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National Ballet of China: The Peony Pavilion, UK Tour, Winter 2016


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I was at the opening night of NB China's Peony Pavilion at the Lowry on Tuesday evening.

 

The first pleasant surprise of the evening was that rather attractive small programmes were being handed out free.

 

The ballet was performed to recorded music but, for once, it didn't seem to matter.

 

As the house lights went down a gentleman appeared at the front of the stage with a microphone and my initial reaction was uh-oh but he introduced the main characters and the dancers who were dancing the roles.  It was a delightful touch and really helped with watching the performance.

 

This ballet had been billed as a Chinese Romeo and Juliet but when I read the synopsis in the programme I got very confused by this.  The lead young lady dreams of her love but never meets him on this earth and dies.  The lead young man dreams of his love but never meets her and dies.  They meet in heaven and the gods arrange a marriage.  The end...  (Well that is my interpretation of the plot!)

 

The leading lady character - Du Liniang - has two alter egos, the flower goddess and a Chinese Opera singer.

 

The music has recognisable extracts from Debussy and Ravel.  Reading the programme there are also excerpts from Respighi and Stravinsky.  The singing is overlaid on this music.

 

So I thought the production was just gorgeous.  The company seems very strong and to my eyes the dancers' arms were particularly beautiful.  Most of the dancing is slow and I thought some of the movements reminiscent of very gentle moves I have seen in Tai Chi (they didn't look like martial movements).  I thought the costumes were fabulous and the set was plain but very effective.

 

I decided to forget the plot and just enjoy the spectacle.  I was enchanted by the company and by the production and am very glad I went to see it.

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This ballet had been billed as a Chinese Romeo and Juliet but when I read the synopsis in the programme I got very confused by this.  The lead young lady dreams of her love but never meets him on this earth and dies.  The lead young man dreams of his love but never meets her and dies.  

 

Oh, it's *that* one!  Have they brought it over before, or have I seen the Chinese Opera version?

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I saw Peony Pavillion last night at The Lowry.  I really enjoyed the show - as Janet said though the story didn't come over that much so I just enjoyed the dancing.  I loved the Debussy Apres Midi music - divine and it suited the choreography well.  The sets are quite minimalistic but very effective I really liked the use of the sets and the costumes were just gorgeous.  The lead dancers were very good but I am only 100% sure that Du Liniang was danced by Weng Qimin.  I think the dancer profile photos in the (free!) programme are old as the dancers seem older so I am guessing that Liu was danced by Sun Ruichen and the Flower goddess by Lu Na as I didn't catch their names when they were introduced by the choreographer at the start of the show. Some of the corps work was a little untidy but other than that it was a lovely show.  I liked the use of red pointe shoe at one point the dancers wore only one and their other foot was bare. Interesting. The piped music was of good quality so I didn't really notice the lack of an orchestra.  Sadly there quite a few empty seats in the theatre.  I would really like to see the company in a different production and hope that maybe they will come back again soon!

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I was at the Sadlers Wells rehearsal (for act 1) - its hauntingly beautiful, I have to say. Here are a few photos:
 
30956578830_1ac6c646ce_z.jpg
Zhang Jian, Zhu Yan
© Dave Morgan.
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Artists of the company
© Dave Morgan.
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Zhang Jian, Wang Qimin
© Dave Morgan.
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

See more...
Set from DanceTabs: National Ballet of China - The Peony Pavilion
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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In the interval.....enjoying the spectacle. Particularly the corps, but have no idea what's going on. The heroine is rather beautiful in her wafty catsuit but there's some business of one shoe coming off periodically which has me mystified. On a fondly nostalgic note the singing reminds me of The Clangers....

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Looking forward to seeing this on Saturday night - it was a must see after reading Li Cunxin's autbiography in which this was portrayed as one of the key ballets to be created in China. Can't say I remember what the story is so must read up beforehand. If anyone has the time to share a brief synopsis, would be much appreciated.

 

The photos above are beautiful.

