[Rob: The following article appeared in the Birmingham Mail yesterday, written by Diane Parkes, who is out in China with the Company at the moment.]

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BIRMINGHAM Royal Ballet arrived in Beijing to temperatures well below freezing.

While the company is hoping for a warm reception when it performs Beauty and the Beast and Romeo and Juliet at the National Centre for the Performing Arts this week there was no warmth to be had in daytime temperatures of minus 4˚C.

While the Chinese capital, which last year hosted the Olympic Games, may look beautiful with its iced rivers and lakes, the plummeting temperatures do not make life easy for the dancers.

First soloist Lei Zhou said it was imperative the dancers stay warm.

‘The cold is the biggest problem here,’ she said. ‘But we all know how important it is to warm up properly and to stay warm.’

This January’s tour of China is a homecoming for Chinese dancer Lei, who was brought up in the port city of Shanghai. Offered a scholarship to the Shanghai Dance School as a youngster, Lei came to the UK 15 years ago. And she has seen the profile of dance rise immensely in her home country.

‘Ballet was not as popular in China then,’ she said. ‘There were not the same opportunities for dancers that there are now. After I graduated I taught for 16 months then decided to come to Europe after winning prizes in China. There were more opportunities in Europe.’

But Lei is relishing the opportunity to perform in her home country. The tour kicked off in Birmingham’s sister city Guangzhou last week, takes in a week in Beijing then moves to Shanghai next Monday.

Lei said: ‘And I am really looking forward to going to Shanghai. My friends and family are coming to see us.’

And with the tour being the first visit to China for many of the performers, Lei is finding her local knowledge is being called on a great deal.

She said: ‘People are asking me for greetings, about the food, about cultural things – I am a translator, teacher and reporter at the same time!’

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