Farewell to His Concubine” (Bawang bieji), Beijing Film Studio, 1955.
Beijing Film Studio
Dance entering Peking opera in the 1910s -1920s was revolutionary. Solo dance without singing, furthermore, marked a new aesthetic beginning for traditional Chinese theater. One of the films that captured this style of dance was the 1955 motion picture of the drama “Hegemon King Bids Farewell to His Concubine” (Bawang bieji 霸王別姬) featuring Mei Lanfang as Lady Yu. Mei was then 61 years of age. The play was created for Mei Lanfang and first performed by him in 1921. It features the final dance scene in the drama where Lady Yu is trying with her dance and lyrics to comfort the King, who had been lured into an ambush and is now surrounded by enemy troops. The dance reveals the emotional state of Lady Yu and her determination in trying to encourage the King to fight on and not give in to a sense of defeat. It is also a dance of farewell since she had by then decided to kill herself in order to give the King a better chance of escape. The sword dance piece starts with measured steps, and each dance sequence ends with an aesthetically arresting pose. After this introductory dance with its singing, Mei continued the core section silently dancing accompanied by music. The dance steps become increasingly structured by musical phrasing with poses showing determination. The speed quickens, the double swords flash and movements suggest an attack mode and express a spirit of defiance, courage, and moral resolve.