Dance of deception in the Great Democracy Ballet

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2008, 12:00am

The policymakers in Beijing have no need to attend the Stuggart Ballet's performance of Swan Lake at the Hong Kong Arts Festival next month for tips on choreography. They have proved themselves to be masters of the genre and, in bringing forward plans for constitutional reform, have demonstrated that choreography is one of the Communist Party's least acknowledged accomplishments.

Indeed, such is its mastery of this art and so effortlessly is it carried out that many people have failed to observe just how subtly the Great Democracy Ballet is being performed.

First, the scenery has been changed. The Hong Kong audience originally believed their ballet had a backdrop that showed a high level of autonomy and a constitution incorporating the ideal of universal suffrage. The new scenery depicts quite a different story in which autonomy is painted as emanating from secret meetings in Beijing and universal suffrage has faded from being a clear image on the near horizon to a fuzzy picture on a very far horizon.

Second, the ballet's storyline has been altered, with the leading players discovering a new way to make universal suffrage far less universal by insisting that the minor performers need to master the high leaps that surround the functional constituencies. This makes them impenetrable to ordinary dancers, who had imagined that these demanding obstacles would be abolished - giving way to a simple one-man, one-vote shuffle that even the most inexperienced dancer could manage.

Moreover, the new storyline has ensured that this ballet may run forever. At first there was some hope that it would have ended last year with a triumphant climax in which the people were able to vote for their chief executive, followed by an even larger joyous scene in which they surged forward to install a democratically elected legislature. However, that storyline was summarily discarded.

Then it was thought that the story could be brought to an end in 2012. Indeed, the stage hands who manage the mechanics of the ballet asked the chorus whether they thought this was a good idea. Although most said it was, the ballet masters had their own script and did not want it altered by the assembled rabble.

Meanwhile the ballet company's second- and third-tier dancers were put on stage to pretend that they were making decisions that in fact were being taken at a much higher level. In one poignant and dramatic scene, they pirouetted around clutching a proposal they claimed to have written themselves and thrust it into the hands of the lead dancers, who pretended they hadn't seen it before but were delighted by the gift.

As in all good fairly tales, this one combined artifice with a highly contrived happy ending in which the leading dancers paraded across the stage waving the proposal (which they had actually written themselves) while pretending it came from the more junior members of the ensemble, who cheered wildly when their 'plan'' was accepted.

Unfortunately, there was some noise off-stage which threatened to disrupt the performance. The corps de ballet froze and said that, unless the noise stopped, they would cancel the entire performance. The audience was naturally agitated by this threat and persuaded not to notice that the noises off-stage came from other performers. They had an even better ballet waiting to go on stage, but their version had been censored by the Central People's Ballet Committee, which allowed only officially sponsored ballets to be performed.

When someone timorously asked the committee who had written the officially authorised ballet, they were told that the proceedings were held in secret and that the audience should not dare demand this kind of information. And, when a question was asked about the other ballet, the questioner was firmly told the query was out of order, as there was only one script. Even if was not quite right, it could only be altered by the committee.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur