Silk Road International League of Theatres unites global performing artists
At the Urumqi Diwopu International Airport in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, dancers from both the South African Elvis Sibeko Studios and the Xinjiang Art Theater share dance moves. Despite the language barrier, they expressed their excitement after participating in the 6th China Xinjiang International Dance Festival through intricate yet effortless choreography.
As one of the overseas dance troupes that performed at the event, the South African Elvis Sibeko Studios amazed many Chinese audiences with its show - Celebration of Ubuntu. The successful holding of the festival this summer owes much to the establishment of the Silk Road International League of Theatres (SRILT) under the support of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Founded in October 2016, SRILT, an organization that aims to improve cultural and artistic exchanges and cooperation around the world, has a total of 155 member units from 45 countries and 2 international organizations, including 83 foreign member units and 72 domestic member units as of March 2023, according to the China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd (CAEG).
Zhang Li, general manager of the CPAA Theatres, told the Global Times that SRILT has successfully created a prominent cultural exchange brand and actively supported outstanding Chinese performing arts troupes' international tours since 2016, including the establishment of multiple tour locations in Asia, North Africa, Western, Central and Eastern Europe, and the American Midwest.
Notable past performances included the Yinchuan Theater's The Moon Rising on the Helan Mountain in the US west coast, the Guangzhou Ballet's Carmina Burana show at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in the US, and the Guangzhou Opera House's original opera Marco Polo in Italy. SRILT also facilitated the first Hong Kong art troupe's participation in a Chinese New Year-themed event in Southeast Asia.
These activities have showcased more than 10 domestic productions in overseas markets, with nearly 70 performances and an audience exceeding 100,000 people. The widespread acclaim from the mainstream media has expanded China's international cultural influence.
On the other hand, the league has introduced 12 excellent plays recommended by overseas member units, with nearly 60 performances and 80,000 attendees. It has provided content quality samples and operation reference models for the domestic performing arts market to select excellent overseas programs, said Zhang.
Additionally, SRILT aims to promote joint productions and talent exchanges. For example, the premiere of the first China-Italian co-produced original opera Marco Polo in 2018 garnered significant attention both in China and abroad. Two editions of talent exchanges and a training program for young talents were also launched in 2021 and 2022.
According to Zhang, SRILT primarily focuses on activities such as reciprocal performances, personnel exchanges, content production and talent development.
Since its establishment, the league has placed significant emphasis on developing members from African countries. Current African members include the Artscape Theatre Centre in South Africa, the Mulualem Cultural Center in Ethiopia and the Kenya Cultural Centre incorporating Kenya National Theatre in Kenya.
"Collaborations and exchanges with African member organizations mainly revolve around personnel exchange activities," said Zhang, adding that the Artscape Theatre Centre in South Africa has actively participated in league-related industry exchange activities.
They share theater management and cultural industry experiences, recommend unique performance resources from their own countries, and promote mutual visits and performances between art troupes from both countries, including participation in international arts festivals. The Artscape Theatre Centre will invite a Chinese art troupe to South Africa to participate in the local art festival in 2024.
According to Zhang, in the future, SRILT will strengthen exchanges and cooperation in festivals between domestic and international theaters, facilitating bilateral interactions among performing art troupes, and key upcoming collaborations may include the Avignon Arts Festival in France, the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy and the Tbilisi International Theatre Festival in Georgia. The league will also organize tours and professional exchanges while inviting renowned foreign performing groups to participate in major domestic arts festivals.
Furthermore, the league aims to facilitate interactions between over 10 theaters in the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative tegions with the Chinese mainland, promoting cooperation and exchanges between performing art troupes from these regions and the facilitation of international festivals.
At the 6th China Xinjiang International Dance Festival, the Hong Kong Dance Company performed Convergence in July, to great applause.
Yang Yuntao, artistic director of the Hong Kong Dance Company, told the Global Times that the festival has provided a wonderful exchange platform for exchanges among dance troupes from all over the world. Yang expressed his excitement after performing in Xinjiang for the first time.
According to Zhang, the league intends to establish long-term cooperation mechanisms by designating "sister theaters" among its members, enabling comprehensive collaboration in theater management, repertoire exchange and event planning. Regular visits between top sister theaters executives, as well as cultural days and weeks hosted by these theaters, will be organized, creating a multidimensional, deep-rooted and institutionalized platform for cultural exchanges both in China and abroad.