Spring cheer lifts gloom of winter virus

Li Fei
An elite Shanghai dancer has starred in a new short film with a spring theme to highlight the city's green shoots of recovery after a winter of COVID-19 discontent.
Li Fei

One of Shanghai’s top dancers has been forced into live streaming after her “Crested Ibis” tour was canceled because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The pandemic may have taken away her natural stage but it did not kill her desire to dance, so Zhu Jiejing chose to perform from home online.

The 35-year-old gave dance lessons to the city’s medical heroes and made short videos for her Chinese and Japanese dancer colleagues and friends to give hope and joy to all those in the battle against the dreaded pandemic.

Zhu also appeared in a new short film in the “Shanghai, Through the Seasons” series, produced by Shanghai Daily.

Under the theme “Shanghai in Spring — Rebirth,” Zhu and other dancers artistically describe the vibrant spring scenery of the city, everything from its hospitality industry to logistics. The short film, which will be released on Monday, is aimed to encourage residents to be brave and optimistic as the city continues to slowly emerge from COVID-19.

Spring cheer lifts gloom of winter virus
Ma Xuefeng / SHINE

Zhu Jiejing has starred in the new short film “Shanghai in Spring — Rebirth.”

Zhu became a household name this year thanks to the Spring Festival Gala of China Central Television, which attracted more than 1.2 billion Chinese people all over the world. As Shanghai Dance Theater’s principal dancer, Zhu starred in a dance performance of “Song of the Morning Light,” dressed in a cheongsam outfit and wowed the viewing audience with its traditional Shanghai flavor and use of props.

The performance was inspired by classic Shanghai music “Song of the Fishermen,” a tribute to the city’s unique history, which developed from a fishing village.

With its breathtaking 3D stage design, the skyline view of Lujiazui and plane trees with luxuriant foliage was displayed on a 360-degree surround screen.

Zhu said CCTV provided her with the biggest and most challenging stage so far. 

“Each dance movement and position on the stage must be accurate, there was no other method except to practice thousands of times,” she said.

The stage was made up with several square LED screens, and there was a 3-centimeter seam between each screen. 

“For a dance performance like this, a flat floor is a must, especially as each of us had a small stool as a prop in the performance. Although we had practiced for several months, at the first stage rehearsal, the legs of the small stools still dropped in the seam. The only way to avoid the seams was to practice as much as we could to get it right,” said Zhu.

“If our performance wasn’t good enough, the dance would have been drowned in the gorgeous stage setting and the beautiful video on the LED screens. It was a slow dance and I think the Shanghai culture behind it was attractive.”

Spring cheer lifts gloom of winter virus
Ma Xuefeng / SHINE

The novel coronavirus pandemic may have taken away Zhu’s natural stage but it did not kill her desire to dance.

During this tough period, Zhu has done her best to support the city in its fight against the novel coronavirus.

On April 4, Zhu did a live-streaming “warm-up exercise” for the medical teams returning to Shanghai from Wuhan during the quarantine period, which was carefully designed for the city’s medical heroes.

It was the first time Zhu had done a digital live-streaming performance.

“I read the news that the medics needed to wear protective suits all day long in the fight against the coronavirus in Wuhan. Even when they were tired, they didn’t have a bed or a chair to take a rest. Both physically and mentally, they were under enormous pressure, so I designed a light stretching exercise that they could do while lying on the sofa or bed during their quarantine period,” she said.

Zhu’s biggest setback during the lockdown was the cancelation of her scheduled “Crested Ibis” tour to Japan in late February. But Zhu and her partner Wang Jiajun didn’t let the blow affect them. They produced a short video expressing their support for people affected by outbreak in Japan, as a gratitude for Japanese dancers’ support for China.

“Now that the novel coronavirus outbreak has become a disaster faced by people in China, Japan and all over the world, everyone has to be brave, strong and fearless, protecting the earth and our shared home,” Zhu said in the video.

Spring cheer lifts gloom of winter virus
Ma Xuefeng / SHINE
Spring cheer lifts gloom of winter virus
Ma Xuefeng / SHINE

In the short film “Spring in Shanghai,” Zhu artistically describes the city's spring scenery.

Zhu defines her art style as haipai, literally Shanghai style in fusion, mixing different dance genres, including ballet, Chinese folk dance and contemporary.

“When I was 4 years old, my mother bought me a dress from Shanghai No. 1 Department Store for the Spring Festival. I still remember it was a red satin dress with flounces, and that was my first impression of Shanghai,” Zhu said.

Born in Jiaxing, east China’s Zhejiang Province, “I came to Shanghai Dance School alone in 1995. Shanghai and dancing symbolize the beauty of life, and attaining it was my dream. Till today, this city continues to nourish me with more than I could ask for. It gave me a place to take root in the arts. This place is where my limelight, friendships and career took flight.”

Referring to the new short film’s theme “Spring in Shanghai,” Zhu said spring is her favorite season. 

“And this spring has an extra meaning, the city is overcoming the epidemic thanks to everyone’s efforts,” she said.

“The shooting of this video was the first time for me to feel the spring in Shanghai. Before this year, I didn’t leave the dance studio to see the city’s spring scenery. For me, every spring means a new beginning and all the changes will be positive.”

Zhu added: “I am 35 years old now, and most dancers my age have left the stage. Every human has to face the reality of aging, but the charm and vitality of dance is spring for me.”

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