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Review of THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CHINA – Sadler’s Wells

National Ballet of China The Peony Pavillion Dancer Ma Xiaodong Photo credit National Ballet of China
National Ballet of China The Peony Pavillion Dancer Ma Xiaodong Photo credit National Ballet of China

The Peony Pavilion by The National Ballet of China definitely does not disappoint for a night at the ballet showcasing first-class dance work from the continent. The production is centred on one of the most famous love stories in Chinese literature and originally was performed as a 20-hour opera. Adapted from Tang Xianzu’s play, The Peony Pavilion is a ballet telling a 16th Century story of passion pitted against impossible odds, truly a performance full of grace and sophistication that creates a completely immersive experience. The spectator is able to grasp a sense of the Chinese culture through the delicate silk costumes and the storytelling through live vocals and choreography.

Credit to Fei Bo, resident choreographer of the National Ballet of China for his phenomenal work at devising spectacular images seen and developed throughout the performance. The choreography is breathtaking as the dancers expose their bodies to express the elegance and passion of love and death through their movement, extending their limbs to reach their boundaries. A signature move of the work seems to be the cast dancing with one ballet shoe, creating and contrasting an abstract image of classical ballet as we see the beautiful pointed foot inside the pointe shoe in contrast to the flexed bare foot that she stretches out as the ballerina steps onto her pointe. The imagery throughout remains passionate in revealing the narrative of the ballet.

The artistic director Feng Ying, needs to be applauded for her inventive use of scene change that helped to bring a seamless quality to the piece as well as helping to engage and bind the audience closer to the intricate details of the story. The costumes were beautifully designed although as a viewer who desires to watch the technique of classical ballet, the costume often distracted away from the choreography and actually covered the ballerina’s feet as she glides across the stage. A disappointing aspect to the work was witnessing the cast more often than we should perform unison choreography out of time with each other.

However, the supportive cast of dancers each gave a tremendous performance and each shone in their technical ability and passion for the story and the choreography. The composition and sound score originally by Guo Wenjing, incorporates references to Debussy, Holst and Prokofiev, enhancing the beauty and elegance of the costumes, set and choreography. The lighting and set design really help in setting the ballet within a different ‘world’ bringing the choreography and story alive which is done with such precision and flair; it creates a greater wow factor as an audience member and compliments the brilliance of the ballerina’s technical ability. Prepare to witness illusions and breathtaking lighting and set design that sucks you into the culture and world of storytelling and Chinese dreams.

4 stars

Review by Kasia Herbaut

National Ballet of China
The Peony Pavilion
Tuesday 29 November – Saturday 3 December 2016
Sadler’s Wells, EC1R 4TN
Tickets: £12 – £45
Performances at 7.30pm
Ticket Office: 020 7863 8000 or www.sadlerswells.com

The 16th century epic The Peony Pavilion is one of the most enduring love stories in Chinese literature. Originally performed as a Kunqu Opera in a 20-hour cycle, it is redrawn by director Li Liuyi and choreographer Fei Bo into a sublimely enchanting and pioneering two-act fusion ballet, combining Western style choreography with traditional Chinese influences. First premiered in 2008, the work features an eclectic postmodern score that references Holst, Prokofiev and Debussy.

National Ballet of China was founded in 1959. The company’s repertoire includes the classics like Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Giselle and Carmen as well as original creations like The Red Detachment of Women, The New Year Sacrifice, Yellow River, Raise the Red Lantern and The Chinese New Year. The company has found a successful path for developing Chinese ballet fusing styles of the classical and modern ballet as well as the cultures of China.

This production forms part of the Out of Asia 2 season at Sadler’s Wells. Building on the successes of its first Out of Asia season in 2011, this is another rare opportunity to experience outstanding dance from Asia’s vibrant and rapidly developing performing arts world, which is bringing new perspectives and energy to stages across the globe. This autumn Sadler’s Wells shares with London a range of works by five dance companies from China and Taiwan, as well as four independent choreographers from Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and India, in a special collaboration with an artist from Singapore.


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