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Looking forward to seeing this on Saturday night - it was a must see after reading Li Cunxin's autbiography in which this was portrayed as one of the key ballets to be created in China. Can't say I remember what the story is so must read up beforehand. If anyone has the time to share a brief synopsis, would be much appreciated.

 

The photos above are beautiful.

 

 

 

From my post number 1:

 

 

"This ballet had been billed as a Chinese Romeo and Juliet but when I read the synopsis in the programme I got very confused by this.  The lead young lady dreams of her love but never meets him on this earth and dies.  The lead young man dreams of his love but never meets her and dies.  They meet in heaven and the gods arrange a marriage.  The end...  (Well that is my interpretation of the plot!)"
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My neighbour said she'd understood from the programme notes that the single-shoe dancing was due to the ancient Chinese eroticisation of the foot and that showing a bare foot was as far as decorum alone dog indicating sexual attraction.  The red and blue characters appear to be alter egos of the heroine.  In short I'd recommend buying a programme to get the most out of this, I wish I had!

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I was also there last night, Quintus, and we DID have a programme, but that confused us even more.  I think that if you are Chinese and this story has been a part of your heritage and you really understand all the symbolism and know the characters and the plot, it would have made much more narrative sense.

 

However, I took the advice of someone on this thread and just decided to sit back and watch it all unfold, just as a beautiful moving piece of art (I mean moving in the physical sense, not the emotional!).  It was lovely to look at, and coming so soon on the heels of Khan's Giselle, this is another great example of how different dance styles (and musical idioms) can meld together and work, and it was fascinating to watch.  The dancers were also very good, especially the girls.  

 

All in all, a truly enjoyable evening;  I'm so glad I went.  

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I was also there last night, Quintus, and we DID have a programme, but that confused us even more.  I think that if you are Chinese and this story has been a part of your heritage and you really understand all the symbolism and know the characters and the plot, it would have made much more narrative sense.

 

Indeed, the girl who gave me that input was with her Chinese boyfriend so I think already attuned to the symbolism.  I also just went with the flow and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

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I really enjoyed it too. I was with two Chinese friends, one of whom was totally lost, but one did remember the original story. I've got a feeling the girl dies before the boy and he dances with her spirit before he passes on. (This happens towards the end when he's been doing a lot of dancing with her blue cloak...) My advice/synopsis would be a) as above - girl doesn't meet boy until they die and they are united in the afterlife but they sort of meet before but get separated...and keep missing each other...(yes I am now beyond vague) B) there are sort of figureheads which are/represent gods and/or profane/spiritual love c) there are journeys along the route of life....but most importantly d) the sets are great, the costumes lovely, the music a largely successful mix of east/west, and the dancing very good. So best just to sit back and not over-analyse.

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I saw this on Wednesday and this is my take on the story.

Girl dreams of perfect love but in waking cannot find him so chooses Death( not sure why) OR dies of a broken heart. Then In a sort of Hades place where people get their just deserts the ruler is so touched by her "death" that he allows her back to Life again to look for her lover. They then seem to meet in Spirit first .....he has been looking for her too...and then realises it is her for real and they get married with all aspects of the universe represented there!!

 

Phew still not sure if that's right..... but I think the words which sum this production up are "epic spectacle"

 

Unfortunately my cast list and programme is up in London so cannot name any of the dancers in the main parts who were all wonderful.

The blue and red ladies were some sort of alter ego figures but whereas the red lady was a dancer ( and excellent one too) the blue lady with the more traditional and elaborate costume was played by a delightful actor/singer in traditional Chinese Theatre. The singing was very unusual a strange high pitch wailing not quite singing not quite talking but it took me a while to realise she was performing it live from the stage and it wasn't a recording. So certainly had a powerful and penetrating voice. She glided effortlessly around the stage with fast little running steps and I thought made an extremely beguiling figure I was fascinated and drawn to her every time she was on stage.

Apparently this story was once a 22 hour opera.....that must have been something to sit through ....definitely wouldn't have come out the same at the end of it all I think.....but perhaps it was shown ober a few days..anyway condensing it down to just under two hours is quite a feat which is why some bits were a bit confusing I think.

