Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is by definition, extremely subjective. However, I think I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I had one of the most beautiful nights at the theatre last night as I experienced the fabulous Shanghai Ballet in their production of Echoes of Eternity at the London Coliseum.
Inspired by Bai Juyi’s ancient Chinese poem “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” which tells the story of the doomed romance between the Lady Yang (Qi Bingxue) and the all-powerful Chinese Emperor Tang Xuanzong (Wu Husheng) from its inception to its tragic conclusion. The Shanghai Ballet have put together a very contemporary version of the story, with a libretto by Jean Francois Vazelle and a wonderfully eclectic score that includes some really powerful music from Henryk Gorecki, Armand Amar and Philip Glass. Before moving on, I’ve got to say that the music was really fantastic and the styles varied so much from traditional classical, through to haunting melodies with ethereal voices floating over the stage. My one criticism is that the music was pre-recorded and this was a shame as occasionally, the sound wasn’t quite right and the score was really crying out for a proper treatment from a full orchestra pit.
However, moving on. The costumes by Agnes Letestu were stunning, especially the beautiful gown worn by Lady Yang which was a wonder to behold as it shined under the lights. Finally, before moving to the dancing, Jaya Ibrahim’s set was wonderful in its simplicity and the backdrop at the start of the second act actually drew a gasp of delight from me as it was revealed.
Of course, any review of a show being present by the Shanghai Ballet company has to concentrate on the dancing, and Choreographer Patrick De Bana has put a fantastic programme together. despite a running time of around two hours thirty, including interval, Echoes of Eternity never feels overly long and the time really does fly by as the story unfolds. The dancing is exquisite and truly beautiful to watch. Some of the scenes involve such slow, delicate movements from the dancers that they almost seem not to be moving but somehow glide over the stage. As well as the two main characters, Zhao Hanbing – in the role of Moon Fairy – also really stood out for me. Her gentle, flowing movements and wonderfully expressive body were a delight to watch.
One thing I did notice and thoroughly approve of, is that the ballerinas didn’t dance en pointe but instead moved on tiptoe. Ballet purists may not approve, but if it helps the ballerinas feet then this has to be a good move. Overall, it was pretty easy to follow the story, however, there were a couple of times when dancers were split at either end of the stage doing things and I felt like I was at Wimbledon as my head swung from side to side trying to keep up with the action. I have to mention the second act, which started with sheer beauty – including an amazing red coat – and then moved to a fantastic fast paced battle scene highlighting, once more, the athleticism of the dancers.
Modern ballet is not necessarily to the taste of everybody but Echoes of Eternity manages to take both classical ballet and modern movement and meld them together to tell a love story that is as understandable and beautiful today as it was when first told all those centuries ago. The show is on a limited run in London but, I think will be as big a hit as the Shanghai Ballet’s last production Jane Eyre which introduced this amazing company to the British public back in 2013.
Review by Terry Eastham
The critically acclaimed SHANGHAI BALLET make a welcome return to the Coliseum this August for five performances of their exquisite new production, ECHOES OF ETERNITY, choreographed by Patrick de Bana and inspired by the ancient Chinese poem ‘Song of Everlasting Sorrow’. Through a dynamic mix of drama and history Echoes Of Eternity details one of China’s most popular legends: that of the romance between the all-powerful Emperor Ming and his favourite concubine, Lady Yang, which ended in tragedy and, legend has it, led to the downfall of the Tang Dynasty.
Shanghai Ballet bring this contemporary version of the 8th century story to the Coliseum with a cast of award-winning young principals including Wu Husheng as the Emperor and Qi Bingxue as Lady Yang. The libretto is by celebrated French dramaturg Jean Francois Vazelle, the costumes by former Paris Opera principal dancer Agnès Letestu and set design by the late Jaya Ibrahim.
Choreographer Patrick de Bana has chosen an eclectic score which ranges from Henryk Górecki to Armand Amar, from Philip Glass to Kodo to drive the scenes of love and high drama. De Bana started planning Echoes of Eternity when he was working on Jane Eyre which Shanghai Ballet performed at their highly successful UK debut in 2013: “I was drawn by the name of the book – Song of Everlasting Sorrow – the moment I laid eyes on it,” says the multi-lingual de Bana. “In China the lives of the emperors are general knowledge but in Echoes of Eternity I speak for Lady Yang. To me it was Lady Yang who made Emperor Ming famous; with her at his side he became a towering figure. But I think the strongest part of the story is the lengths Lady Yang will go to in the name of love.”
Echoes of Eternity is co-produced by the Shanghai Grand Theatre and Shanghai Ballet.
Choreographer: Patrick de Bana
Set designer: Jaya Ibrahim
Costume designer: Agnes Letestu
Light designer: James Angot
Scriptwriter: Jean Francois Vazelle
Literature Consultant: Sifu TANG
Assistants to Choreographer: Jean Marie Didiere and Attila Istvan Bako
Music: Armand Amar, Ravia Goldschmidt, Kodo, Henryk Górecki, Philip Glass
Emperor: WU Husheng
Lady Yang: QI Bingxue
Moon Fairy: ZHAO Hanbing
Gao Lishi: ZHANG Yao
Chen Xuanli WU Bin
An Lushan ZHANG Wenjun
Echoes of Eternity
St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4ES
Show Opened: 17th August 2016
Booking Until: 21st August 2016
Important Information: No under 5s