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The Last Emperor

LIAONING CHINESE BALLET choreographed by Ivan Cavallari: THE LAST EMPEROR, Produced and presented by XDR (Australia) Cultural Promotion Pty Ltd and Beijing Xian Dai Ren Culture and Communication Co Ltd at the State Theatre, Sydney.

The Liaoning Chinese Ballet presented THE LAST EMPEROR at The State Theatre in Sydney, celebrating the 2011 Australia China Cultural Relations Program.

NOTE: the above Youtube video clip IS NOT an accurate representation of the performance on show at the State Theate!

THE LAST EMPEROR was organised to present this cultural exchange/gift in a venue too small for its needs. No matter the quality of the company it could not be presented in a less favourable venue in all of Sydney. It would be hard to succeed in this space and it does not. Earlier in the year an acrobatic company from Chongqing presented MULAN in this same space and barely survived , creditably, to present the work. The production company XDR need to be more assiduous in their organisational reconnoitring.

With all respect, having observed work in China (Shanghai, 1991) THE LAST EMPEROR is a poorly conceived project and so mediocre in its choreography (Ivan Cavallari) and profoundly dull in its narrative organisation, so poorly designed as a touring production, sets, costumes and lighting and with such an embarrassing hotch potch of music: everything from Chinese Opera to Tchaikovsky and Shostakovitch and popular twenties dance tunes, it is astounding to think that the Arts are so poorly rated in contemporary China that this work would be considered as an impressive exchange for Australia. It is embarrassing. Would this production or company present in Washington DC? Probably not. I would regard it as an insult.

And since I am treading into political diplomacy it is probably worth while to quote the message from Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the program for this cultural celebration. If the “bogan” joke in the recent parliament concerning the leader of our nation has been sprung let us see more evidence. For it is either the perfunctory ignorance and carelessness of Ms Gillard herself, or her advisory team, or the Ministry for the Arts. For if it is representative of the Australian Labour Party’s Government attitude to the arts and/or cultural exchange as a valuable bulwark to trade relations that allows such hypocrisy to be so blatantly and ignorantly expressed in such a public way we are in grave danger of world cultural embarrassment:


As part of the Year of Chinese Culture in Australia, I warmly welcome China’s renowned Liaoning Ballet to our shores.

THE LAST EMPEROR ballet provides a fantastic opportunity to experience an ancient legend through the beauty and athleticism of dancers from a major Chinese performing arts company.

Cultural events are increasingly important to Australia’s warm and constructive relationship with China.This ballet presents a wonderful occasion for local audiences to deepen their appreciation of Chinese culture and for Australians of Chinese background to celebrate their ancestral heritage.

The Liaoning Ballet’s tour will also build on our shared history and enrich the friendship between our two countries. The collaboration between the Liaoning Ballet and the Artistic Director of the West Australian Ballet, Mr Ivan Cavallari, is a good example of what Australia and China can achieve together.

My congratulations to the Liaoning Ballet on presenting what will no doubt be an artistic triumph. To all the dancers and organisers my very best wishes and I am sure you will delight audiences with your performances.

The Honourable Julia Gillard MP
Prime minister of Australia.

Astounding in its pro-rata formulaic corporate language and breathtaking in its puerile ignorance signed by the Australian leader as a message from her to this company and China as our representative. I am humiliated.

THE LAST EMPEROR is not “an ancient legend”, Madame Prime Minister, but great and tragic modern Chinese history, the story of Puyi, the last Empereor of the (ethnic Manchu) Qing Dynasty. Is this ignorance a slight to the dignity of the Chinese people in China and here in Australia ?

If the “bogan” household or any of her staff, or her Arts Ministry merely hired the Bertolluci film version, which won nine Academy Awards, it would be an easy, if not long (160 minutes) enlightenment, and would save some library reading. Even wikipedia would have helped with accuracy, or have none of you Broadband?

I do not know the cost in bringing such a company to Australia, either for the Chinese or Australian governments but better if the money went as donation to Kerr and Judith Neilson and their WHITE RABBIT GALLERY in Sydney to continue their great and good work for Australia-Chinese relations. Better that the local Chinese theatre company, CATHAY PLAYHOUSE or Performance 4A was supported in their endeavours to continue to present Chinese culture to local Australian audiences than this terrible, terrible travesty.

Madame Prime Minister, as a citizen of Australia I wish to report to you, as you probably did not attend any of the performances, this cultural exchange was not “an artistic triumph” in any shape or form. It was probably the one of the worst performances I have seen in years.

With respect,
Kevin Jackson.

2 replies to “The Last Emperor”

  1. Congratulations , Kevin , for taking a stand.
    Bland pronouncements from the Department of Arts Babble-On may never look the same.

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