 

Before the marriage when the girl comes back from Hades the three main female characters dance together to sort of "unite" which makes the main character one or "whole" so there is quite a psychological slant to everything which wasn't perhaps fully explored here so that you had a real sense of this happening.

Anyway the ending was certainly superbly dramatic and colourful....one of the best have seen for some time ....probably since BRB 's The King Dances.

So as the two lovers come on in fantastic wedding array seemingly walking towards the great light thousands of peony petals fall onto the stage a truely memorable sight

Although the dancing was wonderful as said ...and this was a great Chinese love story ...I didn't feel particularly moved emotionally by it all but I think the epic nature of it all came between the emotions somehow ...for me at any rate.

It was certainly ravishing to look at so enjoyed it all anyway. I did find the music just too loud on occasions ....even Debussy screamed at you can be a bit off putting but then these days most recorded music at the Theatre is too loud for me!!

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I saw this yesterday evening, and was very taken with it, too.  In fact, I spent much of Act I considering whether I wanted to go and catch it again - Act II rather less so.  I thought it was visually stunning, and had its own style - plus I've got relatively used to Peking Opera over the years.  I've been put off a bit in the past by NBC productions because of their seeming emotional distance, but perhaps I've acclimatised, because I didn't find this piece nearly as hard to warm to.

 

And Lin, when they put the Chinese Opera version on at Sadler's a few years ago they cut it down to 3 nights and maybe 3 hours per night.  I went to one of them (part 1, I think), but seem to remember I couldn't fit them all in.

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It was useful having everyone's synopses before going - it really was hard to follow the story, particularly in the first half. I agree with the comment about the corps de ballet, although beautiful, they didn't seem to keep in perfect unison when they should have.  

 

I particularly enjoyed the second act over the first and loved the staging of the ending with the 'wedding' scene and the petals falling. It was so visually stunning. 

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Having still a memory from some years ago of the transfixing execution scene in National Ballet of China's Raise the Red Lantern, I was interested to see what Peony Pavilion would have to offer.  And whilst my wife would not agree, I found last night's final performance wholly satisfying.  No great emotional involvement, as others have said, but I did find myself involved in trying to figure out what was happening and, with the clues given here and in the programme, that didn't seem too difficult overall.  I was much taken by the score, a patchwork of Western 'classics' cleverly through-composed with new interpolations for vibes, strings, clarinet and percussion.  The Sunrise from Daphnis and Chloe worked a treat as our heroine awake from her Act 1 dream to the quotidian surroundings of a new day, neatly choreographed and not without humour.  (In Act 2, it struck me that the Infernal Judge might have got a few bars of somebody's Dies Irae as he dispensed justice, but no.)

 

So, and as others have said, lots of beautiful moments, with impressive group choreography and some gorgeous costumes - and saying that leads to a mention of the Kunqu singer, Jia Pengfei.  Robed magnificently, and with a voice production sounding most strange to my western ear, she could not be ignored as she glided about the stage.  All in all, a most interesting evening.

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Yes, an interesting afternoon, for me. I'm so glad that the company brought a work rooted in one of its great works of literature rather than another version of Swan Lake, Giselle etc. It was fascinating to see the meld of classical ballet, Western music and Kunqu theatre. Happily, I had read Graham Watts' review beforehand and so I had some kind of framework for what I was going to see. I greatly preferred the first act to the second. I wasn't keen on the choreography, staging and costumes for the 'underworld' section and felt that it rather let down the originality and beauty of what had come before. The corps in the first act almost brought a tear to my eye they were so beautiful in their gauzy dresses; they were like a flock of birds (swans?). There is a good photograph of them in the photography section of this site.

 

As Ian says, Western ears can find it hard to connect with Chinese Opera style singing. I wonder whether the company could have provided a translation of what was sung, even if it was just put on the Sadler's Wells' website.

 

I wish I had seen Raise the Red Lantern when the company brought it to the ROH a few years ago. As I was relatively new to ballet then I played it safe and went to see their Swan Lake (which was beautiful).

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